Archive for Saturday, December 27, 2008

Living joy: Lawrence boasts four female, modern-day apostles from Catholic order

Sisters Elena Morcelli, Debbie Li and Loredana Mazzei pray on a November evening at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center.

Sisters Elena Morcelli, Debbie Li and Loredana Mazzei pray on a November evening at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center.

December 27, 2008


From left, Sister Elena Morcelli talks with Kansas University senior Rachel Schieber, of Kansas City, Mo., at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center.

From left, Sister Elena Morcelli talks with Kansas University senior Rachel Schieber, of Kansas City, Mo., at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center.

Apostles — those stern, bearded guys following Jesus of Nazareth? That’s so first century.

Lawrence boasts four female, modern-day apostles. They post on Facebook, share a Verizon cell phone and minister to clergy and laity, particularly Kansas University students.

They’re the Apostles of the Interior Life, a Catholic order with sisters in two U.S. locations: the University of Texas A&M; and KU.

“Interior life is the life of our spirit, of our soul, and so our community wants to pay attention to this part that is more hidden,” says sister Elena Morcelli, an apostle.

This life involves thoughts, desires and emotions.

“We try to recognize how those are from God and lead us to God,” Morcelli says.

Consecrated yet contemporary

Recognized by the Diocese of Rome in 1996, the order has a Web site at

Eleven apostles are in Rome, of whom four are studying at the order’s house of formation. Apart from the four at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, 1631 Crescent Road, four are at Texas A&M; University.

Morcelli is quick to note that the apostles’ casual, everyday attire isn’t a statement against traditional Roman Catholic sisters’ habits.

“It’s not like a choice against the habit, or we want to hide ourselves,” she says. “We want to live a life that people live, in a very simple, sober way.”

The job requirements, so to speak, of apostleship involve four elements. The first is a strong prayer life — a minimum of four hours a day. This includes the rosary, Mass and other liturgical services, Morcelli says.

“Those are really the gems, the pearls, of our day,” she says. “This is where we get our oxygen, our motivation.”

The second element is the apostolate, or their activities on campus or in the center. The third is ongoing formation, or time in theological study.

Fourth, the apostles use community life, or meetings with other sisters, as Morcelli says, “to witness together the joy and the beauty of the love of Christ.”

Coming to Lawrence

Monsignor Vince Krische, who was the center’s chaplain for 28 years, helped bring the apostles to Lawrence. He invited them to visit KU in 2003.

Krische, now pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Prairie Village, says the sisters provide spiritual direction on a one-to-one basis, which the center’s classrooms of 10 to 80 students couldn’t give.

“They were a perfect addition,” he says.

Morcelli estimates that each year, the sisters see about 100 students regularly — about 30 to 40 students per sister.

No exact figures are available on the number of Catholic students at KU. The Rev. Steve Beseau, the center’s chaplain, puts the estimate at 4,000. Each week, 1,000 students attend Mass at the center.

Beseau says the apostles are witnesses to joy, community life and prayer. “Apostle,” he says, means one who is sent — and these have been sent to teach the interior life.

“They don’t give in to worry,” he says. “Even when bad things happen, it still falls under the providence of God.”

The apostles have room and board from the center, and they live on donations such as money, clothes or furniture. They send any surplus donations to Rome to support those studying to become apostles, Morcelli says.

“People at times kind of wonder, but we want to show them that we are normal people, but yet with a different call,” she says.

Cultural clashes

For Morcelli, that call involved coming to Lawrence from Italy, with no knowledge of the culture and little understanding of English.

“On the human level, it was just like, ‘You’re doing what?’ It was totally insane,” she says. “Here everything is just so perfect, organized and efficient, almost like a machine. We Italians are more laid-back and enjoying some time.”

She says the sisters brought with them “not Italian style, but really Jesus’ style, where Jesus wants us to experience the joy of life.”

“It’s not like Italian versus American type of thing, but this concept of holy leisure and joy — breaking the craziness of this machine,” she says.

Becca Ashley, Olathe senior majoring in Spanish education, has spent all four years of her time at KU under Morcelli’s spiritual direction.

“You meet them, and you see their joy, and you see how utterly happy they are, and you say, ‘I want that,’” she says. “And you don’t have to become an apostle of the interior life to have it.”

Ashley says the apostles taught her how to live in joy as Mother Teresa described it, to put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last — J-O-Y.

“I understand who I am and who I’m supposed to be because I understand more that I was created to live in this joy; I was created for a specific purpose,” she says.

