By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
Sister Maria Benedicta of the Holy Spirit, OCD, knew early in her life that she wanted to be a religious, but she had a few conditions.
She didn’t want to be a contemplative nun. She certainly did not want to be a cloistered Carmelite nun, separated forever from the outside world that included her parents, seven siblings, extended family, numerous friends, places to see, things to do.
God had other plans.
On Sept. 14, Sister Maria Benedicta professed her first vows at a Mass celebrated by Father James Orosco at the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Infant Jesus of Prague and St. Joseph in Dallas, her family watching from their front row seats in the public chapel, trying to catch glimpses of her face through a small door at the grate that separates the nuns from other worshippers.
Inside the choir room behind the grate, Sister Maria Benedicta professed her obedience to Mother Juanita Marie of Jesus Crucified, OCD, and a desire to remain a part of the Carmelite community. She prostrated on a bed of roses shaped like a cross, her arms extended. Two other nuns helped her up and she returned to the opening at the grate, where she received a crown of roses.
After Mass, she greeted family and friends in the parlor, located in another part of the monastery, but still separated from them by the grate.
The liturgy on that particular day was part of the continuation of a journey that started in May 2017 when the recent graduate of the University of Dallas, known then as 22-year-old Monica Muller of San Antonio, visited the monastery for the first time. She had majored in business administration at the University of Dallas, excelled at an accounting internship, but did not feel fulfilled. She graduated a semester early, after feeling God’s call to explore religious life.
“I saw the beauty of the chapel and later on when I went into the parlor and saw the grill and everything and how good it really was, I remember thinking, ‘Could there really be a spot for me and could that spot be here?” she said.
She was soon accepted and after saying her goodbyes to her friends, she entered four months later. After the recent profession of her first vows, she will have to wait approximately three years to profess her final or solemn vows.
Unless for medical appointments or emergencies, she, like the other nuns at the monastery, will live their lives behind the walls—working, praying, singing—and, upon their deaths, will be buried in the cemetery there.
“Sister Maria Benedicta is very strong, solid,” said Mother Juanita Maria. “She is very obedient. She is very scientific. She wants to examine and really know the truth and go deep.
“She just doesn’t take it for granted,” she said. “She is a remarkable little sister but you have to give her all the facts.”
Like the other nuns, Sister Maria Benedicta has particular chores around the monastery. When not at daily Mass, in prayer or limited occasions, most of the nuns’ days are spent in silence, doing their chores, or in their cells, or other rooms in the monastery.
A green chalkboard near the entrance of the choir room, where most activities occur, lists daily prayer requests that have been called to their monastery: people who are sick; those who are about to have surgery; those facing difficult moments; for the souls of those who have passed away.
Michael and Linda Muller recalled that the oldest of their children enjoyed her prayer life and was a good role model to her young siblings and, in a larger sense, a protector of those who were vulnerable. At Antonian College Preparatory High School, she was in band and the school’s Rosary Club.
“It was not a surprise at all that she was looking to religious life, but the cloistered life is a different thing,” Linda Muller said. “When she graduated from college I was thinking we would go out and maybe have lunch together and talk.”
Her father said that he is happy for the life God chose for his daughter.
“I told her that that’s what she was called to do, I was very happy for her and she reminded me later that at some point of them growing up, I said, ‘I would be happy if all of my daughters became nuns’ and I am very happy for her,” he said.
Rebecca Deitsch, who was Sister Maria Benedicta’s college roommate for a time, traveled from Boston, where she is enrolled in a doctoral program at Harvard University. She knew long ago that her friend had been called to religious life.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen her in two years and it was exciting for me,” she said. “We chose very different paths after school, but it makes me very happy to know how happy she is here.”
Sister Maria Benedicta is among a growing number of young women entering religious life, not just at the Carmelite monastery, but throughout the country, said Mother Juanita Maria.
The young nun will continue to discern and in approximately three years, if all goes well, she will profess her final or solemn vows.
Even though she entered the monastery when she was 22 years old, Sister Maria Benedicta thought she had already wasted too much time because she said she already had decided early on to live her life as a religious. But, she also knew that she had to finish college.
Her love for Christ is so great, she said.
“Sometimes it’s easier to give. Sometimes it’s not as easy to give, but the goal is to give it all anyway,” Sister Maria Benedicta said. “No matter how I’m feeling on the surface, there is always a deeper peace that if I search hard enough for, I can find it and I can use it. And that is the joy.”