October 4, 2022

Singing the Praises of the Lord!

A Blessed Feast Day of St. Francis to all!

In honor of the Troubadour of the Lord, St Francis, who continually sang the praises of his Lord in joyful charity, we give you this song on his Feast Day.  Let us make our pilgrimage together on the Road to Zion as we journey towards the dwelling of our King!


I am a pilgrim in a bitter valley 

But as I travel, my spirit sings

‘Cause in my heart is the road to Zion 

So this poor valley becomes a place of springs 


Come, let us climb the mountain of the Lord 

Lift up your voices and we’ll sing 

Strength grows within us as we walk toward heaven’s door 

Longing for the dwelling of the King

Even the sparrow has found a home there 

Beside Your altar, she joys to be 

Lord, You said I am worth more than sparrows 

And so I hope you’ve saved a place for me


So as I travel this road to Zion 

I will not wander to either side 

I’d rather live on the Lord’s front doorstep 

Than in a mansion where He does not abide 


(copyright Sister Servants)

September 27, 2022

Walking in Jesus’ Footsteps in the Holy Land

Walking in Jesus' Steps in the Holy Land

A Reflection by Sr. Madeleine Marie, SsEW

Last month, some very generous benefactors provided an opportunity for Sr. Marie Francesca, Sr. Clare Marie, and I to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group from St. Francis of Assisi in Tuscaloosa. None of us had ever been before, and we were profoundly struck by what we encountered.

The Sister Servants on the rooftop of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem center overlooking the entire city.

Sr. Clare Marie said, “My pilgrimage to the Holy Land was life-changing. Until I experienced the culture and the geography firsthand, I did not realize how much I was missing in my understanding of the Scriptures. I now feel like I know Jesus as the people of his time knew Him. I have truly walked in the footsteps of Christ.”

The Grotto of Eremos near the Sea of Galilee where Jesus would go to pray.

I wholeheartedly agree with Sr. Clare Marie. We saw a good number of sites where Jesus walked, taught, and healed people. We saw the places he loved visiting, such as Galilee and Bethany. But most importantly, we visited the sites where the Incarnation happened and walked the Via Dolorosa, culminating with the Mass of Easter at daybreak in the empty tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. All of these supplied images of and insights into the Scriptures that have–and will continue–to bear fruit in our prayer and spiritual reading.

At the Church of the Annunciation: the Word was made flesh here!

For example, our guide, George, took us to what is known as the Valley of the Shadow of Death. This valley is parallel with the road that connected Jericho and Jerusalem. Our guide said that the Holy Family would have walked this road every time they went to Jerusalem for the feasts. From our vantage point, we could see the city of Jerusalem to our left on top of a hill, and then to our right was a big mountain concealing the city of Jericho below. Those opening words of the parable of the Good Samaritan suddenly came alive: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” We saw the road itself and how treacherous the surroundings were, and we saw the monastery of St. George carved into the rock that provides hospitality to those on the road just as the Good Samaritan did.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death
The Valley of the Shadow of Death

When asked what impressed her the most, Sr. Marie Francesca remarked: “What impressed me most about the Holy Land? Perhaps that’s the wrong question. When I think about our trip the one word that comes to mind is, “Wow!” It was educational on an exciting level and being in the actual physical places where Our Lord lived was really more than I had anticipated. It was a pilgrimage to be treasured and shared with others.”

From start to finish, George told us that this trip wasn’t just for us. We would carry these memories in our hearts and share them with those people we encounter in our daily lives. We brought our fellow sisters, family, and friends along with us in our hearts–remembering them along the way at certain places. Coming back to Birmingham, I can’t count the number of people who, knowing I had gone to the Holy Land, have stopped me and asked what moved me the most during our pilgrimage. With our apostolate of evangelization through catechesis and retreats, this question always gives me the opportunity to stop and ponder anew what I experienced and often a new dimension or insight into something we saw or heard comes into focus. I am then able to share an aspect of the person of Christ–the heart of catechesis–with another and lead him or her to the threshold of encounter and intimacy with Jesus.

Praying in the upper Church of St. Lazarus before Mass.

Recently, I have been reading a meditation on Martha and Mary by Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori where he describes the new community that sprung up among the siblings after they encountered Jesus. Previously they had been merely siblings, but he remarks: “The three [now] looked at each other in a way that they had never done before, with a tenderness in their gaze they had never had before…It was evident to all three, even without saying it–though later they must have said it–that things were no longer the same among them, that they had entered into a different fraternity, a different familiarity and that their home, so familiar to them, where maybe they had lived with their parents and grandparents since they were little, where they had grown up together, had become a new place, a new space, something holy like a temple, a space to live in like a temple” (Christ, the Life of Life 48-49)

Fr. Rick celebrating Mass in the Crusader church at Bethany.

As I read those lines, what hit me after having been there is that Bethany is indeed a place of both peace and friendship. Those same things that drew Jesus to Bethany are still present and palpable there–not because Mary, Martha, and Lazarus still live there, but rather because Jesus still dwells in that house. Their house truly became a temple in the fullest sense of the word, and Bethany is now the place where we are invited to experience the same intimate friendship with Jesus that the three holy siblings enjoyed!

