Extern Sister Embraces An Uncommon Role
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
November 2, 2023
ROCKFORD—Poor Clare Extern Sister Maria Seraphim of the Mystical Body of Christ is not exactly an active sister, but not exactly a cloistered sister.
She describes her “personalized” call: “to always be a little sister, stay here, keep watch and serve my sisters,” and says it is “kind of a rare vocation.”
However, it is not unheard of. The Poor Clare nuns in Rockford have had extern members nearly continuously. Mother Maria Dominica Stein, mother abbess at the Poor Clares’ Corpus Christi Monastery, notes that at one point they had three externs: Sister Clare, Sister Theresa, and Sister Annunciata. After the last of those three died, a couple of years passed without an extern sister. Then Sister Mary Brigid of the Precious Blood began her service as an extern sister about three decades ago. She continues in that role even as the nuns recently welcomed Sister Seraphim.
Having a second extern is “a godsend to us,” Mother Dominica says. “It is good for people too — that contact with a sister.”
Sister Seraphim is the former Sarah Glenn from St. Patrick Parish in St. Charles. She says that she “always felt called to be a nun, since I can remember.”
But she fought that call, believing that “nuns were lonely (and had) no love in life.” She also quotes a friend from her younger years, saying that she lived up to her friend’s observation that she was “always something of a punk.”
However, after growing a bit older and experiencing a certain amount of suffering, Sarah felt called again. At that point she was “vaguely aware of the Poor Clares,” and, after inquiring if the diocesan vocations office knew of any “Come and See” vocation weekends, she decided to go on a diocesan St. Therese Summer Camp to get, she says, “the lay of the land.”
That 2016 camp included a visit to Corpus Christi Monastery. The high school senior was “struck by the peacefulness” she saw in Mother Dominica and was attracted to Sister Brigid’s description of her role as being a bridge with the outside world.
“I visited other (religious) communities,” Sister Seraphim recalls. “They were all beautiful, but I could sense ‘not that,’ (and) the last group’s (Dominican) vocation director asked me if I ever considered the cloistered life.”
All Poor Clare postulants follow the same formation program before they make their first (temporary) profession of vows, so after entering, she was “firmly grounded in cloistered life,” Sister Seraphim says. Throughout that formation time, she did not say anything about being attracted to the extern vocation. “I thought they would ask me which (I preferred),” she says, adding that she “could tell within a few months” that her call was to be an extern, and finally she shared that knowledge.
Recalling that “beautiful and affirming” formation time, she says her “favorite part (was) the whole idea of being a spouse of Christ … He gives everything, and peace, and fulfillment. I’m so glad I was wrong (about my thought) that nuns were lonely.”
As an extern, Sister Seraphim “lives the full communal life with the sisters,” she says. “It’s the same as the cloistered sisters, except observing enclosure.” Her interaction with the outside world “protects” the cloistered sisters from interruptions, she says. 
When she is interrupted by the doorbell or event, she later makes up any prayers she missed, noting she is “bound to all the same prayers.” She and Sister Brigid, she adds, work together to arrange their schedules to assure each of them has a full, uninterrupted hour of adoration available each day.
The vocation of an extern is not the same as that of an active sister in other orders, Sister Seraphim explains. “We (only) go out if there is a need or if (our) community needs to be represented.” 
That may include attendance at certain funerals and certain diocesan events such as the annual Chrism Mass. If volunteer drivers are not available, Sister Seraphim can drive sisters to their doctor appointments, and, yes, she can take the monastery dog to the vet. She has an office in the cloister and does much of the correspondence and answers the phone. She also does gardening and cleaning in the monastery areas beyond the cloister grate, including in the monastery chapel public area.
Her vocation challenges her, and she says she finds it to be “an acquired skill” to “learn to pace yourself and recalibrate” each day. 
“It stretches me in the way I need to be stretched,” she says, noting that she can’t indulge her shy awkwardness and “since I’ve been out a lot more, I do have to go out of myself … I’m still a work in progress.”
Sister Seraphim sees the entire monastery as a “giant, living tabernacle,” and finds that when she returns after a sojourn beyond the property, it is a matter of “being folded into that peace and love of the sisters … I am (perhaps) less likely to take the cloistered life for granted.”
What first inspired her still does. “It is such a privilege to be that bridge” as described by Sister 
Brigid, she says. “It puts our life in perspective (and I) get to hear (that) prayers (were) answered.”
She continues also to be inspired by Poor Clares of the past, including some extern sisters from a German monastery who were allowed to stay at the monastery in secular dress and continue to house and adore the Blessed Sacrament during a time of persecution. One of those externs, she says, was the first Poor Clare extern to come to America.
Sister Seraphim thinks back also to when she was 10 years old and attended a vocation event at her parish. A Salesian sister said something she never forgot: “If you don’t follow your vocation, you’ll never be at peace.”
Sister Seraphim is happy to testify that she has found a “beautiful” vocation, and that she and her 25 sisters are “all one mind and one heart.”


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