By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 7, 2011
Mother Mary Jane Frances Williams has been re-elected to serve another three years as the superior at the Visitation Monastery, home to a group of cloistered nuns belonging to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.
Mother Jane Frances was chosen as superior by her peers at the monastery, a position that is bestowed strictly by solemnly professed sisters within the monastery, which is located off of Ridgevale Drive in Snellville. Following this term, the sisters will have to chose a new superior as their rule only allows a superior to serve two consecutive three-year terms.
“We ask for the assistance of the Holy Spirit for who he wants to choose,” said Sister Josepha Maria, one of the professed sisters who voted, about the election process. “It was a good choice.”
Currently there are 11 professed sisters living at the humble monastery and a new postulant who just joined the nuns last week. Prayer is the cornerstone of the life of the nuns, who come together to pray in community five times a day and also have time to pray alone. The day typically begins with private prayer between 6 and 7 a.m., followed by a communal recitation of the Divine Office. The community then gathers for breakfast in silence before returning to prayer before Mass at 9 a.m.
The sisters work after Mass until dinner at noon. Those in formation go to class, which is taught by Mother Jane Frances, while others do various chores around the monastery. After their meal, they gather for recreation and obedience, sharing announcements and prayer requests from the outside community. They return to the chapel for daytime prayer, which is followed by 30 minutes of rest, a part of the community’s rule.
Spiritual reading, work and individual prayer take up most of the afternoon before the sisters gather again for the Divine Office. Their community supper is at 6 p.m. followed by another time for recreation. They come together for night prayer at 8:30 p.m.
Mother Jane Frances, who originally hails from Oklahoma, is a grandmother and widow. She was married for 40 years to her husband, Dennis, and they had nine children, five boys and four girls. Now she has 28 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren across the country in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and her home state of Oklahoma.
She did not know anything about the Visitation nuns when she attended a retreat with the order in the early 1990s. After that initial visit, she returned to participate in a vocational retreat and began discerning a call to join the order. She made her temporary vows in 1996 and three years later professed her final solemn vows.
“She is a very relaxed leader,” said Sister Josepha Maria, noting that the superior’s experiences prior to joining the monastery have helped create a very familial atmosphere.
The Atlanta monastery was founded in 1954 under the guidance of Sister Francis de Sales Cassidy, a native of Macon who served as the first mother superior of the original monastery.
During the 1950s and ‘60s the monastery was located on Ponce de Leon Avenue in the Druid Hills neighborhood in a renovated mansion. In 1974, the new monastery was built in Snellville off what was then a dirt road near Highway 124.