Category Archives: Church News

Elizabeth Prout

Elizabeth Prout (1820-2020)

The latest edition of OLC’s Program Guide features an icon of Elizabeth Prout, foundress of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion.

Our Lady of Calvary Retreat Center is a ministry of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion.

Elizabeth Prout was born in September 1820, in the city of Shrewsbury, England. Her father was a cooper, a barrel maker, and earned a good living. In the English society of the day, the Prout family would have been considered middle class. Her father’s employer-provided housing and Elizabeth, their only child, regularly attended school. Anne, her mother, was Anglican, and Elizabeth was baptized in the Anglican Church soon after her birth.

History tells us that there was much religious upheaval in England from the time of Henry VIII who reigned from 1509 to 1547, and into the 19th century. Only in 1829 were all the laws calling for the persecution of Catholics repealed. However, anti-Catholic sentiment remained strong for many decades.

We know that when Elizabeth was in her early 20’s, she became a Roman Catholic. This was a courageous act on her part, and it had serious implications in her life. Most importantly, her parents disowned her. They were upset and embarrassed that their daughter had become a “Papist,” as Catholics were known, and they and Elizabeth became estranged.

Following her reception into the Catholic Church, and because Elizabeth did have the benefit of some education, Elizabeth was invited by the pastor of the local Catholic parish to undertake a teaching position in a Catholic school. This enabled her to be financially independent. It was this work as a teacher that drew her to the poor children in and around the city of Manchester, in central England.

At this time, the mid-nineteenth century, Manchester was changing drastically due to what we now call the Industrial Revolution. Factories were being built, and the cheapest source of labor was women and children. Because of such rapid development, there were no labor laws, no protection for the workers, no requirements for safety equipment, no minimum wage standards, and no restrictions on the number of hours worked. There weren’t any laws against children, even as young as six or seven, being employed in the mills, sometimes up to eighteen hours a day. These conditions existed, in part, because there was no public education system.
It was into this environment that Elizabeth Prout went, with all her courage and faith, and her intense desire to serve God and the poor.

Within a few years, she was joined by other young women with the same high ideals, and in 1852 a new religious community was established, built upon the foundation that Elizabeth Prout had put in place. She and her companions worked tirelessly. There is documentation explaining how Elizabeth walked from one end of Manchester to the other to help with or to establish schools for the poor.

Elizabeth and her companions also showed special care for the women who worked in the factories. They provided an education which the women would not otherwise have received, and they opened hostels – what we might call boarding houses – to provide women with safe places to live. Because what the sisters did was given for free to the poor, some of the sisters themselves went to work in the factories right alongside the other workers, in order to earn money to support their charitable works.

Just twelve years after establishing her religious community, Elizabeth Prout died on January 11, 1864, of tuberculosis. She was 42 years old. Her community was still small, only twelve years old, but following her example, the sisters continued to teach the poor and continually sought to serve where there was a need.

Sisters of that same community, the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, still following the courageous path of dedication and sacrifice traveled by Elizabeth, left their homeland behind and came to America in 1924 and began working in the Diocese of Providence, and then came to the Archdiocese of Hartford. In addition to the United States, the Sisters of the Cross and Passion have carried the charism of Elizabeth Prout from England to Chile, Argentina, Peru, Botswana, Australia, and Vietnam.

Elizabeth Prout, or Mother Mary Joseph, as she was known in her community, is now being considered for canonization. The first stages of the canonization process have been completed, and her title is “Servant of God.” This means that her life has been studied in great detail, especially with respect to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. In faith, she joined the Catholic Church, despite the trials it brought into her life. In hope, she entrusted her fledgling Congregation to God when she learned of her terminal illness. In charity, she dealt with criticism and harsh treatment from those who did not understand her vision for her Congregation.

September 2, 2020, marks the 200th anniversary of Elizabeth’s birth. Sisters of the Cross and Passion throughout the world will be celebrating the anniversary in various ways, and also joining in prayer that the cause for her canonization will continue to proceed successfully to the next designation of “Venerable Elizabeth Prout.”

~ Sister Elissa Rinere, C.P.


Click here to watch a video about Elizabeth Prout.

View our Program Guide below. If you would like a hard copy please contact us at (860) 677-8519.


Who Needs an Annulment?

Sometimes, when couples want to make plans to marry in the Catholic Church, they are often surprised when one partner, especially if non-Catholic, must apply for an annulment.  How does it happen that even non-Catholics must abide by Catholic rules governing marriage?

Read about the changes made to the annulment process by Pope Francis.

Most Catholics are pretty clear about the rules for themselves: unless they get special permission, Catholics must marry before a priest and two witnesses, otherwise the marriage is not considered valid. Marriage in the Catholic Church is a sacrament, and sacraments are regulated by the Church.  Only the annulment process can determine when the sacrament of marriage is not a binding contract. Once a marriage is declared null; that is, determined never to have existed correctly, the Catholic person is considered not married, and may marry in the Church.

While Catholics are obliged to marry before a priest and two witnesses, members of other faith communities, either Christian or non-Christian, are under no such obligation. They may marry in a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony, or any other context and that marriage is considered by the Catholic Church to be a binding lifelong commitment.

While Catholics must marry in the Church, non-Catholics may marry in any context they wish.  All marriages are considered to be lifelong commitments.  No person may make a second lifelong commitment if the first spouse is still living.

