Suzanne McKenzie, here with 7-year-old grandson James McKenzie, is the only Widow of Prayer west of the Mississippi River. But eight Oregon women are in formation for the officially recognized Catholic association, and McKenzie is recruiting more. (Courtesy Suzanne McKenzie)
Suzanne McKenzie, here with 7-year-old grandson James McKenzie, is the only Widow of Prayer west of the Mississippi River. But eight Oregon women are in formation for the officially recognized Catholic association, and McKenzie is recruiting more. (Courtesy Suzanne McKenzie)
There’s a new Catholic team in western Oregon preparing to fight evil and pray for good — widows. The church has officially recognized the potential spiritual superheroes.

The Widows of Prayer is a private association of the faithful founded in Wisconsin in 1994. In six Midwest towns, and now in Oregon, the women meet, pray and work for mutual support and to gird the Catholic Church and its leaders.

A widow who lives on a farm between Molalla and Mount Angel has started an Oregon chapter that has drawn interest from eight women who are now in formation.

“Widowhood sets you up for a deep relationship with God,” said Suzanne McKenzie, a 68-year-old who attends Mass at Mount Angel Abbey. She professed vows in the Widows of Prayer in 2019. “As a widow, you have been through a lot,” she said. “That can make you a prayer warrior.”

At present, McKenzie is the only official Widow of Prayer west of the Mississippi River, but expects more western women to profess promises in the future. There are more than 60 members in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana in addition to Oregon; though they are a community, they live in their own houses or apartments — even nursing homes.

The church has a long tradition of widows playing a major role. The Gospel of Luke mentions the prophetess Anna who lost her husband after seven years of marriage but worshipped, fasted and prayed in the temple until she was 84. Widows likely were among the followers of Jesus and joined the bands of the apostles. St. Paul received help from widows as he spread Christianity. In the first three centuries A.D., an order of widows emerged, serving and praying on behalf of the fledgling Christian community.

Widows of Prayer carries on the tradition in a world sometimes unfriendly to the faith, said McKenzie, who came to the group with plenty of religious knowledge. She studied nursing and theology at the University of Portland and then earned a master’s in theology from Mount Angel Seminary.



McKenzie grew up in Albany. As a teen, she fell in love with the Catholic Church, having watched the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. After her wedding, she took the leap and became Catholic. She was a nurse in the U.S. Navy for decades and kept practicing later.

Her husband then developed dementia. She cared for him for years until his death. Through the trial, she sought spiritual direction. Her faith grew.

She knew she did not want to wed again — unless it was a spiritual marriage with Jesus and the church. She considered religious orders of widows, but then found Widows of Prayer and was drawn to its way of being in the world but not of it.

McKenzie also wanted to stay in her beloved Oregon and maintain her 30-year connection to Mount Angel Abbey as a Benedictine Oblate — a lay person who seeks to live the monastic life at home. That parallels the call of Widows of Prayer.

The women are expected to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily and spend an hour each day in mental prayer. “The goal is to turn your entire life into a prayer,” McKenzie said. The community emphasizes respect for the Blessed Sacrament, including daily Mass and adoration when possible.

The Widows of Prayer are listed in the U.S. Official Catholic Directory. Archbishop Alexander Sample approved the group’s presence in Oregon. McKenzie is recruiting new members.

Formation in Widows of Prayer takes at least a year. During her training, McKenzie spoke by phone regularly with members of the order in Wisconsin to prepare to make the group’s vows of simple living, chastity and obedience.

As much as the pandemic allows, women who are discerning membership meet monthly at Mount Angel Abbey for Mass, rosary and prayers for priests and seminarians. In one talk at Mount Angel, Benedictine Brother Israel Sanchez told the widows that they are joining the monks in a life of holiness that will counter evil in the world.

“I really feel God wants this going,” said McKenzie. “Oregon needs more prayer warriors. People need a purpose. This is a very big purpose.”

Learn more

widowsofprayer.org

Oregon women interested in Widows of Prayer can contact Suzanne McKenzie at suzmckenzie@gmail.com or 503-949-3142.