Contemplative community leaving Lake Villa
Group of religious women is moving to Tennessee to live with its remaining members

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, May 15, 2016

Contemplative community leaving Lake Villa - Group of religious women is moving to Tennessee to live with its remaining members

Handmaids of the Precious Blood pray in their convent chapel in Lake Villa. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
(Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
The sisters chapel as seen from the outside. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
A sister's prayer book. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

The Catholic community in Lake County is saying goodbye this month to the Poor Handmaids of the Eucharist after 36 years.

The five members of the congregation who have lived at their Lake Villa monastery moved in the middle of May to the community’s new motherhouse in the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee.

The move will bring all 15 members of the contemplative community together to continue their mission of praying and encouraging laypeople all over the world to pray for priests, said Mother Marietta, the community’s superior, who came to Lake Villa for the closing Mass at the Lake Villa monastery on May 7.

“We’re a small group now,” Mother Marietta said. “Fifteen is a good number for a contemplative monastery.”

When they are all together, community members can focus their efforts on their mission of praying for priests, especially through eucharistic adoration, and practicing eucharistic adoration.

While the Lake Villa monastery certainly contributed to that mission, Mother Marietta said, its members also had to take more time simply to maintain and operate the monastery.

“I think it will be a good thing for us all to be together,” she said.

As communications technology has developed, the community has started three international prayer associations that have more than 37,000 people praying for priests all over the world, she said. It also accepts prayer requests and donations through its website, nunsforpriests.org.

While social media and communications technology have made it easier for the community to fulfill its mission, the sisters as a group maintain as much separation as they can from the outside world.

Mother Marietta said that she is one of two members of the community who regularly goes online, to read the news and share it with the community. The other is the sister charged with maintaining the website.

“When we have to go out, it’s so noisy,” she said. “Even when we go out to daily Mass in one of the local parishes, if our chaplain isn’t available, it’s noisy.”

The Poor Handmaids were founded to be a contemplative, cloistered community in 1947 in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, by Father Gerald Fitzgerald to pray and sacrifice for the sanctification of priests.

But rather than immediately pursuing the contemplative life they had envisioned, the first members were called to use their skills in more active ministries as needed by the archdiocese, a sacrifice they believed would be pleasing to the Lord, according a brief history written by Mother Marieta.

The community grew through the next two decades, and the community was active in New Mexico, South Dakota, Missouri and Vermont, as well as in England. In 1969, when the community approved new interim constitutions, they stopped engaging their active ministries and all the sisters returned to the motherhouse, and by 1978, they began perpetual adoration and exposition of the Eucharist.

In 1980, the Lake Villa monastery was the first to open outside of the motherhouse after the new constitution went into effect. Later, two more opened, one in Spokane, Washington, and one in Italy. Those have since closed.

The community moved to the Diocese of Knoxville in 2013.

The sisters who were in Lake Villa will be the last of the community’s 15 members to move to the motherhouse, Mother Marietta said. Meanwhile, the monastery’s 20 acres in Lake Villa will be put up for sale.

Mother Marietta said she would prefer to sell the property, which includes several buildings, to another religious community, but understands that might not be possible.

The new monastery is in a renovated lodge near a river, and hermitage was just built for priests who might want to spend a few days away from the world, Mother Marietta said.

As for contemplative religious life, Mother Marietta said the communities might be smaller, but they are here for the long haul.

“We’re still here,” she said. “And it’s marvelous.”


  • religious life
  • women in the church
  • adoration
  • devotion
  • handmaids of the precious blood
  • lake villa
  • poor handmaids of the eucharist

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