About the Prayer Site

This section of the Archdiocese of St. Louis' website was initiated in 1999 by Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman and Steve Mamanella. Since prayer requests were accepted online, the contemplative sisters in Saint Louis have prayed for many thousands of prayer requests, and hundreds more are posted every day. Below are two stories that were posted in the Our Sunday Visitor about this part of our website:

For contemplatives, intercession is part of their work

By Ann Carey (Reprinted with permission from Our Sunday Visitor May 21, 2000.)

Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman believes it was providential that she and Steve Mamanella got the idea for the prayer request website on Ascension Thursday of 1999, for about the same time that day, Pope John Paul II was issuing "Verbi Sponsa" (Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns).

Many Catholics never encounter contemplative nuns, for they serve God and the Church in a life of prayer behind monastery walls rather than in apostolic works among the people. Out of the 85,000 religious sisters in the United States, only about 4,000 belong to contemplative orders like the orders involved in the prayer request website: Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Discalced Carmelites, Contemplatives of the Good Shepherd, Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, Passionist Nuns, Poor Clare Nuns, Redemptoristine Nuns, and Visitation Sisters.

Sister Mary Gemma Robinson, superior of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, told Our Sunday Visitor that "God plants the desire within the soul" for a contemplative life of prayer. "Evidently that's just the vocation that God wants a certain group of people to have," she said, for "You come to the realization that this must be God's will for you since He has so fascinated you with the lifestyle."

Contemplative nuns spend most of their day in prayer (see sidebar) and support themselves in a variety of ways. Many of the orders make altar breads or sew vestments and altar linens. Over 100,000 hosts that were consecrated by Pope John Paul II at the Mass in the Trans World Dome during his January, 1999, visit to St. Louis were produced by the Poor Clare, Passionist and Good Shepherd contemplatives.

The Augustinian Cloistered Nuns (who have since moved to the Diocese of Joliet) sewed and embroidered the 25 surplices that were worn by archdiocesan clergy who assisted with the papal Mass. The Augustinians also made all the altar linens for the papal Mass.

Sister Mary Gemma, whose order supports itself through prayer enrollment cards, explained that contemplative nuns make their work a prayer. "When we're not engaged in formal prayer, we live within an atmosphere in which everything becomes a prayer. We try to make our work a prayer, our recreation, our taking meals, make it a prayer as far as we are aware of the presence of God within ourselves and within each other in community."

Through a life of dedication and "intense communication with God," Sister Mary Gemma said that contemplative nuns can benefit "every soul in the world," for prayer has no limitations. Indeed, souls from all other the world may now join in the prayer life of the St. Louis contemplative nuns through the St. Louis Archdiocesan website.

The Order of the Day

The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters maintain 24-hour Perpetual Adoration and gather in their chapel several times a day to sing the Liturgy of the Hours. Their schedule is typical for an order of contemplative nuns:

  • 5:15 a.m. – Arise
  • 5:45 a.m. – Sing Morning Prayer, followed by 45 minutes of meditation
  • 7 a.m. – Mass, followed by breakfast
  • 8:45 a.m. – Sing Office of Readings and Mid-Morning Prayer
  • 9:15 a.m. – Work or Eucharistic Adoration
  • 11:45 a.m. – Sing Mid-day Prayer, followed by period of examination of conscience
  • 12:15 p.m. – Lunch, followed by Singing of Mid-Afternoon Prayer
  • 1 p.m. – Free hour
  • 2 p.m. – Work or Eucharistic Adoration
  • 5 p.m. – Sing Vespers and celebrate Benediction
  • 5:30 p.m. – Work or private prayer
  • 6:30 p.m. – Supper, followed by recreation
  • 7:50 p.m. – Sing Night Prayer
  • 9:30 p.m. – Retire

In St. Louis, contemplative nuns join in prayer for intentions requested by website visitors

By Ann Carey (Reprinted with permission from Our Sunday Visitor May 21, 2000.)

One person requested prayers for a toddler suffering from brain cancer. A father asked for prayer that his teenage daughter would make better choices in her life. A woman wanted prayers to help her husband find a job.

Since the Archdiocese of St. Louis set up a prayer request section on its Internet website last September, 12,000 such requests have poured in from around the world. Each and every day, the 170 cloistered nuns in eight monasteries in the archdiocese pray for these intentions.

The "Contemplative Nuns at Prayer" project came about as a result of Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in January of 1999. Since their primary ministry is prayer, the contemplative nuns of St. Louis had prayed for good health for the pope and for good weather for his visit. When unseasonably warm, sunny weather arrived in St. Louis for the papal visit, the contemplative nuns received considerable publicity.

Shortly after the pope's visit, the archdiocesan website was contacted by a man in Texas who had read during the papal visit that some of the orders of contemplative nuns in St. Louis earned their living by making altar bread, and he wanted to know how to get a host-making machine for his sister's convent in Mexico.

Steve Mamanella, director of communications for the archdiocese, replied to the inquiry and told Franciscan Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman about the incident. "It was one of those 'wouldn't it be neat' conversations," Mamanella told Our Sunday Visitor. During the course of their discussion, Mamanella and Sister Ackerman, who is co-vicar for religious, brainstormed the idea of putting a prayer request component on the archdiocesan website.

With the support of Archbishop Justin Rigali and Msgr. Richard Stika, vicar for religious, Sister Ackerman wrote the contemplative communities in the archdiocese, asking the nuns if they would be willing to pray for online requests. The nuns had no idea how many requests would come in, Sister Ackerman said, but they were nevertheless enthusiastic and happy to be part of the project.

The contemplative nuns make the intention at Mass every day to pray for the intentions submitted to the website, and several times a week Sister Ackerman's office prints out and forwards to the nuns all the requests that come in.

"The sisters take them all to heart," Sister Ackerman said, "whether all of the nuns sit down and read every intention or not, the community is praying for each person's intention." The contemplative communities place the requests in their chapels, or read them in their refectories, or set them out for the nuns to read privately.

A person submitting a prayer request to the website may indicate that the request should not be posted for the public to see. However, many requests are allowed to be posted, and visitors to the website have told Sister Ackerman that after reading some of the requests, they think twice before complaining about their own problems. "People are invited to pray along with the sisters, whoever they are and wherever they are," Sister Ackerman added. Petitioners also frequently write in to thank the nuns for their prayers, with a typical comments like: "You truly are angels of God!"

In addition to highlighting the power of prayer and being an evangelization tool, Mamanella and Sister Ackerman also believe the prayer request site is a good opportunity to promote contemplative life in the Church. Photos and descriptions of each of the eight religious communities are posted on the website so that visitors may become more aware of what contemplative religious do.

"What I love is that it's a prayer ministry," Sister Ackerman said. "It's building up the Church, and I think it's touching a lot of lives."