2014 Polar Vortex Visits Passionist Nuns

That’s right…last week we were visited by the Polar Vortex!  Three Chroniclers (Mother, Sr. Mary Veronica and Sr. Rose Marie) have shared their blow-by-blow accounts with me and I have combined them for you below. Forgive me if the details don’t all match up. I am about to go cross-eyed trying to keep all the details in order…

Friday and Saturday, January 3rd and 4th

Temperatures dipped below 0 degrees; five heat pumps in chapel gave way from being overloaded. Temperature was down to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  Our maintenance man was able to get three of them working, temperature back up to about 65 degrees Saturday in time for Vespers I of Epiphany.

Elizabeth and family arrive.

Sunday, January 5th

Solemnity of Epiphany – Elizabeth officially enters the monastery today. The good Lord allowed us to have heat long enough to celebrate the Epiphany in chapel The temperatures outside have been below 0 degrees so we are wearing coats and hats for Mass. It is about 55 degrees in chapel. We have set up the parlor to have Mass in there Wednesday.

Monday, January 6th

The heat pumps are struggling again. This evening the temperature dropped down to -6 degrees.

Tuesday, January 7th

In the wee hours of the morning five of the heat pumps in our chapel tucker out, not being able to keep up with the cold.  By the time most of us get up, it’s 55 degrees in our chapel. Mother instructs the nuns to dress warm for Mass.  Nuns show up for Mass in shawls, coats and scarves.

After Mass we move back into parlor for Mass and Divine Office.


During the noon recreation later in the day, Mother Catherine Marie takes Postulant Elizabeth down to chapel to show her a few things on our organ.  Elizabeth notices the sound of dripping water.  Within 10 minutes there are several streams of water pouring from the ceiling of the ambulatory on the guest’s side of our chapel as the ceiling tiles melt into an oatmeal-like texture and fall onto the floor, closely missing the heads of the bewildered nuns gathered below who are scrambling around with rags and mops, not quite knowing what to do.  Meanwhile, water continues to pour down from above and pink insulation saturated with water sags down from the tile frames and lets down more streams of water.


Sr. Mary Veronica gets a ladder to begin removing ceiling tiles before they disintegrate, fall and bust into a splashy, gloppy mess on the floor. She braves at close range the streams coming down from the pipes above. Her glasses are dripping. She has pieces of dissolved ceiling tile on her habit, which is being spattered with water from above. I ask if she wants an apron. She smiles and chuckles… “Not much use!” Alas, too late!


Within five more minutes, every rag in the monastery is on the chapel floor as water continues to drain down, showing no signs of letting up. There are now about 8 mops at hand which are all sopping wet. About 15 buckets and tubs of various sizes are arranges beneath the deluge. Nuns are pushing water around the floor with saturated mops and attempt to form dams to contain the water so it doesn’t move through the pew area and damage the wood.



Five minutes later, a wet-vac is introduced onto the scene. And a ‘sprinkler man’ arrives. The first words out of the first man to show up when he saw us was a sigh and “I hate to see you all with this.” He made preliminary investigations, looking for where the cold air is getting in. He found some totally frozen pipes a little farther down and said we had been spared a royal mess, I guess we only had a grand mess.  Later more men arrive to work on the sprinkler system and pull large icicles out of the pipes.


The water to the sprinkler system is shut off, and over a period of about 20 minutes, the water-flow slows down to a more acceptable flow. Within an hour the dripping has almost ceased and Mother has nearly completed wet-vac-ing the floor.


Three tubs of saturated rags and 2 heaping wheelbarrows of saturated ceiling tile-mush and insulation are carted out of chapel.

Just when we think everything is under control, Steve, our maintenance man comes running, informing us that the basement is flooded with 3 to 4 inches of water.

We walk down to the basement and stare, shocked, at the liquid floor. Our mechanical/electrical pumps and panels are located in the basement—Not safe to walk in this water. Not much we can do except call the plumber. By this time it’s already late in the afternoon. Plumber arrives. Nothing much he can do till tomorrow. Diagnosis: “we need a bigger sump pump.”


By the time this photo is taken the water has been slowly receding for about 4 hours. Thank the Lord all these chapel heat pumps are elevated
on concrete pads!

At the end of the day, the chapel temperature remains frigid, even more so with the gaping holes in the ceiling on the guest’s side of the chapel where the melted tiles have fallen from. It’s very drafty and also rather dark, so that one has the sense of being in a cave. Poor Jesus! He’s safe in the tabernacle, but His house is cold and somewhat a mess. We would like to be able to stay in here with him in this ‘desolate place’. We bring Jesus into the parlor where we recite Evening Prayer and adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament, all of us wondering, perhaps, ‘Lord, what are you up to?’, and offering Him the whirlwind of the day along with all the events that transpired united to His Holy Cross and Passion for whatever intention He has in mind. We’re praying that none of our other pipes break in the night.

We had Kathy Stiff’s canned home-grown green beans for lunch today. She label the lids of her cans with the letters A.M.D.G.—“All for the greater glory of God” in Latin. Amen. Alleluia!