For instance, John is a Catholic and has never been married before.  He is free to have a Catholic wedding.  Susan, his fiancé, is Lutheran.  She married another Lutheran (or a member of any non-Catholic faith community) and then divorced.  It makes no difference if Susan married before a Lutheran minister or before any other duly licensed Justice of the Peace.

The Catholic laws on marriage respect Susan’s first marriage as a binding lifelong commitment. Thus, Susan is not free to marry in the Catholic Church unless her first marriage is annulled according to the Catholic process.

These rules bring us good points and not so good points.  On the negative side, the rules can be very complex, and the annulment process can be difficult, time-consuming and somewhat intrusive for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  Of course, another very serious difficulty is that not all marriages can be annulled.

On the positive side, the intent of the rules is to give great respect to the sacrament of marriage as a sacred vocation and a path to holiness.  Popes have taught that the family is the “domestic church,” in which children are evangelized by the faith of their parents.  Marriage is sacred because children are sacred, and family life is sacred.

The situation of the sacrament of marriage is very tenuous in today’s culture, where the divorce rate is almost 50%, and where more and more couples do not choose marriage at all, in any form, but rather simply live together.  Studies have shown that unstable homes leave lasting imprints on children.

Yes, the rules concerning marriage in the Catholic Church are complex and demanding.  However, their intent is to safeguard and respect the vocation and sanctity of the sacrament.  How to bring these two realities, the restrictions, and the intent, into harmony is a challenge for all who love the Church.

NEW! Sister Elissa will be offering an Annulment Workshop here at OLC on Saturday, February 22, 2020. 

Sr. Elissa Rinere, C.P. has been a Passionist Sister for over 30 years. She holds a Master’s degree in education from the University of Rhode Island and a Doctorate in Canon Law (J.C.D.) from the Catholic University of America.

Is the Feast of the Ascension a Holy Day of Obligation?

Ascension Thursday and Holy Days of Obligation

On May 30, the whole worldwide Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension. The account of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven is found in the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20.

Scripture scholars tell us that there are two great “faces” to the celebration. First, the mission of the apostles is transformed from being learners to being teachers. Jesus gave them the mission: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”

Second, there is a reminder for all the followers of Jesus in every age, that we are also responsible for carrying on the message of the Gospel through our words and deeds. Our mission is to prepare the world for the coming reign of God.

Certainly, the message of the Ascension is significant, but is the Ascension a “holy day of obligation”? Well, it depends on where you live. In 1991 the bishops of the United States established that Ascension Thursday was one of the six days of Obligation to be observed throughout the entire country.

Then in 1999, because of some differences of opinion, it was decided that the bishops of every ecclesiastical province of the country could make a decision about Ascension Thursday for their own people. (An ecclesiastical province is a group of dioceses. There are 33 ecclesiastical provinces in the United States).

So now, in 2019, Thursday, May 30 is a Holy Day of Obligation if you live in the six ecclesiastical provinces of the Northeast, or in Nebraska. The Northeast provinces cover eight states on the Atlantic Coast, from Maine to Pennsylvania, and Nebraska is the ninth. In the remaining forty-one states, the celebration of the Ascension is transferred to the following Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

Whether the obligation is yours or not, the meaning and message of the Ascension are worthy of our attention and prayer.

~ Sister Elissa Rinere, CP

New Norms on Child Protection

New Norms on Child Protection

Recently, Pope Francis issued a legal new document about child protection and the manner in which allegations of sexual misconduct are to be dealt with in the Church. Commentators fall into two basic categories; those who say the new law is a great step forward, and those who say the new norms do not go far enough. Probably, both views are correct.

In the “norms are a step forward” category, the norms name all clergy and religious as mandated reporters in all instances of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. There are protections in place for these mandatory reporters, and courses of action to be taken in case of retaliation against them.

Minors are defined as those under the age of eighteen. Vulnerable adults are any persons over eighteen who are in a state of physical or mental infirmity or deprived of personal liberty in a way that limits understanding. Furthermore, victims must be listened to, respected and given whatever spiritual, medical or therapeutic assistance called for in the particular circumstance.
The norms also provide a framework for holding bishops accountable if they fail in their responsibilities to take action, or if they themselves are accused of misconduct.

In the “norms do not go far enough” category, is the fact that all the reporting and investigation of allegations remain within the Church, with bishops or archbishops or with Vatican officials. There is minimal possibility for the involvement of the laity in these processes, so for many, the new norms are not new at all.

There is one important point to be made here. Most dioceses in the United States have had a process for reporting sexual misconduct and investigating allegations in place since 2002. That was the year the Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) implemented what is referred to as the Charter for the Protection of Children. One of the deficiencies of the 2002 Charter is the lack of consequences for bishops who fail to take action when action is called for. The new norms issued by Pope Francis address this point of episcopal accountability, and the USCCB will work to amend the already existing Charter to include this essential point.

Even at this time in the life of the Church, many dioceses around the world have no norms in place for addressing this crisis of clergy sexual abuse, no system for reporting abuse, and no guidelines for carrying out investigations. As this new law is implemented throughout the entire Church, we pray that the scandal of sexual abuse will be rooted out completely and forever.
Note: The full text of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter issued “motu proprio” (by his own authority) is titled “Vos estis lux mundi” and available at or at

~ Sister Elissa Rinere, CP