How I Pray: Sr. Mary Catharine Perry, O.P.

smc library 2It’s the Dominican throwdown! Last week, Br. Humbert Kilanowski, O.P. told us about his prayer life. This week, Sr. Mary Catharine Perry, O.P., tells us about hers.  Sr. Mary Catharine is a cloistered nun at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary. She’s part of the famous Dominican Nuns of Summit, New Jersey, known worldwide for their soaps, creams, and other goods. Sr. Mary Catharine is the Novice Mistress of the Monastery, as well as the author of the short novel Amata Means Beloved. She’s all kinds of awesome. I’ve posted about the Summit Dominicans before here and here. They’re in the middle of a capital campaign to expand their facilities, which are ready to burst from all the new vocations these dynamic and Spirit-filled women attract. 

Read other entries in the How I Pray series.

Who are you?

Before anything else I’m a child of God! I’ve been given the gift beyond word of being the spouse of Christ as a Nun of the Order of Preachers. Usually everyone just calls us Dominican Nuns. We’re the cloistered part of the Order and the eldest! St. Dominic founded the nuns 10 years before the friars. We like to remind them we’re their elder sisters! I serve the community as novice mistress along with a lot of other things.

What is your vocation?

To be free for God, to stand before Him interceding for the salvation of souls.

What is your prayer routine for an average day?

Our life is centered on prayer. Formal prayer is about 4-5 hours a day. It might sound like a lot but it isn’t. We sing the entire Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), Holy Mass and have about 1.5-2 hours of “private prayer” each day.

The Divine Office is the “structure” of my day. Not just my prayer but my day. The whole day is one of praise and adoration like the angels who stand before the Throne of God in love and adoration. We just do lots of ordinary things besides because we’re human, not angels.

How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle those moments when you don’t?

I don’t think I’m achieving anything! I hope that each time of prayer I’m becoming more open to receiving the Holy Spirit who intercedes and prays in me. Prayer is about growing in communion with the Triune God. The formal times of prayer are to call us back from the distractions of life to remind us that we are made for God and belong entirely to Him. Even though I’m sometimes frustrated that I have to stop what I’m doing and in fact, I am often late, I’m happy God has called me to a life such as this because I’m the type that would go non-stop for hours until I finish what I’m doing. The times of the Divine Office, in fact, all the things that bring us together as a community remind me that I am made for God.

Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective?

Signing myself with the sign of the Cross. I love to just to hold the crucifix. Asking our Lady’s help through the Memorare is a way of asking her intercession that is especially dear to me. The monastic tradition of the verse of psalm 70, O God, come to my assistance, as a prayer for every moment and occasion is also dear to me. It’s my first words with the sign of the Cross each morning when the rising bell rings.

Do you have a place, habit, or way of praying?

Probably the 1st place I like to pray is in our Choir (the part where we nuns are which is separated from the chapel) in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance although weirdly I’ve never been one to be especially attracted to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus is there in the Eucharist whether in the tabernacle or in the monstrance and that is fine by me! I also love spending time in our little hermitage or rejoicing in the beauty of God’s creation outdoors. I’ve come to admit that I’m not a creature of habit. I tend to change around where I pray a lot.

My favorite way to pray is prostrate and I never fall asleep. I remember when I entered the monastery how happy I was to learn of St. Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer. He used his whole body to praise God and intercede for souls.

Do you use any tools or sacramentals?

The bible, breviary and rosary! Oh, and my crucifix!

What is your relationship with the Rosary?

I belong to a monastery particularly dedicated to praying the Rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance all day long and several nights each week. We call it the Adoring Rosary. However, my own relationship with the Rosary has always been a difficult one, ever since I can remember as a child as my family prayed the rosary every night. First, I never get the number of Hail Mary’s right. I move through the beads in the oddest way. One of the sisters made me a rosary with 20 beads for each decade so that I can move through a bead for each part of the Hail Mary! I’m often distracted praying the Rosary. Yet, if I’m waiting in a doctor’s office or in a situation where I’m just waiting I’ll often pray the Rosary. I think the Rosary keeps me humble. I love our Lady and I love her Rosary. I just don’t pray it very well!

Are there any books or spiritual works that are important to your devotional life?

There have been so many over the years! Primary is of course, Sacred Scripture— the Psalms and Song of Songs in particular. The writings of St. Gertrude is a dog-eared book I keep on my desk all the time. I probably use the psalms as my lectio divina more than anything else.

What is your most recent spiritual or devotional reading?

Oh, dear! I’m always reading several books at a time! I’m reading the biography of M. Cecile Bruyere, OSB, cofounder of the Benedictine Nuns of the Solesmes, Question 89.6 of the Summa and commentaries on Venial Sin, The Ladder of Monks of Guigo II and Lectio Divina as the School of Prayer among the Fathers of the Desert by Armand Veilleaux, OSCO. The last 2 are reviewing texts for a class on Lectio Divina, Prayer and Study for our postulants but each time I read these texts they are a personal encounter and help me in my own spiritual life. I just started Sense of the Sacred by James Monti. It must be the Dominican in me because I don’t really make a distinction between devotional reading and “study” reading.

Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?

Oh, so many! St. Dominic, St. Gertrude, Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and lastly my own patroness St. Catherine of Alexandria. Although all we have about her Is legenda, it is the theme of her total giving of her life to her Divine Spouse even to martyrdom that inspires me. But I think St. Dominic is the one who has taught me the most. He is a great preacher but we know more about him at prayer than in preaching. He has taught me the most of how to pray as who I am not someone I’d like to be.

Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences as a result of your prayer life?

Secrets of the King. Secrets of the King!

I would like to see __________________ answer these questions.

Fr. Roger Landry

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you for this penance, I mean opportunity, to share with you. I hope your readers will see that nuns are very ordinary people! Sometimes people think we have some corner on how to pray but we don’t!