Two PBC residents choose the monastic life
By Lona O'Connor
Palm Beach Post Religion Writer
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Two Palm Beach County residents are among those who have chosen the monastic life, men and women who leave the world, only to spend their lives praying for its welfare.

James Malvey was a parish priest who retired from the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach, then headed north to enter a Trappist monastery in Kentucky.

Angela Rivieccio also found her vocation relatively late, becoming a cloistered Dominican nun in her 30s. She is one of at least five women in the Palm Beach Diocese who have entered religious orders in the last five years. Even at a time when American Catholic parishes are desperately in need of priests, the role of monastics is still vital, said Malvey.

"They need us here. We have different gifts, but we're all the body of Christ."

Monastics trade a world that is increasingly defined by noise and distractions for a life that is simple, communal, prayerful and defined by silence.

At the same time, one of those worldly distractions - the Internet - has become a prime recruiting tool for religious orders, with Web sites for religious orders, FAQs, vocation blogs and "come see" weekends for the curious.

Sister Diana Marie gravitated toward the religious groups that had Web sites and away from those with no online presence.

"One convent, it took up to a month for the novice mistress to contact me. It was just too slow," she said.

Sister Diana Marie

Many of Angela Rivieccio's belongings still reside in her mother's Boynton Beach house, in suspended animation until the day when she takes her final vows as a Dominican nun.

Angela Rivieccio became a novice, Sister Diana Marie of the Most Blessed Sacrament, on Feb. 11, joining the 801-year-old religious order called the Nuns of the Order of Preachers, founded by St. Dominic.

Among the abandoned belongings is her collection of "Star Trek" books, a remnant of her childhood.

"That's like a whole lifetime ago," she said with a laugh. "It's dropped off my radar screen."

She doesn't feel penned up inside the walls of the convent, even though she knows that it bothers some novices.

She misses being able to call her mother when she feels like it. And though she located her religious order through a web search, she is not allowed to use the Internet until her two-year novice period ends.

Born in Staten Island, N.Y., she moved to Boca Raton in 1990, where she worked as a librarian and attended Our Lady of Lourdes parish. Her mother, Diana Rivieccio, and her married sister, Claudia Powell, still live in Palm Beach County.

In 2002, Rivieccio began to feel the tug of a religious vocation.

"Society tries to tell you that you're defined by things and by what you do," she said. "I was not fulfilled. I was very open to be filled by God."

She inquired into several contemplative religious orders, including the Poor Clares order in Delray Beach, and then visited Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, N.J. Something about the Dominican cloister's life of study and prayer clicked with her.

Starting at 5:50 a.m., the Dominican nuns' life is a continual round of prayer, work, meals, study and silent contemplation. Last prayers of the day are at 8:30 p.m. and lights are out at 10.

They do not speak during meals, but may listen while one of the nuns reads aloud to them while they eat.

Their families may visit them, staying in nearby accommodations. Sister Diana was allowed to return to Florida late last year when her father was dying.

The novice's life consists of classes and chores. Sister Diana helps in the kitchen and takes care of gift-shop orders.

The nuns at Our Lady of the Rosary each have a small room, 7 by 10 feet, with a bed, a desk, a bookcase and a closet.

"It's an enclosure within an enclosure," she said, "where I am alone with my spouse, Jesus."

In the year since she entered, she has become closer with the other sisters, who she describes as her "blended family."

As Sister Diana is getting used to her new family in the convent, her mother is getting used to life without her.

"She's not around when you want to call her up. Some days I walk by her picture and say, 'Where did you go?" says Diana Rivieccio. "But she's happy and contented."

When Seamus Malvey takes his final vows as a Trappist monk Thursday, he will be entering a third phase of his religious evolution.

The first phase consisted of 20 years in the Christian Brothers order. Then he became a priest in the Diocese of Palm Beach, serving nearly two decades in the diocese, at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens, other parishes and several diocesan appointments.
His imagination was captured back in high school, when he read "The Seven Storey Mountain," the memoir of Thomas Merton, probably the most famous Trappist monk of the 20th century.

Merton's combination of mysticism and outspoken political activism galvanized the post-World War II generation of spiritual seekers, many of whom followed him to the Abbey of Gethsemani in the hills of Kentucky.
But it wasn't until after his retirement from the diocese that he finally made it to Gethsemani.

"I had always thought of being a contemplative, so I said, let me just write them, and at least be rejected."

The monks at Gethsemani range in age from 30 to 92, and usually do not take postulants as old as Malvey, but the monks of the order voted to accept him.

There is a decidedly egalitarian streak at the abbey, where a priest or a PhD may be assigned to do manual labor and abbots are elected by a vote of the community.

Still, he was surprised when the abbot transferred him from working in the laundry to running the abbey's busy visitor center and book store, where busloads of day-trippers and retreat-goers arrive year-round.

The abbey was established in 1848 by the French Cistercian order. From the beginning the abbey was self-sustaining, even built from bricks made by the monks. They still grow their own vegetables, make their own shoes and other necessities. The monastery does a brisk year-round business in its signature cheeses, bourbon-laced fudge and fruitcakes.

With 2,300 acres to oversee, the order even has its own forester monk.
Besides their daily duties in the kitchens and the fields, the monks chant the Psalms seven times a day, starting at 3 a.m., as they have every day since the abbey was founded.

Long periods of solitude produce interesting results, said Malvey.

"I can't pretend I'm humble and holy," said Malvey. "Eventually, it will break down and finally you become yourself. That's when grace takes over. God calls a person, the real you, not the person you would like to be."