A life devoted to prayer

St. Joseph, Marion, parishioner will enter the novitiate this March

Contributing Writer

Katlin O’Connor is ready to devote her life to prayer and penance as a Carmelite nun.

O’Connor says she is confident about her divine calling, as her leap of faith came after she returned to the Catholic church amid much soul-searching.

“It doesn’t seem like a big change for me,” she said. “It will be comforting to go back to the basics, to do the simple work of daily life and focus on prayer.”

O’Connor, 30, of Marion, Ill., is a veteran of the United States Air Force, having worked as an intelligence officer for six years.

In March, she will enter the novitiate at The Carmel of St. Joseph Monastery in St. Louis, Mo., which is about one year after she began studying their way of life from within the cloistered community. She has stayed there for extended visits.

“I hit it off really well with them. It really felt like home. I had a deep desire to stay,” she said. “This is definitely God-driven.”

The Discalced Carmelites, known officially as the Order of the Discalced Carmelites of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, was founded by St. Teresa of Avila. The word “discalced” denotes belonging to one of several strict orders of Catholic friars or nuns who go barefoot or wear only sandals.

At the St. Louis monastery on Clayton Road, she will join 17 women between the ages of 22 and 95, and share in their common life and prayer, centering their lives on God.

O’Connor said her day will include two hours of solitary prayer, one in the early morning and the other in late afternoon.

They are the only Carmelites in the U.S. to have daily exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and each sister has a period of adoration during the day.

The nuns recite in common all seven hours of the Divine Office throughout the day – incorporating psalms, readings from Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, hymns, and prayers. After daily Benediction and night prayer, the Great Silence begins and the sisters go to their rooms for solitude and quiet before turning in for the night.

Common duties include cooking, cleaning, gardening, sewing, beekeeping and bookkeeping.

Sisters earn their living by printing novenas, painting enrollment cards and packing and shipping altar breads.

After their meals in silence at noon and 6 p.m., the sisters may enjoy a period of community recreation – often talking and sharing as a family, walking outdoors and other recreation. Feast days and profession days are special days of various activities.

“We take care of each other, and live together as a family,” O’Connor said.

Life of Service, Prayer
During her military service, O’Connor said she had drifted away from the church. After moving back home to Marion, Ill., she eventually resumed going to her longtime parish church, St. Joseph Church.

Even though she had talked about becoming a nun as a youth, she entered the Air Force right after high school.

The early vocational interest as a teenager came when, as a part of a youth group, she attended conferences where nuns would be very visible.

“It popped into my heart: ‘That’s what I want to do,’” she said.

But at school, guidance counseling led to the military. Her affinity for foreign language was a factor.

After training in Texas, she moved to Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada for three years, then Yokota Air Force Base on the island of Honshu in Japan for another three years.

When she had to decide to either stay or get out, she left to consider her place in the world.

“I had no idea what I’m supposed to be,” she said. “I was at a crossroads in my life.”

The Lord called her about a year and a half after she came home.
“I had a deep personal encounter with God,” she said. “I considered it divine providence.”

O’Connor said it happened during a very dark time in her life.

“I personally experienced God’s mercy. It was a new change in the direction of my life. I was freed with God’s love. I re-centered my life,” she said.

She looked at other orders, especially the Poor Clares, because her confirmation saint, St. Catherine of Bologna, was an Italian Poor Clare nun. But she was ultimately drawn to the founder St. Teresa’s order of Carmelites.

“It just clicked,” she said.

She noted little signs and coincidences.

“It feels very freeing,” she said. “I will be able to deepen my relationship with the Lord. I might be giving up something but I am gaining something too.”

Her Parish Work
For some time now, O’Connor has been a valuable volunteer in her parish.

Father Brian Barker, pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marion and St. Paul Catholic Church in Johnston City, said she has led a Catholic book study group on Mondays, brings communion to the homebound each week and leads the parish in a rosary before Sunday Masses.

“She has been a real blessing to the parish,” he said. “She is also a very generous soul with her resources, time and talent.”

The parish plans a send-off party in February. Final details were still being worked out at press time.

“She will definitely be missed but we are happy and excited for her as she begins this new chapter in her life,” Father Barker said.

O’Connor said helping others has been a rewarding experience.

“I enjoy being able to help people who want to be helped,” she said.

She views doing small services, like cooking for the homeless, as something good for someone else, but also helping people to keep hopeful, she said, “without a license or certificate.”

O’Connor said her parents are supportive of her decision. She is the youngest of seven children in a blended family.

“My mom wasn’t very surprised at my decision,” O’Connor added.