Morcelli would agree. She says consecrated people are created to be a sign — “a sign of joy, a sign of hope, a sign of life that has a meaning that goes beyond what we see here,” she says. “So whatever we do, we try to be this sign.”


Debbie Li, an apostle

Because her father worked for Singapore Airlines, Sister Debbie Li says, she grew up all over the world.

“Since I was 2 months old, I’ve been traveling,” she says — California, London and Honolulu, to name a few.

Her academic dream had been to go to Oxford to study engineering, and she was accepted there. “I was ecstatic,” she says. Before she went, however, a multinational company in Singapore gave her a full scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She decided she couldn’t refuse.

“But really I see that God’s ways are not my ways, because if I had gone to Oxford,” she says, “I don’t think I would have discovered my faith again.”

The university, which Li describes as a kind of “Catholic Disneyland,” at that time had a house for several of the Apostles of the Interior Life. During Li’s sophomore year, she met Sister Tiziana Mazzei and started a journey of spiritual direction with her.

“I was pretty close to getting married,” she says, of the time before she chose consecration. The person she had been dating was Protestant, and she says they had a really good relationship.

“He taught me the meaning of what it means to love,” she says.

At the same time, she says, she believed later that God was calling her to give her life to more than just one person: to God in an exclusive way.

“I felt that my heart was made for something else,” she says. “I guess I thirsted for this God who was limitless.”

She says her former boyfriend was extremely understanding of her decision.

“Obviously it hurt both of us, because we knew what we were leaving, but we didn’t know what was coming. … But he was very, very supportive all the way through.”

Li attended the order’s house of formation in Rome, where she spent two years studying philosophy and three years studying theology at St. John Lateran, an international pontifical university. During her fourth year in Rome, Li took her vows of consecration on Dec. 8, 2006.

“At the end of the day, you do it because you’re so in love with somebody,” she says. “If we think that evil has the power to attract, then how much more powerful, how much stronger, how much more forceful, must love be.”

Questions raised about her faith don’t shake Li. She says she likes the challenge of giving reasons for her faith, which in the end, she says, is about a relationship with God.

“God is not a concept; he’s not an abstract idea. … You couldn’t marry a cause. You marry a person; you give your life for a person,” she says.

She acknowledges that some might find it difficult to enter into such a relationship.

“Being in a relationship means that you’re vulnerable,” she says. “But only in that can you really love, I think. And so, when you open yourself up to a relationship with God, he makes himself known.”

— Shanxi Upsdell


Loredana Mazzei, an apostle

Sister Loredana Mazzei comes from a family of consecrated siblings. Three of the four daughters, including her, are consecrated.

“One is married with two kids,” she says, laughing. “So she saved the race.”

Mazzei’s laughter is hearty and frequent, as is her smile. Her sense of humor must have come from her father, who she says would often tell friends, in front of his wife, “I am so sorry that I got married.”

“And everyone was saying, ‘What are you talking about?,’” she recalls. Her father would finish the sentence: “... too late!”

She says her parents had a wonderful marriage, and because of that, Mazzei always dreamed of having a family.

“I had a great experience of what it means to love one another and love in a family environment,” she says.

One of the things that marked Mazzei’s spiritual journey was the death of her father when she was 14 — seeing his faith and peace even in the midst of pain. He would go to Mass and read the Bible every day, she says.

“When he passed away, I wanted so badly his joy because I knew that when you are in a difficult situation, paradoxically, you can be even joyful,” she says.

Mazzei’s experience with the Apostles of the Interior Life came at an early age, when Sister Susan Pieper, the first of the apostles, came to Italy to her parish. (Pieper is now at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center.)

“When my sister Tiziana decided to join Susan, I still thought that she was a little bit crazy,” Mazzei admits.

Then Mazzei went on a spiritual retreat, where her roommate was studying to become a nun. Mazzei says her roommate’s joy led her to reconsider her perspective on consecration.

“There was something I was holding back because I didn’t want God to take advantage of me, you know? Like he did with my sister, that was my idea,” she says, smiling. “After this retreat, I realized that whatever God really wants, if it’s his will, it’s really to make us much happier than we even think. And so I was much more open.”

Then life continued, and Mazzei started dating. She says they had a great friendship in the Lord.

“God really blessed me because he gave me a really good guy that had the same ideals that I had, that wanted to pray every time we would go out for a date,” she says. She says the person was also “really nice-looking too — that is important.”

“I really had all of these beautiful gifts, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t enough,” she says. “And I know that it wasn’t because of him. It was because of me. There was something there that, you know, I wanted more, and no human being can give you that more.”

