Meet Eden Hill's (Nearly) Hidden Treasure
There is a humble white house on Eden Hill where wandering pilgrims, sensing the presence of the Lord within, often pause to genuflect. The house is fronted by a flower garden that thrives through drought, flood, or spring frost.
Here reside the Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Eucharist, presently five sisters who can be glimpsed on Eden Hill in pure white robes emblazoned with a Host and a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit. Their habits are representative of the Eucharist and of their motto: "Through Christ, with Him and in Him."
On Eden Hill, they are at once prayer warriors, servants of the Lord, and assistants to the Marians who administer the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Described by Marian priests and brothers as well as by many pilgrims as "motherly," "peaceful," "happy," and "holy," the sisters are reluctant to talk about themselves, unless it is to confidently profess their faith.
Mother Superior Victoria, who took her perpetual vows in 1981, said she knew she wanted to devote her life to Christ when she was still in elementary school. Her family fervently opposed her decision. When she was 18 and living at a convent in Mexico, her brother was sent to force her to return home.
"If a girl falls in love with a boy and the parents don't allow them to marry, they get married anyway, so why can't I do the same with my Jesus?" Sr. Victoria said with a smile. "I said, 'No, brother, I'm happy and I want to stay.'"
All five of the sisters are natives of Mexico — as is their Congregation, which was founded in Mexico City in 1945 by Reverend Mother Maria Auxilia de la Cruz, with the blessing and support of Archbishop Luis Maria Martinez. In 1967, upon the invitation of the Marians, members of the Congregation traveled to the United States. The two Congregations have maintained ties ever since. Today, the Oblates maintain their motherhouse with four communities in Mexico City and also have a house in Washington, D.C.
On Eden Hill, they have lived a life of constant oblation — of generous surrender to the Lord.
Sister Martha, who professed her perpetual vows in 1968, tends to the garden in front of the convent, which provides flowers for the altar in the convent chapel. She said she did not find peace until she surrendered her life to Christ. Growing up, she was plagued by stomach illnesses. Her parents told her she would not make it to her vows because of her poor health, but she daily felt Jesus' encouragement to continue.
"Jesus' call was much stronger for me than anything else in my life," Sr. Martha said. "And once Jesus calls, he never stops calling."
A Prayer for Priests
As a semi-contemplative Congregation, the Sisters' most important work is done with open hearts behind the convent walls. At 5:30 a.m., they begin a vigil that they carry into the night. As part of their charism, the Sisters take part in Perpetual Adoration in their chapel. Each sister, in rotation, spends one hour in the presence of the Eucharistic Jesus and prays for the sanctification of all priests, including the pope. Each of the Sisters is assigned Marians for whom they pray.
"In [Christ's] presence, we ask him for help and [we pray for the] needs of the whole world," Sr. Martha said.
The Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' provincial superior in the United States and Argentina, has known the sisters for 35 years. He said the sisters cook for the Marians five days a week. But their most powerful contribution to the Marians' ministry in Stockbridge, he said, is the nourishment of their spiritual presence.
"The sisters' witness to the reality of the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the reality of Christ's love is manifested in everything they do," Fr. Kaz said.
He recalls a retreat he took with a group of the Sisters to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., when he was still a seminarian. As he sat in the backseat next to one of the Sisters, he endeavored to direct the conversation toward high-minded theological truths, but was thwarted. The sister spoke instead of faith, not in scholarly terms, but rather from her heart, infused with God's grace and love. For the eager young disciple of Christ, the moment was eye-opening.
"She talked about Jesus as someone who she so loves, who is close to her heart," Fr. Kaz recalls. "Through this dialogue with her, I realized I was talking about Jesus as living — so personal and so close, I could feel it,"
The 'Sources of Grace'
When asked about the grace and love with which others associate them, the Sisters say the Source of their happiness is the Presence of Jesus, both in their hearts and in their chapel.
In their chapel, the Eucharist is kept exposed in the monstrance. Visitors are welcome for Eucharistic Adoration. Just ring the doorbell. The Eucharist is also kept in the ciborium inside the tabernacle.
"The Hosts in the tabernacle are hidden. No one necessarily knows about them, but nonetheless they're Sources of grace," Sr. Martha said.
Pilgrims to Eden Hill must sense this, the Sisters say. How else to explain why so many pause in front of the convent, genuflect, and make the Sign of the Cross? Christ is alive in that tucked-away building. He's alive in the hearts of the Sisters inside who quietly pray for God's mercy on the whole world.