Sr. Claudette Blais, O.C.D.
By Katie Fiermonti, Photography by Charlene Graham
Sister Claudette Blais, O.C.D., knew that she wanted to make water the symbolic theme running through her recent Golden Jubilee celebration. The program marking the day’s celebration lists hymns, Scriptural passages, and images of springs, rivers, and streams – powerful life-giving metaphors for the love that has filled Sister Claudette’s heart from the moment she knew she wanted to become a Discalced Carmelite nun.
“The living water, the depth, flow, the movement. It is the life of God in us,” says Sister Claudette, who lives with her sisters in the sunny, quiet Carmelite monastery in Concord, New Hampshire. Together they live a contemplative presence on the “margins” of society, as Sister Claudette puts it, inspired and guided by the life and teachings of their foundress Saint Teresa of Avila in the mid-sixteenth century. For Sister Claudette, her decision to become a Carmelite was rooted in “a powerful longing for ever deepening union with God in the Risen Jesus and its life-giving effect that knows no boundaries,” she says. It was never about escaping the problems of the world but about finding in silence, solitude and a loving community in which to lift up the world’s prayers to God.
“There’s a different sort of witness here,” says Sister Claudette. “The deeper our union with God, the more we touch people. The more open we are to our neighbor, the more God can work in us to transform the world that we know so needs it. A life in Carmel is a life of prayer, and prayer is about surrendering to God in a relationship of love. We are all in communion with one another.”
Sister Claudette remembers sitting at her grandmother’s home on a Sunday afternoon when she was about 15, leafing through a Catholic comic book, when she read an article about Saint Therese of Lisieux. “Something told me, you’ve got to look at this. I was just drawn to it, the life of prayer. I wanted to go to Carmel.”
The Berlin, New Hampshire, native never forgot that feeling, which only grew stronger through high school and college and a year of teaching until she finally entered the Carmel of Montreal in 1961. “I just knew this was where I had to be. I wanted to do something with my life that had a wide, wide reach of people,” says Sister Claudette, remembering her first day at Concord’s Carmel monastery in 1963. “If you trust in God and listen, your path will unfold. And if I had to do it all over again, I would.” Fifty years later, Sister Claudette still lives her life with her sisters in serenity and warmth. Every day she joins with her sisters for the Eucharist, and the Liturgy of the Hours – Morning, Midday, Evening, and Night Prayers, and the Office of Readings – and enjoys meals, recreation, and sharing with her small community. She engages in silent prayer twice a day.
Responsibilities in the cloister – the sacristy, reception, cooking, cleaning, and correspondence – are divvied up among the nuns. As contemplative nuns, Sister Claudette and her sisters live and work within the monastery.
“This life of intimacy with God is lived in a community,” says Sister Claudette. “You have to be humble, detached, and loving. That’s what Teresa of Avila said. We’re focused on our relationship with God, and we live a life of prayer, growing in our relationship to one another, in the context of God’s presence. I love the Lord and being here with my sisters, and I’m grateful. I’ve found great joy in Carmel. God is very real.”
To find out more about the Carmelite Monastery in Concord, visit www.concordcarmel.org. Mass is celebrated daily in their beautiful chapel and the public is welcome to attend.