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Sister Mary Winifred was born and raised in Houston, Texas. For many years a Life Professed member of the Community of the Holy Spirit in New York, she later lived in the Community of the Ascension and as a solitary Religious at Ascension Hermitage and Sanctuary in Upper Fairmount, Maryland, in the Episcopal Diocese of Easton.

She is no longer a Religious Sister - but still lives as a religious hermit - and has now resumed using her legal birth name, Emily Shepherd. She retains Sister Mary Winifred as a pen name. She has been a member of the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church since 2006, and is a Fellow of the Guild. She is a member of Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, and the Risley Family Association. She is the caretaker and writer-in-residence at Ascension Hermitage and Sanctuary and is the author of numerous articles and other works.