Jessica Powers loved Wisconsin, its land, its creatures, and its Creator. She came from a pioneer family. She was born to John Powers and Delia Trainer Powers, of Scotch heritage. From her Irish grandmother, Catherine, her legacy was the Old Countries pre-occupation with unseen things. From her grandparents and parents she inherited a gift for the language and the spoken music of great Irish poets and dramatists. The sorrow and suffering of the Irish, and the strong Catholic faith were deep in her bones and so was her innate attraction to nature and Wisconsin. To Jessica the landscape of Wisconsin must have been overwhelming at times. When she reflected on the beauty and enchantment of such places as the rugged limestone peninsula of Door County, the singular hills and kettles of the Kettle Moraine area, the heart stopping experience of the driftless hills, the ever widening horizon of the northern lake and forest counties, and finally the mystic cat-tail valley of her home soil, she must have felt the haunting, beckoning presence of these many places, and looked with awe and reverence.
Biography Jessica Powers
(February 7,1905- August 18,1988)
Years in the farm community, Chicago period (1923-25), return to family (1925-1936)
Agnes Jessica Powers was born in Mauston, Wisconsin, the third of four children of John Powers and Delia Trainer Power. Early sorrows touched her heart. On June 8, 1916 Jessica's older sister, Catherine Dorothy, died at the age of sixteen of tuberculosis. Two years later her father died of a heart attack while hauling coal for the parish priest. She graduated from Mauston High School in the Spring of 1922. From Autumn 1922 and first part of 1923 she attended the School of Journalism at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Later in 1923 to the end of 1924 she worked as a secretary in Chicago, Illinois. At that time, Jessica lived with an aunt. She immediately returned to the farm in Mauston upon the death of her mother in 1925. She kept house and cared for her brothers, Johnny and Danny from 1925 to 1936.
Before 1936 she published over a hundred serious poems most of them in newspapers, magazines, and poetry journals. She referred to her poems as "songs" and it is possible that the lyrics spoke as much to the inner ear as to the external ear. As to the natural world she came upon it abruptly and denied nothing, but gave to it a lyrical beauty through her brisk clarity, powerful imagery, and depth of perception and faithfulness to the human condition. Her early poetry reflects her Wisconsin background and experiences most clearly. The Wisconsin poems are a necessary prelude to the later poems of contemplation and mysticism. As a mystic Jessica came to express in her poetry the direct, intense, immediacy of God's presence. She is a contemporary poet in the ancient tradition of John of the Cross.
New York period (1937-1941)
After her brothers married she went to New York city and lived with Jessica and Anton Pegis in Tuckahoe New York. Pegis was a professor of philosophy at Fordham University. She spent her time attending to the care of the Pegis' children. This work freed her mind to concentrate on the deeper realities of life with a minimum of distraction. She was able to live in an intellectual atmosphere and came in contact with the academic word of writers and poets: She became a member of the Catholic Poetry Society of America. This was a period of time in which her poems reflect images and themes of discontent, dislocation, and spiritual yearning.
In 1939 she published her first volume of poetry: THE LANTERN BURNS.
Carmelite community (1941-1988)The Power's House in Cat Tail Valley. Jessica under a beloved pine tree at the time of her entrance to Carmel.
Jessica Powers entered the Milwaukee community of the Carmel of Mother of God, as a postulant on June 24, 1941. Jessica was forced to take sick leave due to a returning bout with tuberculosis that had first occurred in 1920. On April 25, 1942, she received the habit of the Carmelites in a clothing ceremony and was given the religious name of Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit.
Many of Jessica's poetic reflections, influenced by her living experiences in a cloistered Carmelite community, from 1941-1958, may be found in her book The Place of Splendor (1946).
Her poetic reflections on meaning and passages of life from 1958-1988 are caught in her three books
Mountain Sparrow (1972), Journey to Bethlehem (1980), and The House at Rest (1984). She published a children's book The Little Alphabet in 1955.
At the age of eighty-three she suffered a severe stroke and died on August 18, 1988. The funeral liturgy was held at Carmel of the Mother of God, Pewaukee Wisconsin on August 22. She was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Milwaukee Wisconsin.
"The spiritual legacy of Jessica Powers, an indomitable "gypsy" for eighty-three years, is rich because her poetry documents the repeated rhythms and recurrent cycles of spiritual aridity and spiritual consolation experienced by human beings bound by the limitations of earthly existence while engaged in an authentic relationship with a living and loving God. Jessica Powers has influenced a wide audience of American Catholic and non-Catholic readers on a popular level in newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals for over sixty years. Through her writings, Americans have been introduced to biblical and Carmelite themes set in a language and context which they could identify and integrate into their own personal lives. In this way, the writings of Jessica Powers have influenced the formation of American spirituality in the twentieth-century, and as she wished, her poetry has been used by others in their search for God. The tracks of this mystic have endured."(1)
The sisters,of the Carmel of the Mother of God, like generations of Carmelites before them, pray unceasingly for those whose lives touch theirs, and for the countless others whom they do not know and who have never heard of them. They quote from a poem of Jessica's. "Love is a simple plant like Creeping Charlie; once it takes root its talent is to spread"(2). And to Jessica Powers, in love with the beauty and creatures of Wisconsin, be she reminded that, "Sunsets still explode across the Wisconsin skies. As always, birds in great variety inhabit the trees. Snow remains a fact of winter life. The lantern still burns in the Mother of God Carmel, a small, steady light on the hill beside Pewaukee Lake."(2)
(1)Kappes, Macianne. Track of the Mystic, the spirituality of Jessica Powers.; Kansas City, Mo. Sheed and Ward, 1994
(2)Leckey, Delores R. Winter Music: A Life of Jessica Powers: Poet, nun, woman of the 20th Century;Sheed and Ward, 1992.
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