A young Wasilla woman, whose quiet dedication and bubbly personality are a familiar part of Saint Michael’s parish life, has found deep nourishment in a place so unique that many lifelong Anchorageites don’t know it exists — among the charism of the Perpetual Adoration Sisters at Blessed Sacrament Monastery, bordering Lake Otis Boulevard. Offering their daily lives for the salvation of souls and adoration of Jesus, the cloistered nuns are visible to the public only from within their chapel or small gift shop.
The postulant, who opted to maintain her family’s privacy but agreed to be profiled in order to promote the monastery’s mission, enters Friday for an unknown duration. The rhythm of postulancy is typically 90 days of discernment, followed by two years’ novitiate, and a period consisting of deepening commitment — potentially concluding with final vows in eight years. It is a decisive step forward for the young lady, coming after intense discernment and conversations with those closest to her over several years. “For a long time, I was focused only on the death, you know? You’re dying to the world.”
Those familiar with the woman say taking the next step towards this vocation is no surprise, observing her maturity, unflinching meekness, and powerhouse prayers for as long as they can recall. Raised in a large, joy-filled, unpretentious Alaskan family, her robust upbringing has its foundation in a Catholic faith taken seriously. Her older brothers are weekend street missionaries, serving the homeless in Anchorage with the Eagle River-based apostolate, Urban Hearts. Their parents have encouraged stewardship at their parish and the nearby Saint Therese’s camp — named in honor of Alaska’s patroness, a young French nun noted for her winsome spirit and love of mission territories. With accomplished carpenters, chefs, thespians, and scholars in their ranks, this family has spent the past decade fortifying adult and youth catechesis by leading classes, cooking giant meals, and spontaneous adventuring, from mountaintops to line dancing classes. Her rich interior life was visible from a young age, typified by a contented spirit and generous smile.
She began attending group retreats with the Sisters a few years ago, and finished high school studies in order to advance in formation. “If anyone is going to hear from God, it’s her,” said her own mother — both wistfully and admiringly. Selected by her fellow homeschool seniors at graduation as “Quietest, Best Glow up, Most Likely to be a Sister, Most Focused on Serving Others, and Craziest Driver,” she leaves a wake of memories and affections, detaching from worldly sentiment as she takes on the mantle of perpetual prayer offered behind the grille. She will learn Spanish. She agrees to sever the casual roaming, uncertainties, ambition, and sensory pleasures so often associated with young adulthood: gone are the possibilities of hiking, traveling, swimming, sledding, and holidays at home, to say nothing of a husband and family of her own. Her eleven siblings are faced with meeting the milestones of their young lives — marriage, babies, new jobs, new recipes, new hairstyles — all without their sister.
The freely-given exchange of this earthly life and these good, true, beautiful moments for something so tender, private, and fruitful as hidden religious life is difficult for many to understand. That a vibrant, witty, beloved daughter, granddaughter, sister and friend would find her heart resting perfectly in Jesus and settling for nothing less strikes an almost medieval tone against our postmodern metrics. If a secular worldview finds it ‘fringe’ or outlandish to contemplate, this dramatic turn away from the world requires some mental grappling, even for devout Christians. While achievement, accumulation, individuation, and fascination with the fickle self are incessantly trumpeted, our collective human psyche seems to be careening towards nihilism and self-destruction.
By contrast, this young woman has found love so stable and piercing, she arranged forty consecutive hours of Eucharistic Adoration in her home parish just before her family hosted an overflowing farewell party last Sunday. Much like a giddy bride-to-be, keeping vigil with her intended Love, even as she counted down the days to departure for the monastery.
Pastor Michael Shields: “As a priest, one of the greatest joys is to witness young people find their vocation in Christ. I have for four years witnessed such beautiful sacraments of marriage — where young couples, deeply Catholic, said yes to the Lord and to each other. But what is especially precious is when young people choose religious life and priesthood. It is truly a supernatural call to give oneself to the Lord as a bride of Christ or as a priest embracing the Church as your Bride. I have witnessed such callings and such commitments.
I must say for these last four years, she has been one young lady constantly being called to be Christ’s bride. She, with her love of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, was destined to find the religious community that adored her Lord. I am so pleased and proud of this lovely young woman who has seen Christ’s call and has followed it. I pray now for the gift of perseverance and deep joy. It is now our call to pray for her religious vocation and for all those who are seeking the calling to be a bride for Christ or a man of God who seeks priesthood to marry the Church and serve the Bride with his life. Praise God for all He has done in the hearts of our young people.”
