Two sojourners working in the apple orchard.

From the lab bench to the prairie garden

Paz Vital, OSB Little notes from a prairie journey, Living in Community 18 Comments

Leaving the lab, my family and my friends to live here on the prairie was not an easy choice. But, I am here waiting to experience a northern winter for the first time in my life. I was and I am still excited and scared at the same time. I was born and lived in Mexico for the most part of my life. Then, six years ago, I moved to US and was living in Houston, Texas. So I don’t know what to expect about winter in Wisconsin. But the winter is not the only thing that scares me.

I was working at Houston Medical Center, at Baylor College of Medicine, doing research. I was not happy; little by little my work stopped having meaning. All the excitement for research that had accompanied me the last twenty years of my life had abandoned me, leaving me empty, dry, in a foreign country, without my family and old friends. After some years of solitude I had only a handful of new, very dear friends.

During this unhappy or meaningless time I met one dear friend, Martha. She told me about “Ordinary Life,” a class led by Dr. Bill Kerley, a retired Methodist minister in Houston. He teaches “religious and spiritual literacy,” in his own words. One Sunday he told us about the Rule of Benedict and the ecumenical Benedictine sisters in Wisconsin. I Googled it and voila! Holy Wisdom Monastery was my first option. I looked at the website and after some emails and phone calls to Ann Moyer I arranged an appointment for a weekend retreat.

The first time I met Ann at the bus stop in Madison, I felt welcome. Holy Wisdom Monastery is a beautiful building and the people here are great. When I met Sister Joanne; she took my arm and asked me to follow her to prayer time. I felt her touch and the way she spoke to me as if my granny was talking to me. I turned and looked at her face twice to be sure she was not my beloved granny, who left this world almost twenty year ago. This encounter with Sister Joanne was a gift and a reminder that life continues. When I met Sisters Lynne and Mary David I felt the same welcome—no questions, just welcome. Then I heard Rosy, who was still a novice, singing at evening prayer and she welcomed us too.

Along with me there were four more ladies experiencing this lovely welcome, my holy sisters as I call them. We met for three days with Sister Lynne and Ann. It was a great time; we talked with open hearts. We had five different backgrounds but the same grand need. We were looking for Jesus, his love, his message. But the roads we traveled previously had not showed us Jesus. Maybe we didn’t see him there or he was there, but we weren’t ready to experience his love. Three days passed as a dream, so fast and it was time to leave. Three days wasn’t enough for me, but I would have to wait until my next opportunity to return.

Two months later, three of us returned for a two-week visit. When we arrived we received love and welcome once again. I experienced a new balance between working and praying. We prayed three times a day, worked in the garden, in the kitchen and at Bingen House. I enjoyed Chef Barbara’s food, and I loved the timing, always lunch and dinner are served at the same time. All this new experience was a taste in preparation of what life is like as a Benedictine Sojourner.

Sojourners Paz & Denise working in the orchardThe more I learned, the more I wanted to know and experience at Holy Wisdom Monastery. Now I am here planning to stay for six months. Even though I was not used to working outside, I enjoy working in the garden a couple of hours a day. (Pictured here, I am working with Denise in the monastery orchard.)

Winter will come soon—people told me last week and I thought, but for me this is winter! I don’t want to be caught unprepared, so I just got a new snow coat, gloves, hat and boots that will keep me warm even if the temperatures go below 22 °F. But the winter is not the only thing that scares me.

I moved here because I want to change. Here nature shows me a lot of changes every day, like the beautiful red tree in front of the monastery that today is without a leaf. I almost can’t recognize it this morning and I wonder if something like this could happen to me also in these six months in the Wisconsin prairie? Then I remember spring always follows winter, and this life is a changing process after all.


Read this post in Spanish. Para seguir a paz en español: Desde la mesa de laboratorio hasta la pradera

Read more from Paz in her blog series, Little notes from a prairie journey.

