A Hermit in Community: A Novice Enters Carmel
ARLINGTON — On Aug. 22 the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington was serenaded by cicadas and birdsong. Surrounded by brick walls, the Carmelite nuns decorated in anticipation of the investiture, or “clothing,” of Katherine Sartorius as a novice.
As the religious women decorated, Sartorius took a personal retreat, praying and eating alone for the eight days before receiving her habit on her Clothing Day. Whenever she heard footsteps approaching, she snuck out a back door, disappearing like a gecko. Sartorius is good at hiding.
“The thing that always attracted me the most about Carmel was the hiddenness of it. Just to be hidden for Him alone,” Sartorius, 19, told the North Texas Catholic. She felt called to the Carmelite life for as long as she can remember. As a teenager, she wrote to communities about the discernment process; her search led her to the Arlington Monastery. When she first visited in January of last year, she felt nervous. “Then as soon as I got here, I felt completely at home. Within the first day, I felt like I didn’t need to look any further,” she recalled, smiling. That October, she entered Carmel as a postulant.
“[Saturday] she’s just receiving the habit with the white veil,” Mother Anne Teresa explained.
“Receiving the habit and my new name,” Sartorius added.
“Yes, I almost forgot, sorry.” Mother Anne Teresa laughed and gently patted Sartorius’s shoulder. Like a bride on her wedding day, Sartorius would receive her religious name on her Clothing Day, August 24.
That Saturday, the monastery chapel was full to bursting with friends and relatives. “We basically brought all of Oklahoma with us,” said neighbor Catherine Schmidt.
The Carmelites huddled together in their enclosure, singing in soft soprano voices. Sartorius sat just behind the grille, wearing her new white veil, half hidden by large bouquets of flowers. Fragrant incense curled to the ceiling, illuminated by stained glass windows.
The Mass program announced Sartorius’s new name: Sister Mary Francisca of the Blessed Sacrament.
Mass was celebrated by Bishop Michael Olson, accompanied by seven priests and three deacons — among them Deacon Kevin Sartorius, father of the new sister. Her brothers John Paul, Joseph, and Peter Sartorius served at the altar. Homilist Father John Grant spoke of the white veil: “You are… veiled like the Holy of Holies, like the tabernacle, like Our Lady.” A tear glistened on Dcn. Sartorius’s cheek.
Every time her new name was mentioned, Sister Mary Francisca’s smile widened.
Mass concluded with the nuns singing the “Salve Regina.” Then the congregation slowly made their way out toward the parlor, where Sister Mary Francisca, Mother Anne Teresa, and Sister Teresa Agnes, novice mistress, greeted the many visitors who had traveled to Carmel that day.
The grille in the parlor didn’t stop Fulvia Sartorius, aunt of the novice, from bringing white balloons. Sister Teresa Agnes reached through a door in the grille to receive the balloons. They just barely fit through.
Family friend Tosha Schiffli and her daughter Tiana approached. Arms reached both ways through the grille for a warm embrace. Crying, Tosha rested her forehead on Sister Mary Francisca’s face. “I’ve been praying for you,” Sister Mary Francisca murmured, holding Tosha tenderly.
“I thought I’d be really sad,” said Tiana Schiffli, bouncing, “but I feel so much joy!” Turning to Mother Anne Teresa, she explained, “I’ve known her since preschool and it’s all she’s ever wanted!”
“I love your new name,” her friend and former neighbor Schmidt gushed. She asked Sister Mary Francisca to sign her program. This precipitated a chorus of friends asking for autographs.
Dcn. Sartorius requested a family photograph; the Sartorius family gathered round —from Sister Mary Francisca’s grandfather and great aunt to her six younger siblings and her cousins. Sister Mary Francisca had to stand on her tiptoes to be seen among the crowd. After the photograph, the parlor was once again filled with a flurry of arms reaching for hugs.
In the hallway outside the parlor, Jennifer Sartorius, the novice’s mother, hung back. Her eyes were dry and her smile peaceful. “I’ve known for a long time that this was probably her vocation,” she told the NTC.
When Jennifer Sartorius looked back into the parlor, her daughter and the other Carmelites were gone. Planning lunch, the guests filed out.
The monastery chapel again grew silent and empty, save for Jesus in the tabernacle. The air conditioner whirred, and a dog barked somewhere on the grounds. Sister Mary Francisca had returned to the cloister, to days of prayer and contemplation with her new family of Carmelite nuns. “We are hermits in community,” Mother Anne Teresa explained, “Very much a family.”
Together the sisters pray for their families and friends, for priests, the unborn, the sick and suffering, the poor, and the Church. “We’re praying that God’s will be done and to bless all the people of the diocese and the clergy of the diocese,” Mother Anne Teresa said.