Story by S.L. Hansen
VALPARAISO (SNR) - What makes Bob and Susan Masek’s love story unique is not that they met as college students, or their lovely Catholic wedding, or their two beautiful children. It’s their love for Christ and the way He led them to “bloom where they are planted.”
When their children were still in early elementary school, the Maseks felt called to make a change. They were happy in their vocation to the married life, parenting, and serving in their parish, but they wanted to do something greater for Jesus.
“We were ready to sell everything we had and move to New Guinea or something,” Bob said.
They prayed for direction and prudently consulted a priest. His advice was to stay in Valparaiso and look for God’s will there.
“We kept telling God, ‘Make sure there is a neon sign showing us the way,’” Susan joked.
Three years went by. In 1999, Bob was at the Lincoln airport for his job when he saw their “neon sign”: three newly-arrived Carmelite Sisters.
The sisters were in the diocese to find property for a new monastery. After 11 years in Las Vegas, with no success in finding a permanent home, they had contacted Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz to see if he had a spot for their community.
It turned out the spot – which is now the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – was 4 miles south of the Maseks’ Valparaiso home. The Carmelites rented a small farmhouse near the building site, with a trailer on one side to serve as a chapel. The Maseks volunteered to help the sisters move in and later served as errand runners and chauffeurs.
Almost immediately, the sisters made a big impact on the Masek family.
“These sisters are the most selfless people I have ever seen,” Bob said. “They don’t use the words ‘me’ or ‘mine.’ They are continually looking out for the one next to them.”
The Mass celebrated in the extraordinary form (“Latin”) was an eye-opener for the Maseks, too. Sitting in the back row of the makeshift chapel, they were inspired by the holy reverence of traditional liturgy.
“The very first time, we thought, ‘Where has this been all our lives?’” Susan recalled.
Some weeks later, the prioress, Mother Teresa of Jesus, asked the Maseks to become the caretakers of the Carmel. Bob and Susan were dumbfounded.
Respectfully, Bob started to explain to Mother they weren’t qualified to oversee a 50,000-square-foot monastery and surrounding property.
He remembers Mother’s response: “She said, ‘God wouldn’t have brought you to us if He had thought you couldn’t do it.’”
“Then she turned and walked away,” Susan smiled. “And here we are, 16 years later.”
During Thanksgiving week of 2001, enough of the monastery had been completed for the sisters to move in. Simultaneously, the Maseks moved into the new caretaker’s home, which the sisters had designed to suit them exactly.
Their house is attached to the guest quarters for discerning women and the sisters’ visiting families. The Maseks maintain the guesthouse, sometimes providing meals as requested by Mother.
When the guests are family members of women entering the cloister, the Maseks offer spiritual and emotional support. Susan said that they sometimes draw on their experience running a funeral home years ago.
“It can feel the same,” she said. “You go through that loss, but then you see her so full of joy and it’s just perfect.”
In fact, some parents have confided in the Maseks that since their daughters have entered the cloister, their relationship is closer than ever.
While continuing to work their jobs in Lincoln, the Maseks shop for the sisters, pick up mail, transport potential postulants to and from the airport, and perform general grounds and building maintenance. For more advanced work, a pre-approved list of contractors have permission to enter the cloister, accompanied by sisters, to do repairs.
The sisters themselves do most of the work within the monastery. They milk the cows, garden, can vegetables, clean, cook, and so forth. They also produce prayer cards, embroider liturgical linens, and use their God-given talents in other ways to serve the Church.
“Whatever talent a sister has, those talents are magnified here,” Bob said.
In these last 16 years, the Maseks have become like extended family members of the sisters. Immediately after their daughter’s wedding, the newlyweds and their parents went to enjoy a couple hours with the sisters, who sang to them beautifully from the other side of the grille. When their son was paralyzed in a serious accident, the whole Masek family was sustained by the sisters’ prayers.
Twice, the Carmel population has grown large enough to start new monasteries in other dioceses. One group left for Elysburg, Penn. in 2009, and the other moved to Kensington, Calif., in 2013. The sisters are currently praying for God’s will regarding yet another new community.
Each time, the Maseks said goodbye to a group of sisters they truly love. They recognize that it’s probably harder on them than it is on the Carmelites, though.
“The sisters practice a detachment from all worldly things,” Bob explained. “They rely totally on Divine Providence.”
Bob and Susan both say they have grown exponentially in terms of faith and trust in the Lord. Their joy and contentment is palpable.
“We never worry any more,” Susan smiled.
Carmelite spirituality, Bob said, “is the secret to happiness.”
All are welcome to visit the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for Mass celebrated in the extraordinary form. Mantillas (head coverings), while more custom than obligation, are available in the chapel vestibule for women to borrow.
If visitors would like to support the sisters by donating supplies such as paper products, shelf-stable vegetarian food items or funding, there is a turn room that is open to the public. Items can be placed on circular shelf that rotates into the cloister.
Also, the sisters love to pray for the people of the diocese. Prayer requests can be mailed to Mother Teresa of Jesus, O.C.D., Prioress; Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, 9300 Agnew Road, Valparaiso, NE 68065.