Some might wonder why, at age 53, Sister Mary Paul Lariviere, professed her solemn vows Oct. 19 as a Poor Clare sister at St. Clare Monastery in Sauk Rapids, especially since she has already been a religious sister for over 25 years.
“The attraction to this life, I think, is when a person realizes how much love God has put into one’s heart,” Sister Mary Paul said. “For myself, I can’t expound that love on just one family, on just one husband. The Lord has filled my heart with so much love that I need to just pour it out. My parish isn’t enough. The diocese isn’t enough. I need the church universal because I just feel that desire, and this is a place where that can be accomplished. How can you say no to that?”
Sister Mary Paul grew up in Uncasville, Connecticut, where she attended a Catholic high school. She then attended the University of Connecticut, where she majored in ornamental horticulture.
She later entered a fledgling Franciscan community, which she said, “never really took flight.” She spent most of her religious life in Italy and said she was privileged to work in Vatican City during Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
The community she was a part of suffered during the U.S. economic crisis about a decade ago and subsequently dissolved, causing Sister Mary Paul to seek to transfer into another community. She settled on Sauk Rapids about five years ago and has been living with the community since then.
As a contemplative community, the Poor Clare sisters’ primary apostolate is prayer in a setting of silence and solitude.
“The church is beautiful — she does allow for ‘transfers,’ for a person’s progression in the faith, a person’s spiritual journey,” she said. “Besides apostolic works, my former community also had a very intense prayer life, close to six hours per day, as well as a poor and simple lifestyle, so joining a contemplative order in the Franciscan monastic tradition was not a major adjustment for me, but rather a step along the path in my faith journey that the good Lord had begun so many years earlier.”
Sister Mary Paul believes the twists and turns of her life have all been guiding her to this destination.
“The general peace you feel is certainly an indication of where God wants you to be. It’s all about doing his will and loving him and loving our neighbor. When it clicks, go for it,” she encouraged.
With her community present and with Bishop Donald Kettler as the main celebrant, Sister Mary Paul dedicated herself to God and to the Poor Clare community. She chose the words of Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, an author and Trappist monk, to help mark the day.
“Every step in the life of faith is leading to self-surrender and self-abandonment, to entrusting oneself exactly as one is into God’s all-sufficient embrace,” the quote read.
When preparing for her solemn vows, Sister Mary Paul was able to offer suggestions for what her new name would be in Christ. She chose Sister Mary Paul of the Sacred Humanity of Christ.
“Humanity is so stepped on, so debased, whether through terrorism, pornography, through how we treat each other,” she said. “Christ came and elevated us by taking on our humanity, so I always like that idea of the sacred humanity of Christ as something we should be inserting ourselves into and seeing in each other,” she said.
Sister Mary Paul has heard many questions about religious life, especially about living in a cloistered community: “Aren’t you lonely? Aren’t you ever bored?” In addition to spending their days in prayer, the Poor Clares also cook, clean, sew, care for the elderly sisters, answer the door and the phone and participate in a letter-writing apostolate.
Each letter that is written to the sisters receives a personal response.
“The letters are often opened for [all] the sisters to see so we can all take the requests into our hearts,” Sister Mary Paul explained. “I once read a letter a father wrote about his concerns for his son and daughter. My heart just went out to them. We’ve never heard from them again, but it just touched my heart. Now they are part of my religious life — these two kids I don’t even know and this father.
“And in the same way, the other letters find a place in our hearts. And that, I think, is what God wants because the world can just be so cold, even the Lord is not welcome into many hearts. So we try to clear out our hearts to make a place for him to really be welcomed and loved in this world. We try to be that caring, loving abode for our Lord and for our neighbor.”
She said her “been there, done that” list is long compared to others and now she is content where God has placed her.
“What could be more fulfilling than doing God’s will? Is there anything more beautiful, more powerful, more awesome, more delightful, more wise or any other superlative to which it could be likened, than God’s will?” she said.
“God has made me content with what I have, with where I am and with what he has called me to. For the person who loves, there is always something to do. Our days are so full. Certainly, there are things you give up. But for anything that is given up for the sake of Christ, well, it just comes back to you in so many different ways. You just can’t outdo God in generosity.”