Comments 18

  1. Paz,

    It’s exciting and deeply moving to read this part of your story .. your journey of discovery. I feel confident in saying that no matter where your journey leads during this time of discernment, God will not disappoint you or the desire of your heart. You are in my prayers!! Blessings and Peace, Will Byrd

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  2. I am a newly retired 57 year old transitioning from my busy life as teacher to a simpler one focused on a life lived in union with God while studying to be a Spiritual Director. As much as I would love to share your experience physically, and would in a heartbeat, I am also a wife, mother and gradmother and cannot abandon my life as it is. So, I am completely enjoying reading of your experiences and living it through you. I look forward to your next post. Thank you for sharing the journey.

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      Congratulations! become a Spiritual Director is a great commitment. Nice to know that you enjoy my experiences as a sojourner at HWM. Thanks for your comments .
      Love, Paz Vital

  3. Moving share…I’m so happy you chose Holy Wisdom…the warmth of your heart will certainly warm any icicles off your toes – if the temp drops below -22 degrees. What a gift you are and a pleasure to get to know you. Blessings on your journey

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      Christine Pasinski,

      Thanks for your comments Christine, is a real bless to be here in Holy Wisdom with all their welcoming people. I feel the warm of you heart also.
      Love, Paz Vital

  4. Paz,
    I found your story very interesting, especially because I too began as a research scientist and over time was led into the monastic life in a dispersed Benedictine Community. I applaud your courage in following the call into discernment and will keep you in prayer over the next six months. Having been to Holy Wisdom Monastery, I know the holy and peaceful atmosphere of your current home.
    Anna Kathleen

    1. Anna Kathleen,

      Is nice to know that this road was already walked by someone else. Holy Wisdom Monastery is such a lovely place indeed. Thanks Anna for your prayers

      Love, Paz

  5. Dearest Paz,
    You are dear and open and kind. I loved reading your post and continuing to do so.
    P.S. Can I be the one to show you how to make your very first snow angel?

    Rita Emmenegger

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      Dear Rita Emmenegger,

      I will love you show me how to make my first snow angel, I didn’t even know we can make them.
      Thank you you are so sweet.

      Love, Paz Vital

  6. Dear Paz,
    Your description of your visits to Holy Wisdom Monastery reminds me of the lovely visits I have had there, too. Thank you for sharing. I wish you a blessed time of newness and renewal, and I pray that you find the vibrant life you are seeking.

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      Dear Marcelle Martin,

      Thanks you I appreciate your blessings and pray, I will think of you also in my prays.

      Love, Paz Vital

  7. Although not a religious person, the monastery and those in and around it have comforted my heart and healed me. What a wonderful part of your life; the entry to a different way of living. You are in my thoughts and I wish you a road to your true self.

    1. Cookie Schwartz,
      Thanks Cookie,
      Indeed here at the monastery, we all feel love and compassion from the folks that gather here.

      Love, Paz

  8. It is such a relief to know you are living your dream life… Freezing cold winters would surrender to the heat of your passion for your new lifestyle… You are missed so much down here…

    1. It is such a relief to know you are living your dream life… Freezing cold winters would surrender to the heat of your passion for your new lifestyle… You are missed so much down here…

      Dear Leila I miss you too. I know you understand me and support my decision. Thanks dear friend.

      Love, Paz

  9. Dear Paz,
    First, thank you for your wonderful card. I loved showing you and Denise the International Crane Fd. But, it was also lovely to read your blog. We are supposed to have a mild winter! I’m glad you have prepared yourself some, because if you are dressed for it, winter can be marvelous. Perhaps, you’d like to try some snowshoes. If so, I’d gladly loan you some. What a wonderful gift to yourself to take 6 months to explore spirituality in such a wonderful and supporting setting. Sue Bradley

    1. Dear Sue,

      Indeed, is a pleasure to be here at Holy Wisdom Monastery and meet wonderful, generous people like you. I am enjoying every single day here. Thank you.

      Love, Paz

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