Mazzei says she has generally found people to be more religious in the U.S. than in Italy, though at times, she says, they lack clarity on spiritual beliefs.

“When you sell a product, that product can be liked or disliked. … We are not selling a product, but are talking about someone that is already at work in each soul, whether they admit it or not,” she says.

Every time you meet a person, she says, “you meet a divinity at work, hidden within.”

— Shanxi Upsdell


number3of5 8 years, 11 months ago

My Bible teaches that women are to be silent in Church. They are to learn from their husbands and they in turn teach their children. Any time I attend a service of any kind where a woman is leading the service, I pray for the Lord to forgive them as they must be ignorant of his teachings.

luv2raft 8 years, 11 months ago

3of5: Don't worry about these women. I attend St. Lawrence regularly, and women never lead Mass there! Women saying Mass is the worst kind of heresy to the Catholic Church! However, I can see why someone who's not familiar with Catholicism might get that impression from the article. The author should have clarified that ATTENDING Mass and other services is part of these women's duties. Leading Mass is not!

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years, 11 months ago

“It’s not like a choice against the habit.... We want to live a life that people live, in a very simple, sober way".... The job requirements, so to speak, of apostleship involve four elements.... Hmm... sobriety, with a four-step program.Tapping the higher power on the fast track.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 11 months ago

"My Bible teaches that women are to be silent in Church."So how is life in the bronze age?

cowboy 8 years, 11 months ago

Big after christmas sale on burkas downtown

Strontius 8 years, 11 months ago

"So how is life in the bronze age?"Actually, that comes from the Iron age. And it's quite explicit:1 Corinthians 14:33-35 states, "...As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."This seems pretty straight forward, assuming you believe the Bible presents material straight forward. Of course, people will believe whatever they want to, but it's really fun to read the extreme twisting and turning that people will do in order to do the exact opposite of what the text says.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 11 months ago

once again, RantingClownOntheWrongWayBus displays antichristian bigotry. nobody's forcing Boozo to believe anything, but this sure gets under his/her/its skin! hmmm, wonder why. though I disagree with this, and many things in catholicism, based on what the Bible actually says, these ladies chose a demanding spiritual rigor. and they deserve the freedom to exercise their faith, an american value. and I admire their dedication in a fallen world that pulls women in the wrong directions.

Sam_Manilla 8 years, 11 months ago

"based on what the Bible actually says"? I cannot see another faith that takes the Bible more literal than the Catholics, all backed up with scripture. Catholics were the early church and it exists to this day, 2000 years later. The whole Mass is based on scripture.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 11 months ago

"Actually, that comes from the Iron age. And it's quite explicit:"Wow, then it's downright modernistic.

Strontius 8 years, 11 months ago

"Wow, then it's downright modernistic."Actually, it's pretty close. The Romans of that period had technology and medicinal practices that wouldn't be seen again until the early 20th century. "Catholics were the early church and it exists to this day"One of many early churches, actually. There were many types and forms of Christianity for centuries after Jesus supposedly lived and died. Though the Catholic Church likes to pretend it was the only one.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 11 months ago

The Romans also practiced slavery and imperial warfare, which are both countenanced in the Bible.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years, 11 months ago

Strontius: "... Though the Catholic Church likes to pretend it was the only one." [tangedit:] Though the Catholic Church likes to pretend.

Clickker 8 years, 11 months ago

"and the church made her give their child away"BSThe "church" doesnt have that power over anyone in these matters. Your friend may have been forced by someone, but it wasnt "the church". I call BS on that

Christine Anderson 8 years, 11 months ago

I'll bet the first poster is one of those idiots who also believes the Bible gives men permission to beat their wives! Bronx cheer to you, you jerk.As for these ladies, the Sisters, I say more power to them. I am not Catholic. However, if these women have found a religious practice which gives them peace and contentment in their lives, then so be it. There is so much hurt and misery in the world; if these ladies have found something "better", wonderful!

