Cloister Outreach was founded as the Society of Our Lady of the Cloister in October 1988 by three young
ladies looking for support while discerning contemplative vocations. They met at a retreat in Tennessee, decided to
keep in touch with each other, and were determined to educate the world about the beauty of the cloistered life.
How? Vocational literature from monasteries faithful to the Holy Father were placed in their local churches' racks.
How effective was this? One monastery received three inquiries; another received five.
Spiritual directors began referring their charges to us. At one time, the discerners list numbered twelve,
encompassing several states. The contemplative discerners often knew others traveling the same path, and asked us to
contact them to offer them our support.
Coincidentally, three of these discerners who met together on a regular basis have persevered in their vocations.
Two are now perpetually professed as a Discalced Carmelite and a Dominican, respectively. The third--last we heard--was
progressing through formation as a Cluniac Benedictine hermitess. One of the society's original three
foundresses persevered to perpetual profession as a Carmelite Nun of the Ancient Observance.
The motto "Do not rouse my love until it please to wake," from the Song of Songs, was adapted by the other two
as a testimony of faith--God would admit them to their chosen monasteries (Poor Clare Colettine and Visitation, respectively)
in His own time.
In the meantime, after a conference with her bishop, the late Anthony J. O'Connell, Gemma started developing
the way of life for the Nuns of Our Lady of the Cloister (Cloisterites) in the privacy of her own home, while researching
resources for the comatose and their families. She also made notes for a pro-life charism dedicated to the Holy Innocents.
Then the two SOLC founders still in the world allowed God to lead them to the altar with earthly husbands.
In 1990, Gemma received a verbal Nihil Obstat of the SOLC lay association statutes from Bishop
O'Connell. The statutes very simply stated that the SOLC was an association of vocational discerners and supporters who
applied themselves to promoting the cloistered vocations any way they could--primarily through literature distribution.
St. Rita of Cascia and St. Therese the Little Flower were patrons. The seat of leadership would be wherever Gemma was
domiciled, and she retained the rights to change the statutes and name whenever necessary, according to times and places,
as encouraged by the Second Vatican Council. The renewal of extinct and foundation of new charisms was also included
in the statutes. The bishop suggested that the vocations for the three charisms she had proposed to him would come from
those who came to the SOLC for discernment support.
Gemma has persevered with this apostolate for twenty-five years. In the past, she has sent out packages
of vocation literature for approximately 40 monasteries to destinations given to her through prayer and discernment.
Catholic churches in the most popular tourist sites in the U.S. have been the usual recipients, along with Catholic schools.
Even if these brochures do not get into the hands of prospective vocations, awareness of the contemplative life has been raised.
We now maintain a website which is meant to be a clearinghouse of information on the cloisters. Packages
of literature are still mailed--for a small fee to cover postage--to those who request them. Aside from supporting cloistered
vocations, we also support founders of emerging charisms, and provide other discernment support services as needs present
themselves. We currently support delayed vocations (those over 30); Latin Mass adherent vocations; and virgin males
desirous of consecration similar to that of the females. Gemma has received inspirations for charisms which would
accept these classes of discerners. Those charisms are now on the CONF site.
Many ask about the turnover rate for the cloistered life. Ever since we started this apostolate in earnest,
the number of inquiries has risen, as well as retention. One monastery which had suffered from no vocations
for two decades has had two to make perpetual profession within the last five years.
Gemma's proposed Cloisterites are now emerging as the Reparatrix Anchoresses of Our Lady of the Cloister
(Cloisterite hermits). They and their future cenobitic counterparts follow the document Gemma developed before she married,
known as "The Summary," which was adapted from the Passionist nuns' constitutions.
As per the late Bishop O'Connell's request for lay involvement in the charism, the Secular Reparatrixes of Our
Lady of the Cloister (Lay Cloisterites) are also emerging. The charism for coma support is now taking shape as the Compassionate
Friends of the Comatose, and the pro-life charism dedicated to the Holy Innocents is emerging as Dr. Gianna's Assistants for
Life with another founder.
With the emergence of the Cloisterite Hermits in 2008, the SOLC changed its name to Cloister Outreach.
The internet ministry is a separate entity from the hermits, who are a separate entity from the Lay Cloisterites. We
ask that the three entities not be confused. Thank you.