|Sister Elisabeth, the Rev. Michael Sevigny, and Sister Angeline, at Immaculate Conception Church. (Apostles of Peace)|
A fledgling order works for peace
Mary Jane Rivest worked for New England Telephone Co. for 33 years, had a riverfront home in Bristol, N.H., has been on cruises, and traveled the world - a good life. Today, she is Sister Elisabeth of the Apostles of Peace, a fledgling religious order in Weymouth. Marie Ouellette lived in Worcester, graduated from Boston College, and worked as a paralegal and schoolteacher. Today, she is Sister Angeline, the other member to join the order.
Both women say they have never been happier. “I thought I had happiness before,’’ says Sister Elisabeth. “But let me tell you, this is the best move I have ever made in my life. This is where I’m getting the peace, joy, and love.’’
The Rev. Michael Sevigny, a Capuchin Franciscan for 43 years and a priest for 33, is head of the new order, based at a former convent on the grounds of Immaculate Conception church in Weymouth. Last weekend, seven more women from throughout the country, including one from Quincy, came to the convent for a “discernment retreat,’’ to learn more about the order. Sevigny hopes they will decide to join; three women called him shortly after they arrived home to express interest.
“The weekend was really wonderful,’’ he says. “They just came to see and hear.’’ The women have been invited back to spend time in the convent and experience the daily religious life and can join in the spring. One woman from Chicago told Sevigny: “The Apostles of Peace is something the world needs and probably something I need.’’
The Archdiocese of Boston, too, is in need of new religious orders. The last time a new one was founded was 1945. But recently, three have formed in the archdiocese, including Apostles of Peace. Cardinal Sean O’Malley is an ardent supporter; religious vocations as well as Mass attendance have declined following the priest sex-abuse scandal and the closing of dozens of churches.
“Cardinal Sean has a particular interest in the ongoing renewal of religious life,’’ says Sister Marian Batho, O’Malley’s liaison with men’s and women’s religious orders. The process of founding an order can take years; Sevigny has been working with Sister Elisabeth and Sister Angeline for seven years. The order is also open to men.
While looking for a home for the new order, Sevigny says that once he saw the empty convent at Immaculate Conception, he knew it was the right place. “On the property there was a shrine, or grotto, of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception,’’ he says. “There was a plaque in the garden for Our Lady, Queen of Peace.’’ The order was inspired by the Virgin Mary who, Sevigny says, appeared to him in a dream while he was on a religious retreat to Medjugorje, in western Bosnia and Herzogovina, in 2004.
“When I got up in the morning, I knew that something distinct had happened internally,’’ he says.
Mary Jane Rivest says she got a similar message in Medjugorje, which is a popular site for religious pilgrimages. “I put my house up for sale, and within two weeks, I had a contract on it. All of this was divinely inspired,’’ she says.
The order will be focused on eucharistic adoration and peace work, including retreats and seminars, days devoted to reflection and prayer, and working with children in various parishes. The women, who will wear full-length white habits, live in the convent, Sevigny in the rectory with the parish priest, the Rev. Bill Salmon. Sevigny goes back and forth for meals and prayer with the sisters, who have taken vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and peace.
The vow of peace was added because it is part of the group’s mission and name. “The charism of peace we have is something that is drastically needed in the world today,’’ says Sevigny. “From the cinders of the past millennium rises the new flame of faith to proclaim new life in the church. There is no peace. Everywhere you look there’s war. People crave that gift of peace.’’
Both Sister Elisabeth and Sister Angeline are enthusiastic about their order. “I’m very happy about a late vocation at age 57,’’ says Sister Angeline. “And I hope to make a difference for peace in the hearts of all ages, starting in Weymouth and beyond.’’
Since the convent has been empty for seven years, Sevigny and the sisters have been busy repairing and rebuilding. When men sign on, they will live separately and join the women for prayer and meals. Sevigny hopes some day to build a monastery with separate living quarters for men and women, with a chapel in between. But first, he is concentrating on getting the women’s order established.
Why has it been so difficult for the archdiocese to attract men and women to the religious life? The sex abuse scandal hurt, and, says Sevigny, a sense of community “filled with the spirit of joy’’ must be offered. “We have fun,’’ he says. “We have lots of fun. We laughed a lot last weekend [at the retreat]. It’s not an unreal life; it’s just more intense because you’re living closer to each other.’’
This week, Sevigny had a call from a man in Manchester, N.H., who had heard about the order and was interested. Sevigny plans to meet with him in October. But if the man is called to join, there’s no place to put him, yet. “Right now, we’re trying to finish the convent for the women to live in,’’ says the priest. “We have a long way to go.’’
But he has no doubt that the order will become established and strong, with both men and women on the church grounds in Weymouth. “The vow of peace is so important for people in today’s day and age,’’ he says.
Globe columnist Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.