September 15, 2023

Configured to Christ

At the end of August, we were invited for several days to the annual National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors in the diocese of Rockville Centre in Long Island. Diocesan vocation directors gathered at Immaculate Conception Retreat House for prayer, talks, and fellowship.  This was an excellent opportunity for us to connect with priests from many dioceses, and the priests were happy to speak with religious Sisters supporting their work.

We were very edified as we visited with and prayed with and for our priests tasked with helping young men discern the call of priesthood and persevere through formation. The vocation directors are so full of zeal and a well-formed faith!  Please pray for them as they strive to raise up worthy priests to serve the Church in our times!

August 31, 2023

Sister Rose Marie’s Final Profession

(see full album of pictures here)

Although you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” – 1 Peter 1:8

Last Tuesday, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, I was given the great blessing of making my Perpetual Profession of Vows. In the months leading up to this day, I was filled with ever greater gratitude for this gift! From my earliest days, God had set me apart to be His own. At last I was to give my total ‘yes’ to His plan!

The day was filled with joy from beginning to end, with family and friends coming from near and far to celebrate with us. But the greatest expression of joy was in the Liturgy itself. As I stood waiting for the entrance procession to form, the butterflies began to increase, but stopped suddenly when the Sisters began to sing,

“O veni, Sponsa Christi, veni” (O Come, spouse of Christ, come)

I am His, and He is mine! And how beautiful that this gift of self is made within the framework of the Holy Mass.

My thoughts were spinning as the Mass began. But then I looked up at the crucifix, the image of my Spouse Who sacrificed Himself for me. And from that moment on, my focus was fixed upon declaring my ‘yes’, to be united with Him in His sacrifice. What joy!

Whatever God has planned for the rest of my life, one thing is certain. This is a supernatural road, and I will need a constant gift of grace to follow in a way pleasing to Him. Please continue to pray for me, and for all Religious, that we may faithfully accomplish His will in all things!

(see full album of pictures here)

August 19, 2023

Praying, Sewing…Whitewater Rafting!

As the community prepares to receive our postulant, Sister Emily, into the Novitiate, there is plenty of activity surrounding this beautiful occasion. The Sisters have spent many weeks together pulling threads, sewing her habit, and above all, we have just completed our annual community retreat together.

But there is one more tradition before receiving the habit that seems to have cropped up in the last two years…white water rafting! For the past two summers, our community has been invited to participate in Fidelis’ annual Inspire camp, where Fidelis chapters from across the country gather annually for a week of summer fun in the mountains of East Tennessee, consisting of the Sacraments, small group time, talks, and a trip through the rapids!

We are grateful to Fidelis for this wonderful opportunity to share the Lord, time in prayer, and yes, one last (appropriate!) hurrah for our postulants before they enter into the Novitiate. We thank God for Sister Emily’s discernment and her continued ‘yes’ to our way of life and look forward to receiving her and her new patron saint into the community.

August 4, 2023

The Harvest is Abundant!

Summertime at Casa Maria means many things, but this year it has meant tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes! At the moment, we have an abundance of them, grown in our very own courtyard – between the roses and azaleas. There are among us sisters who are happily eating tomatoes two and three times a day! I have never been able to get on board with having them at every single meal, but I must say that a tomato grown in your yard is a completely different thing than one bought in a store.

But anyway, by now you are probably wondering, how did the sisters become tomato farmers? Well, we have had a few plants and attempts over the years, but this year’s crop began many years ago with my Grandad, Guy Whitfill. While I was growing up in rural Kentucky, I remember every summer he would grow these special yellow tomatoes. They were, in his humble opinion, the best that were to be had. Each year he would save seeds to be planted next season. But one spring, the seeds were not to be found! Being of a suspicious turn of mind, he always blamed one particular cousin. No one knows if he was right (except, I suppose, the cousin), but most folks thought Grandad just lost them himself. But either way, his famous yellow tomatoes were no more, to the regret of all.