denak 8 years, 11 months ago

Anyone who believes that the Church demands that women be silent is not familiar with the role of women in the Church or for most Sisters for that matter.There are some very, very outspoken women in the Church. Women have a number of roles in the Church. However, leading the Mass it not one of them. But if you go to any Mass you will see women administring the Eucharist or partaking in other parts of the service. Women have always been the main teachers of the Church's teachings. And are instrumental in the charitable and social callings of the Church.The Church does not teach that women should submit to their husbands, suffer abuse from their husbands, or are in any way, inferior to their husband. Marriage is a Sacrament, entered freely and equally among both parties. There is no duress on either side. Abuse is grounds for an annulment in the Church.Lastly, yes the Bible says that women should be silent. However, those passages reflect the dominant beliefs of the time. It does not reflect the beliefs of our time. (except for people like 3of5)If the early Apostles and writers of the Gospels would have preached something as revolutionary as equality for women they would have been summarily dismised. These passages reflect the belief that women were chattle, not complete human beings. Women in the Catholic Church have a lot more authority that women in a lot of Churches. Women still can not be priests but that issue is very much a topic of conversation in the Church. Whether or not it happens, remains to be seen but the Church is one that evolves even though some people like to paint it as if it is still in the Dark Ages.Dena

WHY 8 years, 11 months ago

Rule of thumb. It is okay to beat your wife as long as you use a stick no larger than your thumb. To bad it wasn't rule of the wrist.

Stephen Prue 8 years, 11 months ago

A lot of words over words that no one can prove. That doesn't mean there isn't a higher power(s) it just means we don't know. I'm sure I know what I think I know but most the time I can't even trust my eyes so I'll keep an open mind about things spiritual and give my fellow man room to explore a spiritual path or not to explore at all. Peace and good will to men and women too.

Ragingbear 8 years, 11 months ago

Anyone can make up a church. They can call it Catholic, but if they change any of the rules and regulations then they are in fact Protestant. I plan on making my cat an Apostle, and my dog the Pope. Will I get a big article too?

pusscanthropus 8 years, 11 months ago

Even when Mary Magdalene told the apostles that Jesus had appeared to her at the tomb, they told her to shut up!

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 11 months ago

Not one of us can say with certainty where someone else is on their faith journey. It is an interior matter. I am totally sick and tired of people quoting the Bible to coerce others. That kind of thinking is a classic Bush tactic.

KansasPerson 8 years, 11 months ago

Ragingbear (Anonymous) says…"Anyone can make up a church. They can call it Catholic, but if they change any of the rules and regulations then they are in fact Protestant....I plan on making my cat an Apostle, and my dog the Pope. Will I get a big article too?"Ragingbear, not to be rude but.... what the heck are you talking about?! Did we even read the same article? How on earth did you come away with the idea that this order (Apostles of the Interior Life) are changing any of the "rules and regulations" of the Catholic Church? Or that they are "making up their own church"???Did the name of their order throw you off? "Apostles?" Did you think that they were saying that they are the original 12 or something?I'm trying to help you out on your comprehension here, but you are so far off that I'm not sure I can reach you.However, if you ever read this, please rest assured that they are indeed very Catholic!

Ragingbear 8 years, 11 months ago

Question: What do you call a Catholic that only goes to church on Christmas and Easter?Answer: A fanatic.

KansasPerson 8 years, 11 months ago

Ragingbear, I was trying to help, but since you're not responding in any kind of logical manner, I guess we can't have a discussion.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 11 months ago

okay Sam:in Revelation, we're told never to worship a man, i.e. treatment of the pope.jesus said, on this earth, call no man "father" meaning only God the Father rules out referring to catholic priests as "father.old testament forbids canibalism. must never pray to anybody or anything other than Jesus and the father, not to saints, not to Mary. there's just a few. now, in context, Catholics are free to exercise their faith. I'm just answering your question. and equally, I appreciate the freedom to exercise mine.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years, 11 months ago

... a a a h h h h h h h h a a a h h h h h h h h a a a h h h h h h h h ...

empowerunow 8 years, 9 months ago

Its amazing how limited and shallow the children of God are. We are spitual being in human form thanks to the holy spirit but can't seem to interpret scripture except through our natural mindl. seeing we see not and hearing hear not we are neither male or felmale jew or gentlile in christ because in christ we are one. Women are not all married and some can't ask their husbands at home. some husbands aren't even christians. I suppose they don't have a voice or an oppinion about christ and salvation. Several questions should be aske when studing (not reading) the scripture; who, what, where, how and etc.... dispensation, and context must be applied. most of all God hasn't stopped speaking after all men inspired of God wrote the bible in its original form but after all who was King James and what was his lifestyle. I am wome and do preach as the spirit gives me utterance. It is cultic blind religious fanatics who mislead people and limit the gospel. Get the facts but most importantly get the truth.

empowerunow 8 years, 9 months ago

The scripture (new testament) tells us that we are the temple of God. The Church was formerly a building, but now we are the tabernacle of God.

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