Christian families in Bethlehem opened the doors of their houses so that we could share a meal with them.

I also gained a new insight into the universality of the Church. Being able to speak French (and this ability improved as I used my French everyday), I had the opportunity to speak to religious and pilgrims from around the world: a Franciscan Friar from Togo, a group of pilgrims from Senegal, some Brazilian priests currently serving as missionaries to France, and a French Benedictine monk living at the Abbey of St. Mary of the Resurrection in Abu Ghosh to name a few. We also met pilgrims from Mexico, Italy, Spain, Canada, Portugal, India, Poland, Ukraine, Nigeria, Austria, and even another group from Alabama! All of us joined the millions of saints and everyday people who through the millennia have come to the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus–and still continue to come everyday!

We are grateful to our benefactors who made this trip possible for the three of us, for Fr. Rick Chenault who provided for all of our sacramental needs, and to Deacon Bill and Patti Remmert who organized and kept the whole pilgrimage running smoothly!

Click to see a gallery of more photos from our pilgrimage.

August 16, 2022

Tu Es Sacerdos

There was great celebrating among the Sister Servants last week! We were blessed to attend the ordination of Father Dominic Lee, OSB, ordained Saturday August 6th. What increased the excitement was that Fr. Dominic is the first of Casa Maria’s Altar Servers to be ordained. He and his brothers served Sunday Masses at our convent for years before he entered St. Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, AL. His sister has also joined the Benedictine family, as a Benedictine Nun of St. Walburga’s Abbey in Colorado, and was able to come back to Alabama for the ordination.

Sister Marianna has been training Altar Servers for our Liturgies for many years. The reverence of these young men is always an inspiration to the congregation.

Father Dominic was so kind as to come to Casa Maria to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving with our community just a few days after his ordination. We were very excited to celebrate Mass with him and the Lee family. We love every opportunity to sing Tu Es Sacerdos, (“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchezedek” – Hebrews 7:17), which is traditionally sung at ordinations. It is a piece that is always filled with joy and gratitude for God’s blessing of the priesthood!

We were also glad to also be able to receive Father Dominic’s First Blessing. A newly ordained priest may traditionally give his ‘First Blessing’ all through the first year of his priesthood. It is customary, after receiving a ‘First Blessing’, to kiss the newly ordained’s hands, which have been consecrated with chrism for the celebration of the Eucharist.

May God bless all families who generously give their children to the service of God and His Church!

July 18, 2022

A Very Special Day!

The Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel marked a very special day for our community – the 35th Anniversary of our founding! We had a lovely day together, recalling all the graces of these 35 years. God has blessed us greatly, and allowed us to be part of His marvelous work! In thanksgiving for Mother Mary Gabriel’s life, for her ‘fiat’ in founding our community, we gathered after Vespers to sing the Salve at her crypt.

The image you see below is of Our Lady of Las Lajas, an image that miraculously appeared on a cave wall in Columbia, in 1754. Kneeling before her, are Saint Francis and Saint Dominic. Understandably, we have a great love for this beautiful image!

Many of our Sisters celebrate an anniversary on July 16: entrance as a postulant, reception of the habit, or professing of first vows. Sister Rita Marie has the ‘Triple Crown’ of all three on this feast!

This year, Sister Madeline received the religious habit and her religious name. We are overjoyed to introduce her as Sister Mary Thomas, of the Open Heart of Christ.

July 5, 2022

Apostolic Expedition to Florida!

This June, Sister Marie Therese, Sister Mary Faustina and Sister Rose Marie journeyed once again to Southern Florida! They went to spend a couple weeks with FOCUS missionaries and staff during their summer training at Ave Maria University. FOCUS invites many priests and religious to be present at training, to accompany and help guide the missionaries during these weeks. The summer training provides extensive formation on the spiritual, theological and human levels.

One continual theme in conversations this year, was the missionaries’ surprise at the ways Christ used them to reach others. It wasn’t when they were perfectly prepared and had everything together that students responded most. It was when the missionaries led by example, striving to grow and learn, to live the faith when it’s hard, and to find answers when they have questions. Perhaps that’s one of the most impactful parts of these missionaries’ work, to live as a witness to the joy that is born of the struggle to grow in virtue, in prayer, in living the Christian life.

During training, the Sisters joined the missionaries for classes, small-group discussions, meals, frisbee, prayer, one-on-one meetings, and fun activities like gator watching. It was a joy to be able to teach a little bit about what life as a Religious Sister is like, and to build relationships that we hope will last for years!

On the Feast of Pentecost, the Sisters organized for a group to chant Morning Prayer together, and then head out for a canoe trip. The group was able to canoe on a river that flows into the Gulf, and Manatees had even been seen there that day. It was a great time to build the friendships that are so important for encouraging each other in the spiritual life and apostolic work!

Throughout the year, we hope to continue to support the missionaries by hosting young adult retreats here at Casa Maria, and by collaborating with them on campus. May God continue to bless their work!