Mother Maria Josefina, a cloistered religious sister died Feb. 22 at the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in Anchorage. She was 96.
Born in 1918, Mother Josefina spent 78 years as a religious sister, 30 of those in Anchorage.
A funeral Mass was held Feb. 27 at the Anchorage monastery with Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz and Archbishop Emeritus Francis Hurley, along with Dominican Father Mark Francis.
Mother Josefina was a cloistered member of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She began her religious life at age 19 in 1937. She moved to Alaska in 1985 with a small contingent of nuns who settled in Alaska 30 years ago. The sisters established a cloister in Anchorage at the urging of a group of local laity and an invitation from then Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley, who was first acquainted with the order while a child.
When Archbishop Hurley welcomed the order’s first group to Alaska in the summer of 1985 he insisted that they make the move in May, he told the Catholic Anchor several years ago with a chuckle. “[S]o they would know there’s a sun in the sky and that it’s not always freezing and that we don’t live in igloos.”
Mother Josefina’s religious order was founded in Italy in the early 1800s and today operates 85 monasteries worldwide in order to provide people access to the Blessed Sacrament for veneration. Along with the other nuns, Mother Josefina spend her life praying and sacrificing for the good of the church and the salvation of souls.
The Anchorage monastery’s chapel has been open to the public everyday, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., for Eucharistic adoration. Visitors kneel adoring Christ in the consecrated host, exposed in a large, gold monstrance, while in another section of the chapel, the nuns take turns in adoration from behind the cloister grille.
But even while performing daily chores or praying elsewhere in the monastery the nuns strive to continually focus on the Blessed Sacrament.
During her last three decades Mother Josefina lived inside the quiet walls of the Anchorage monastery, never leaving except on rare occasions such as to address medical issues.
While her daily activity was gradually reduced to accommodate her advanced age, for many years, her days were very busy. At 5:15 a.m. she woke with the other sisters. At 6 a.m. they said together the morning prayers of the Divine Office – the official prayers of the Catholic Church – followed by breakfast. At 8 a.m. Mother Josefina would join the other sisters for Mass.
From there, each sister went off to individual duties — from cooking and caring for the chapel to sewing and laundry. At 11:40 a.m. they gathered for midday prayers, followed by lunch and recreation. After that there was a period of rest, afternoon prayers and the rosary in Spanish. Then they practiced their singing for Mass. Then they returned to their tasks. As the day waned the nuns prayed the evening Vespers and said the rosary in English, so as to practice the language of their adopted home and pray with monastery visitors in the chapel.
The sisters still took their dinner at 7 p.m., followed by another period of recreation and night prayers. At 9 p.m. they went to bed. The most important part of the day is still the one that takes place in the stillness of the chapel.
According to Father Tom Lilly, who has been tasked with caring for the sister’s needs at the Monastery, the nuns’ life of prayer isn’t a typical career choice for young women, but its value is incalculable.
“This community is a reminder that amidst a very busy world, there is nothing more important than one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ, nurtured through prayer and personal sacrifice,” he explained in a past interview with the Catholic Anchor.
“In a world bent on measuring the value of a life in terms of how productive one can be, how refreshing it is to see that these sisters have traded away the markers of worldly success for the quiet of a monastery,” Father Lilly added, “where they can focus on the most important thing in the world: God.”