67th Foundation of Passionist Nuns in Owensboro Diocese

Tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. Tomorrow is also a very special day for our community of Saint Joseph Monastery for it is the 67 anniversary of our foundation in this diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky. Blessed be God! And special thanks are due to the many benefactors, friends and relatives who have supported our community over these many years...who have made it possible for us to continue this holy life of praise, intercession and grateful remembrance of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Here is an article that was written for our 60 anniversary. I thought you might enjoy reading a bit of our precious history and seeing some photos from those early days...Well, I tried to add more photos from the early days but they were scanned as TIF files and I cannot get them to upload properly. These 2 will have to do!


The Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery, Whitesville, Kentucky, are celebrating their 60th year in the Diocese of Owensboro on October 15 of this year. The Passionist Nuns are the contemplative branch of the Passionist Congregation founded by St. Paul of the Cross to remember the Passion and death of Jesus and to promote this memory in the hearts of others.

On May 1, 1946, Mother Mary Agnes Roche, superior of the Passionist community in Scranton (now Clarks Summit), Pennsylvania, had mailed letters to 21 American bishops, asking each if he would be interested in a foundation of contemplative nuns in his diocese. Mother Mary Agnes had told the sisters that the first positive response she received from these letters would be given special attention. When the response-a very positive one-from the bishop of Owensboro, Kentucky, Most Rev. Francis R. Cotton, reached Scranton, Mother Mary Agnes was encouraged. She sensed that Owensboro was where God was calling them to make the new foundation, and she saw more than coincidence in the fact that the Bishop's letter was dated May 3. This was the date on which St. Paul of the Cross established the first monastery of Passionist Nuns in Corneto (now Tarquinia), Italy, in 1771.


This home was renovated and became the first monastery.

Bishop Cotton expressed appreciation of Mother Mary Agnes' offer to visit him to discuss a foundation. In his response, he wrote, "We are a missionary diocese to a great extent, and I feel that a really devout contemplative community would bring many blessings on our work." At this time, the diocese was less than 10 years old. The Bishop also mentioned in his letter that he felt sure the community's customary work of the lay women's retreats would find a good response from the women of Owensboro diocese.


On October 5, 1946, five Passionist Nuns arrived in Owensboro. On October 7, the first Mass was offered on the new site and St. Joseph’s Monastery was officially established.

By March 1947, the nuns began their hospitality for the laywomen's retreats according the provision of St. Paul of the Cross in the Rule. This ministry touched the lives of numerous women in the Owensboro diocese and also in Louisville, Evansville, Nashville and beyond.

Of the five pioneer sisters, Sister Mary Bernadette Rohling is the only one still living. Now 93, and with her health continuing to decline, she entered Carmel Home in Owensboro this past April. There she receives the spiritual benefits of a Catholic environment as well as the medical help she needs.

The first candidate to make vows in the new monastery was Mary Dunnigan, a retired army sergeant from Hazelton, Pennsylvania. The next four candidates to make vows were all from a nearby parish, St. William's in Knottsville, Kentucky! Since then, new members have come from the diocese of Owensboro and other dioceses, including Louisville and Evansville. Currently, there are seventeen professed members, one novice and one postulant.

In 1989, in response to a Church document, the sisters planned to renovate their chapel in order to facilitate fuller participation of the laity in their liturgical celebrations. It became clear, however, that such renovation would be impossible in their existing structure in Owensboro. In addition, if they were to offer the lay retreat hospitality, there must be space for a small but separate retreat house in a more appropriate environment. Furthermore, nearby industries, increasing traffic and city noise were encroaching on the silent atmosphere of the Monastery. Thus, in 1991, the sisters found themselves making a decision they had never expected to make: to look for land suitable for a new monastery and retreat house.

After much searching, a site was found on Crisp Road near Whitesville, Kentucky. With four years of planning and building, the new monastery was finally completed. The sisters, with the help of numerous friends, moved into their new home on December 21, 1995.

Having settled into the new monastery, the sisters were able to open the retreat house to women and men seeking a brief oasis of silence and solitude to be alone with God. The nuns continue to fulfill their vocation to honor the Passion and death of Jesus and to help others remember this supreme act of God's eternal love for humanity. They seek to imitate Mary, who devoted herself totally to the Person and work of her Son. Through their hidden lives of poverty, prayer, solitude and penance, they place themselves at the service of the Church, so that all may share the fullness of Christ's redemption.

It is with joy and praise to God that the sisters of St. Joseph's Monastery announce the celebration of their 60th anniversary on Oct. 15, 2006. Mother Catherine Marie, superior, and all the sisters give thanks for being chosen to plant the Cross of Jesus more deeply in the soil of the Owensboro diocese. They thank God for the warm welcome and constant support of Bishop Cotton, which his two successors, Bishop Soenneker and Bishop McRaith, continued with ultimate generosity. The sisters appreciate that each bishop has expressed his faith in the spiritual fruitfulness of their contemplative vocation for the diocese and the entire Church. Finally, they are deeply grateful for the spiritual and temporal support of the clergy, religious and the many people who make their continuing presence possible. A Mass of Thanksgiving will be offered in the monastery chapel on Sunday, October 15.

On this special occasion, we make the words of our founder, St. Paul of the Cross, our own:

Let every spirit praise the Lord! And let all creatures magnify the infinite mercies of that great God who has deigned to bring to a conclusion this work which is entirely His, using the care, diligence and charitable labors of yourself and others, for all of whom the Great Giver of every good gift has prepared riches of inestimable merit for time and eternity, because of the many souls who will be saved. We will pour forth our hearts as much as possible before the Most High at the holy altar and in all of our prayers, in order to keep in memory [our] benefactors who have brought about so much good for us.