For the cloistered sisters in Anchorage, this willing woman who aspires to share their world is the answer to nearly forty years of anticipation and prayers — an abundance of love almost unutterable — their first postulant.
The world of the cloister is as mystical and supernatural as it is practical. The nuns are supported by and responsible to their Motherhouse (located in San Francisco) as well as the local ecclesial authority, answering requests for prayer from Alaska and beyond. By day, the chapel is visited by the pilgrim faithful, seeking solace and guidance from Our Lord exposed in the eucharist, which Catholics maintain is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
The Order has its roots in 18th century Italy, when a young girl received divine instruction to cast off her pending engagement to a prestigious merchant and live in community devoted to perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Initially part of a Franciscan order and serving two terms elected as their Superior, the foundress sought permission to establish the new mission, whose constitution was adopted in 1807. On July 8th that year, she and a few Sisters moved into Saints Joachim and Anne convent, near the Trevi Fountain. It was confiscated during the French occupation; the Napoleonic laws suppressed her Order, and she was exiled to Tuscany. “With holy audacity, she desired that her order become a root that submerges itself in order to sustain the tree, and not green foliage that smiles at the Spring sun,” describes the historical section of adorejesus.org, where much of the Order’s triumphs and challenges are recorded.
Many miracles were attributed to her during her lifetime. Born in 1770 as Caterina Sordini, Mother Magdalene of the Incarnation died in 1824 and was beatified in 2008, meaning that she is on the formal path to canonization. Her body is venerated in Rome. The Order operates 85 monasteries worldwide — from Rome to Africa to Chile to the USA. In 1993, Brother Adorers were granted permission to found new houses (consisting exclusively of men). Rejuvenation in Mexico has remained predominant, with the majority of their muscle and numbers due to this infusion. In Anchorage, a Christmastime tamale sale held at the monastery is perennially loved by parishioners across the archdiocese.
Then-Archbishop Hurley extended the invitation to the Sisters in 1985, who arrived to Alaska with a posse of six women. Mother Abbess Maria de la Milagrosa entered the order at age fifteen, during a turbulent era in her native Guadalajara, Mexico. She is the lone living Sister from the original cohort — more have transferred in from other monasteries within the Order.
Their lives consist entirely of shared work, prayer, recreation, and rest. Each Sister has her turn for adoration — day and night — kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament where they continually pray for the intentions and needs of all humanity, especially those who daily send their prayer requests, and all members of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau which is their home. Daily mass is offered by a rotation of Dominican friars and diocesan clergy, who radiate excitement at the prospect of this generous addition to the beehive of hope, peace, and contemplation amidst the grit of midtown Anchorage.
Says another local priest close to the family and the monastery, “It is a truly wonderful thing, really beyond words. I am overjoyed for both the postulant and for the dear Adoratrices. I have always loved those sisters and believe that that Monastery has been a spiritual refuge in this local church for many years. She’s an amazingly faithful young woman, with a deep spiritual outlook and love for God. She clearly has a strong desire to live for God and to pray and sacrifice herself for His Body the Church.”
Her Confirmation sponsor turned to the Gospel of Matthew to describe her temperamental piety: ‘Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?’
She is God’s wildflower incarnate. She carries a freeness that belongs to the wild things, untouched by man —- the trails on which hunting cabins are built, where utility and adventure meet. Our community has watched her bloom like the fireweed across Alaska. Her face always turned to Him; worshipping, waiting for Him to clothe her in whatever he sees fit. It’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that wouldn’t look at this young woman and not agree that God clothed her in his finest garments, fit for His most precious — the garments of the souls: faith, hope, and love.
In return, she offers it back to Him. As our community sees her off, with a sense of grief she will not be in our presence, there is not a person on this planet more fit to pray for the whole world. To know her is to learn from how the wildflowers grow.”
Indeed, said Mother Maria de la Milagrosa in a rare interview for the Catholic Anchor published over ten years ago, “A vocation is a gift from God,” she said. “It is so great, one cannot explain it. The desire to give your body and soul for the Lord. It’s very strong,” she added. “One tries to put it off, but the Lord insists. It is possible to live only for God.”
Of their radical abandonment to Christ in the Eucharist, nestled aglow even in frigid climates, the Sisters laugh easily. Contemplative life is not well understood, according to a nun in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota monastery also affiliated with the same Order. “We are free, we are happy.”
Prayer requests and inquiries may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org, and a retreat schedule is available on the Blessed Sacrament Monastery Facebook page. A website is maintained at https://blessedsacramentmonastery.org.