Community of St. John seeks to be an ‘oasis of light and love’

By: By Jennifer Willems

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a monthly series featuring religious communities and other forms of consecrated life around the Diocese of Peoria in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life. Called by Pope Francis, the celebration will run through Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life.

By Jennifer Willems
of The Catholic Post

PRINCEVILLE — When Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP, visited central Illinois in 2000 for the blessing of St. Joseph’s Priory, he talked about how it could be a place of renewal for the congregation he founded in 1975. His vision for the future included having the English-speaking novitiates for the three branches of his “family” located near each other.

That dream has become a reality in rural Princeville, where the Contemplative Sisters of St. John founded a priory in 1999 and the Apostolic Sisters established theirs in 2012. While it is not uncommon for the Contemplative Sisters to be located near the Brothers of St. John to support the community’s work through prayer and presence, having all three in one place is. That has only happened in Cameroon and France, where the congregation is based.

While each branch of the family tree approaches ministry in a different way, they share the same spirit.

“What our founder would say sometimes is that because we are the Community of St. John, the beloved disciple, we are to be for the church today what John was for Jesus,” said Sister Anne of Jesus Ravillion, CSJ, prioress of the Apostolic Sisters of St. John.

For guidance they look to the Gospel of John, which emphasizes fraternal charity and devotion to the Eucharist, she explained. Also key is “receiving” Mary into their lives as St. John received Mary into his home at Jesus’ request from the cross.

And because John received everything in a contemplative way, all members of the Family of St. John seek to develop that aspect of their lives, said Sister Belinda Mary Caballero, CSJ, prioress of the Contemplative Sisters of St. John.

“Father Philippe would even emphasize that for our Oblates and friends, those who strive to live the mystery of St. John. There’s a mystery of contemplation for everybody to enter into,” she told The Catholic Post. “For us, it’s just in a more demanding way.”

The Contemplative Sisters embrace a life of solitude with a view to being “constantly attentive to the presence of God in our life,” Sister Belinda Mary said. “And, of course, because of the demands of our Brothers’ and Apostolic Sisters’ lives they are sharing what they have and going out to the people. . . . We have different demands.”

The Brothers and Apostolic Sisters often work together to offer programs, youth camps, retreats, Bible studies and conferences. The Apostolic Sisters also foster eucharistic adoration for children in parishes and schools, while the Contemplative Sisters invite the little ones to their own chapel for this.

Because the three communities interact with each other so much, they keep similar schedules, said Father Joseph Mary Brown, CSJ, prior of the Brothers of St. John. That includes having classes and liturgies together.

“We’re always looking for the light, searching for the light,” said Father John-Luke Stahr, CSJ, who is the vocation director and responsible for the studies of the Brothers’ English-speaking novitiate. “I would say the priority of our studies is, first of all, for our contemplative life, a life of personal relationship with God, to be better able to receive the light of God in our own life.”

“Father Philippe would say we study the truth in order to love better — to free us from error and whatever might hinder us from loving better in truth,” Father Joseph Mary explained.

To allow them to do that as a family and reach out to others, the Brothers of St. John built a conference center in 2005-06 and are in the process of adding a guest house. A house of formation is being constructed on the grounds of the Apostolic Sisters, so they can accept more candidates. Both projects should be completed this spring.

To learn more about the Community of St. John in the United States and abroad, visit communityofstjohn.com or attend the open houses at each priory on Sunday, Feb. 8, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. The Brothers will have snacks available. Those who wish may join the Brothers and Sisters for Mass at 11 a.m.

The Brothers are located at 11223 W. Legion Hall Road. The Contemplative Sisters can be found at 11227 W. Legion Hall Road and the Apostolic Sisters are at 10809 W. Legion Hall Road.

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COMMUNITY OF ST. JOHN — Princeville

FOUNDED:
Brothers: Dec. 8, 1975
Contemplative Sisters: Dec. 8, 1982
Apostolic Sisters: Sept. 8, 1984

FOUNDER:
Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP

LEADERSHIP:
Brothers: Father Joseph Mary Brown, CSJ, prior

Contemplative Sisters: Sister Belinda Mary Caballero, CSJ, prioress

Apostolic Sisters: Sister Anne of Jesus Ravillion, CSJ, prioress

MEMBERS:
Brothers: Eight local; 500 worldwide

Contemplative Sisters: 12 local; 100 worldwide

Apostolic Sisters: Four local; 165 worldwide

CHARISM: “To be a community of children of the Father and friends of Jesus, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, in order to live a fully evangelical life, by following Christ and in intimate communion with Him . . . a life of contemplation lived in close proximity to Mary.” (Rule of Life)

APOSTOLATES: In addition to being centers of prayer and study, the three priories in Princeville house the English-speaking novitiates for the Community of St. John. The Brothers and Sisters also offer eucharistic adoration for children, retreats, Bible studies, parish missions, conferences, camps for youth and young adults, and programs to assist in family faith formation.

“If the Community of St. John exists in the Church, it is in order to listen — as did St. John — to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, so that Jesus’ words might penetrate our hearts and thereby lead us to the fullness of truth.” — Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP, Founder

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