P.S. This was Elizabeth’s second full day as a postulant!

Wednesday, January 8th

This evening during prayer the Simplex warning system went off. It was disabled but then shortly thereafter Mother looked out the front entrance door to see a deluge of water and thought we must be having quite a storm. Come to find out another sprinkler pipe broke. Thanks be to God it was outdoors and only a little came in under the door. The repairmen were still here working on yesterday’s water sprinkler problems so they immediately cut into the wall over the door looking for the break in the pipe.

During supper Mother asked for volunteers to check every sprinkler head in the monastery and guest house. The different areas were divided up amongst the sisters and we were sent out. No one found any leaks.

We were all joking with postulant Elizabeth – her first letter to her family will be a dilly: “Hey, Mom and Dad, guess what happened on my 2nd and 3rd day in the monastery….!

Sunday, January 12th

Heat pumps working again – celebrated the Liturgy of the Baptism of the Lord in chapel.

Tuesday, January 14th

Feast day Tea Party for the Novice Directress!


 (I had to get this photo in this blog post somehow!)

Wednesday, January 15th

Moved back out of chapel as contractors will arrive by 7 a.m. sharp tomorrow morning to begin repairs.

Thursday, January 16th

Contractors find areas where the caulking and sealing of concrete blocks, etc. had not been done properly and had let in cold air causing the pipes to freeze during last week’s polar vortex.

Our Nuns in Erlanger, KY, after hearing of our woes, send us six loaves of homemade yeast bread. May God reward them!  Delicious!

Friday, January 17th

Quick clean up and move back into chapel after None and Chaplet of Divine Mercy. A group of men here on retreat this weekend led by a Father of Mercy…




It snowed today! This Floridian doesn’t mind.


12 thoughts on “2014 Polar Vortex Visits Passionist Nuns

  1. Oh, my my!! You sweet women have been more than busy praying and cleaning! Sending you love and prayers that this next bout of cold doesn’t bring more challenges.

  2. This is such an incredible sequence of leak events that I find myself wordless! A comedy scriptwriter could not write a better story. I am so glad that you are all safe and warm now and that there are no more water events ever! Wonderful picture of Elizabeth and Sister Mary Veronica!

  3. I am blown away. This is amazing. I’m sorry but that’s the best word, I think. It’s awe-inspiring to me when big things like this happen. Truly, you are in the Cross, and that is the best place to be. Like you, though, I wonder what our Lord is “up to” here. […] you have my prayers.

  4. I am not sure why, but I did not see all the pictures last night. Wow and Thank You! The snow is beautiful but I am so sorry that it has caused so many problems for you to endure.

    You are correct that you did not see some of the photos last night as only after turning off computer did I recall the others I was also going to post. Glad you visited again to see the rest! 🙂

  5. Having had multiple experiences repairing and mitigating major water leaks in various types of buildings, my heart goes out to the trials that the St. Joseph Monastery has endured. It is a joy to see that the sisters weathered this storm with their usual energy and their enduring sense of humor. May God bless all of them and watch over their pipes from now on!!

    NunFather! 🙂 What a joy to hear from you for the first time! Yes, may God watch over our pipes – Thanks!

  6. Living in Wisconsin under pipe-breaking cold all winter, every winter, my experiences certainly didn’t produce the smiles I saw in all of the pictures. Truly, joy in everything is the key to holiness.
    thank you for your wonderful example. Tell postulant Elizabeth we have snow from Oct to April and we will send some snowballs when you run out! Ha ha
    God love you!

  7. ‘I want to be the rag of the monastery’ (Treatise on Mystical Death)

    Ah dear Passionist Fr. Paul Francis from Dublin! So good to hear from you! Your comment made us chuckle. Thanks! Do keep in touch.

  8. Forgive me for saying so, sisters, but maybe the harsh winters you experience mean you need something better than heat pumps for your chapel. Perhaps you could start a capital campaign for an oil furnace for your chapel? I would contribute to it!

  9. Always know where the water cut-off valves are when severe cold is coming! Sure the repair guys will teach you what to do for next time before the cold hits. Also wouldn’t hurt to have a woodstove donated and patched into the ductwork of the chapel to ease the strain on the heat pumps (also gives you something to do with trees knocked down in storms and by age, saves in utility costs). God was good by only giving you only a “grand flood”. 🙂

  10. Unbelievable series of events! Surprising to read all about this. I kept checking to be sure I was on the Passionist Nuns blog site and not reading an action packed adventure story (which, in fact, it was). Happy for the “warm” resolution and your wonderful approach to this situation.

  11. What an ordeal I just got a chance to read your blog about the “waters”. I pray all is well at this date; but why is the Chapel only at 59 degrees? I agree with the other writer that a heat pump may not be the ideal heat source. Sometimes God gives us these challenges; why? only He knows. I hope Postulant Elizabeth isn’t thinking that FL looks pretty good right now (ha only kidding). God Bless


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