Catholic Herald Staff
By the age of 16, Mary Busse had recognized a pull to the Dominican order. She credits a providential email about a vocations pilgrimage, hosted by the Mater Redemptoris House of Formation, as the stepping stone from her home parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie, to Rosary Hill, the Motherhouse of the Hawthorne Dominicans.
The order is based in Hawthorne, New York; Busse entered the Congregation of St. Rose of Lima as a postulant on Our Lady of the Holy Rosary’s feast, Oct. 7.
The order, founded in 1900 in New York, follows the Dominican pillars of prayer, study, preaching and community life with the specific mission to care for the poor with incurable cancer.
Foundress Rose Hawthorne, the daughter of author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, was born in 1851; she was raised in a Christian family among America’s mid-19th century literary elite. By the age of 20, she had lost both parents and married against the advice of relatives.
Introduced to the Catholic faith by friends, the couple converted 20 years into their marriage. After many years of hardship, including the death of her only child and her husband’s alcoholism, Rose was granted a formal separation in 1895.
Then 45 years old, Rose took a nursing course and began caring for terminal cancer patients in 1896. When the order was established four years later, she took the name Mother Alphonsa and led her community in service to the poor for 30 years before her death in 1926. The cause for her canonization was opened in 2014.
Busse explained what drew her to the Hawthorne Dominicans: “The community’s prayer and liturgical life, the way the sisters love those for whom they care, the sisters’ joy and the naturalness of being with them, and just how real they are.”
She said the community’s apostolic work of caring for poor terminal cancer patients flows from their life of prayer, which includes Mass, Liturgy of the Hours and adoration.
“To allow oneself to be filled by God, then to go empty oneself in the work, and to return to the chapel to again be filled with Him is the ideal, lending a rhythm to everyday life,” she said.
During her visits before entering, Busse was struck by the sisters’ quiet, selfless way.
“This is truly a place to learn how to love,” she said. “On my visits, I also remember noticing how much laughter is here. I was even able to be goofy myself, something I’d never been quite comfortable enough to do at any of the other places I’d visited.”
The Catholic Herald also spoke with Rosary Hill’s novice mistress, Sr. Marie Edward. Extensive information on the order’s website is usually a discerning woman’s first contact with the community; interested candidates often visit more than once before a formal discernment and application process begins.
There is “a lot of discussion and probing,” the novice mistress said. It’s “not just them, it’s us, too,” she explained, speaking of the psychological testing that occurs before admittance. Taking into consideration the community’s charism, Sr. Marie Edward emphasized that women need to be “stable and mature enough to deal with a lot of real sick people facing death.”
Sr. Marie Edward quoted one of their Dominican priests, speaking of the hard life they lead with very little leisure time: “You don’t follow the man on the cross on the couch.”
Referring to the influence of an “easy way out” culture, the sister – close to celebrating her 40th anniversary of religious life – admitted it “permeates my mind at times.”
She went on to say, “it’s original sin; you’re always looking for the easy way out, and trying to get away from suffering in any way, until you advance in the spiritual life to where you’re looking for suffering,” and concluded there is “not a whole lot of them around.”
In response to a question about whether virginity is imperative for a vocation, Sr. Marie Edward confirmed it is not a requirement. What is needed is a commitment to living a chaste life, which the Dominican recognized can even be lived with great conviction.
“Like Magdalene, they love God more, because they realize his great mercy,” she added.
In Busse’s personal course of discernment, four elements have been pivotal: family; the sacraments; Eucharistic adoration; and providential people and opportunities.
“Without my family, I would never have had the foundation of faith necessary to even begin to be open to a religious vocation,” she said. For Busse, the sacraments were “what really drew me in to how personal God’s love is in my life. It was such a blessing to have two perpetual adoration chapels nearby. I don’t know where I’d be without the time spent in the quiet with Jesus.”
She can see how God worked “through so many different people and events,” such as Totus Tuus, Extreme Faith Camp, the leadership training for the camp’s high school counselors and Steubenville conferences.
“These shaped my life by providing opportunities to gradually come closer to God, to learn more about myself, to form good relationships and have important conversations,” Busse affirmed.
The postulant expressed the support she has had from family, who have “been wonderful with everything from helping me go through my things to being understanding about sharing time on our weekly phone calls, to sending letters and lots of love and prayer.”
She also recognized her home parish for supporting her in prayer and being there for her family, and the many prayer warriors who “have been faithfully praying for vocations for years.”
She also mentioned past and present priests and friends from the Anchored in Christ young adult group. “It is both overwhelming and heartening to know how many people are praying for me,” she said.
“A call to religious life is completely a gift from God, both the ways in which He draws someone closer to Him, and the grace that person is given to be able to respond,” Busse said. After getting to know the sisters as real people, she hopes “that someday maybe I’ll be able to be like them.”
She added, “I have to say, they have a pretty awesome habit!”