Valley of Our Lady Monastery is a community of Cistercian nuns who live a life of contemplative prayer according to the Rule of St. Benedict and the traditions of the Cistercian Order. Consecrated to God for the sanctification of the Church and the redemption of the world, they dedicate their lives to a solemn liturgy prayed in Latin with Gregorian chant, private prayer, lectio divina, and manual labor within the silence and enclosure of the monastery.
Nuns are women who commit themselves to seeking God in a radically pure and intense way through imitating Jesus Christ. Above all, we follow His way of obedience, humility, chastity, poverty, and prayer; and the motive for this life is both His love for us and our love for Him.
The History of Contemplative Monastic Life
Contemplative monastic life, a particular way of following the call to be a nun, has a long history among Christians.
As the persecutions in the early Church subsided, many faithful longed to bear witness to Christ in a way as radical as the red martyrdom of blood. To fulfill this desire, they embraced what came to be known as the white martyrdom: a life dedicated to God through prayer and penance.
Although this vocation has had different outward expressions through the centuries, it is most often lived according to vows, in community, under an established rule of life.
The Cistercian Order
The Cistercian Order is one way of living this contemplative monastic life. It began in 1098, when a small group of Benedictine monks in France decided to form a new community where they could live their vows more fervently.
They built a new monastery at Citeaux (in Latin, Cistercium), and as they grew over time, founded many more monasteries all over Europe. The Order now has houses all over the world.
With its Benedictine spirituality, the Cistercian Order has always embraced a simple but intense liturgy, hard manual labor, and a sincere search for God through humility, obedience, and deep personal, contemplative prayer.
Our Way of Life
Practically speaking, this way of life takes the form of a balanced alternation of prayer and work.
Beginning at 3:30 each morning, our days alternate between times of communal liturgy (consisting of seven periods of chanting the Psalms and other prayers in Latin), private prayer and reading, work, and recreation, all flowing from and leading to the daily celebration of the Mass.
To support ourselves, we make and sell altar bread for Holy Communion, which we ship to parishes across the country. We also engage in the daily work of maintaining our home.
Following the Benedictine tradition, the vows we take are those of obedience, of stability (commitment to our monastic community), and of commitment to the monastic way of life (conversatio morum—often translated as “ongoing conversion”).
Although we do not take a vow of silence, as people often think, we do live in silence, speaking only during specific times of recreation or as necessary to accomplish our work in the monastery.
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We currently number 22, ranging in age from 24 to 89. Our median age is 46. We have come to the monastery from all over the USA as well as a few other countries, including Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, and Canada.
We all bring with us different backgrounds and talents. Some of us never graduated from college; others hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees in a wide range of subjects, such as nursing, chemistry, entomology, mathematics, art, and computer science.
Many Gifts, the Same Spirit
The Lord knows how best to use the gifts He gives His children, and nothing ever goes to waste when we follow His will. He has drawn us all together, with our different backgrounds and talents, for a reason.
Sometimes He asks us to let go of a particular activity in order to purify our intentions and allow us to love Him for Himself instead of for His gifts. But He also uses the gifts He has given us in ways more rich and rewarding than we could ever have imagined, for our own good and that of our sisters and all His people.
Although we do not often see or hear of the effects in the world of our sacrifices and prayer and relationship with God, we know by faith, and sometimes through the testimony of others, that our life of love truly does bear fruit, in graces of conversion and healing and growth in charity for all His people.
Our Big Challenge
We are blessed in this beautiful vocation, a vocation for which we cannot thank God enough.
That said, however, we also face an enormous challenge.
Our community, located near Madison, WI, was founded by Cistercian sisters from Switzerland, who came in 1957 at the request of the first Bishop of the Diocese of Madison and with the blessing of their Abbot General.
They took up residence in the summer home of an early governor of Wisconsin. Since then, as our community has grown, we have done our best to maintain, expand, and creatively reconfigure our surroundings. Never intended to be a permanent monastery and showing the inevitable effects of time and the elements, however, our buildings are not simply worn out and ill-suited to contemplative monastic life. They are increasingly unsafe, unhealthy, and unable to accommodate further growth.
The Reality of Human Needs
Although we are devoted to prayer, we are real human beings with the real physical need of a safe and healthy environment, conducive to our way of life. Our current buildings do not and cannot sufficiently meet these requirements.
Furthermore, precisely because we have been called to prayer, we have vowed to live in a way radically dependent upon God alone. We sustain ourselves by the work of our hands, but we do not accumulate wealth. We therefore trust in God and the generosity of those who, through their opportunities and work in the world, have greater material resources than we do, to help us build a much-needed new monastery.
With all that in mind, we have embarked on the adventure of building a lasting Cistercian monastery here in Wisconsin. Since we remain the only nuns of our particular Order in the English-speaking world, we are excited by this opportunity to put our roots down more deeply here in this place to which we have been called.
But we do find the challenge daunting.
If you perceive God calling you to help us, we invite you to learn more about our project (and to see a video casting our vision for the new monastery) here.
We Would Love to Pray for You!
You are welcome to contact us with prayer requests by emailing us: [email protected]
We’d also love to answer any questions you have: [email protected]
On our website, you can also find information about signing up to receive our newsletter.
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Written by Sr. Mary Bede.