Sister Mary Anthony’s family with Grandad

Fast forward many years. My brother Andrew and his wife bought the house of my great aunt, who had lived nearby. As they were cleaning out and fixing up the house, Andrew found an envelope under the kitchen sink marked, “Guy’s yellow tomatoes.” He didn’t tell Grandad, but planted them just to see, and lo and behold! They grew, bore fruit, and Grandad’s tomatoes were back! You can imagine Grandad’s delight when Andrew took him some of the resurrected tomatoes. Well since then, my family has been enjoying them every year, thanks to my great aunt and Andrew, now the official steward of the family tomatoes. (And Saint Anthony might have had something to do with it too!)

Fast forward several more years. One day while visiting my folks, I was cutting up a delicious Whitfill Family Tomato when I decided to save the seeds and see how they would do in Sweet Home Alabama. Mother gave permission (She is usually keen on anything having to do with fresh produce), and Sister Mary Thomas half volunteered / was half volun-told to become our official tomato grower. She was up to the task. After a couple of years experimenting, and finding a good location, this year has yielded a bumper crop, a cause of joy to everyone! Sister Ave Maria, who has an irrepressible green thumb, has also gotten in on the action, planting a few plants of her own. Her tomatoes are a red, crinkly variety, and the two together have provided a very colorful dinner table!

Well, there are numerous morals that could be drawn from this story, (death and resurrection, be fruitful and multiply, the good steward who brings out the new and the old, the perfection of God’s timing, etc.) but I leave that to your own meditation. I will give the last word to that great American poet, John Denver, quoting a few poignant lines from his masterpiece, “Homegrown Tomatoes.” Here’s hoping y’all have a happy and delicious summer!

Plant ’em in the spring, you eat ’em in the summer
All winter without ’em’s a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin’ and the diggin’
Every time I go out and pick me a big’un.

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Only two things that money can’t buy
And that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes!

If I’s to change this life I lead
You could call me Johnny Tomatoseed
‘Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes’n every yard you see!

July 15, 2023

Thanking God for Our Priests

photo courtesy of

This summer, we would like to encourage you to keep all your diocesan and religious priests, and the sacred priesthood at large, in your prayer. These months are often the time for ordinations. New priests and deacons receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and many priests celebrate the anniversary of their ordinations. Furthermore, the summer is often a time for transitions between assignments – and while changes may be hard on the parish, remember to pray for your priests during these times as well! And lastly, we ask you to pray for seminarians. Whether preparing for school, or in their assignments at parishes during their summer, or any other tasks they are given, these men need our support as they serve the Church and discern the priesthood.

This June, the Diocese of Birmingham had the great joy of celebrating the ordination of Fr. Daniel Sessions to the priesthood. He is pictured below with Sister Marianna, our sacristan at Casa Maria, and Father Dominic Lee, OSB (ordained last summer). Both men served Mass regularly at Casa Maria throughout their teenage years. Seeing them serve God as priests is a great joy to our community!

We also look forward in great anticipation to the coming years. This Fall will see a record number of nineteen seminarians studying for priesthood with the Diocese of Birmingham, which is still considered mission territory. The number of Catholics in Alabama has been growing exponentially. As is the case in many other parts of the country, our priests have been stretched very thin to try to serve the spiritual needs of the faithful. God bless these men for their heroic sacrifices!

image, courtesy of

The Diocese of Birmingham is entrusted to the patronage of St. Paul, who left a great legacy of teaching about the priesthood in his two letters to Timothy. 2 Timothy is, in fact, written from Paul’s perspective of facing martyrdom, and entrusting his spiritual children to Timothy:

“Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus … Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” (2 Tim 1:8-14)

Consider how you might support the priests in your life. Perhaps you could simply offer them a word of encouragement or gratitude. Most of all, pray for them and for seminarians. And ask the Lord to send out many more workers for his harvest!