You won’t find these nuns frittering away their time playing Facebook games or watching cute cat videos.
But the Handmaids of the Precious Blood want to be on social media to get the word out about what they do spend their time on — praying for priests — and how the laity can assist the clergy in their spiritual needs.
The small contemplative community has been building a motherhouse in New Market, Tennessee, about 40 minutes northeast of Knoxville. They’ve also been building a presence online. It is not without its dangers.
Their history goes back to 1947. Father Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paraclete, wanted a women’s community dedicated to prayer for the clergy to be a spiritual complement to his clinical work with troubled priests. In his view, that meant prayer and sacrifice, and a focus on Eucharistic adoration.
The nuns wear a distinctive full length red habit, symbolizing the Blood of Christ. Their white veil symbolizes the Eucharistic host.
“All that we do, in union with and in imitation of the Precious Blood, is directed so that priests be holy priests,” said Mother Marietta, the prioress. “We offer ourselves in immolation and reparation for all priests, particularly for those who have lost sight of their sublime calling, praying for the grace of their conversion. We sacrifice our lives completely for the souls of priests, mindful of the vast numbers of souls just one priest can influence in his lifetime.”
In 2013 the congregation moved from Jemez Springs, New Mexico, where they were founded, to the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee. There are 16 nuns, but the congregation also has a house in Lake Villa, Illinois, in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
In 2009 Mother Marietta asked a nun to design a website so the community could better publicize the ways that lay people can participate in their prayer for priests. That spiritual work is important, but in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal, it has taken on a new urgency.
“What we are trying to do now is help people realize who a priest is and his unique ministry and fatherhood,” the prioress said. “Going through these difficult years helped us find our voice and hone our message: Our priests are under constant attack by forces that want to destroy our sacramental bond to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
She sees that happening in several ways, including the direct persecution of clergymen — the kidnapping and murder of priests in the Middle East and Africa, for example, and the attacks on priests in Mexico by drug cartels. “How many priests are left to bring the Eucharist and absolution?” she asked.
In addition, sensationalism in the media gets people angry at the Church and her priests. “This outrage often replaces prayer,” she said.
Finally, there is “our own toxic indifference and criticism,” she said. “How often is a priest treated like a fast food worker to produce what we want and immediately; we live in a consumer-driven world full of noise, while the priest acts in persona Christi. The Real Presence is spectacular, the most important event in history. We can miss Emmanuel-with-us by superficial expectations.”