Celebrating the consecrated life

For the next year, the Catholic Church is recognizing those who lead lives as men and women religious

SISTERS IN CHRIST Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia process into the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for Solemn Vespers for the consecrated religious last February. Pope Francis has declared that 2015 will be the Year of Consecrated Life, and the Diocese of Knoxville will hold events to celebrate those in religious life.  Photo by Dan McWilliams

SISTERS IN CHRIST Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia process into the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for Solemn Vespers for the consecrated religious last February. Pope Francis has declared that 2015 will be the Year of Consecrated Life, and the Diocese of Knoxville will hold events to celebrate those in religious life. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Pope Francis proclaimed 2015 as the Year of Consecrated Life, and the Diocese of Knoxville’s newest delegate for consecrated life said the special designation is key for the diocese’s men and women religious.

“It’s very important in the sense that it’s a real opportunity for them to make their apostolates known, to be more in the public eye if they use this opportunity,” said Sister Mary Charles Mayer of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich.

“In some places there are very few religious, so a lot of people won’t even know this is happening . . . It’s been a long-standing tradition for religious to be in schools and in health care, and so it’s a great opportunity for them to let the world know that they’re present and doing works of charity. And doing works is really essential in all of our lives.”

The Year of Consecrated Life began Nov. 30, the first Sunday of Advent, and will conclude Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. The year marks the 50th anniversary both of Perfectae Caritatis, a decree on religious life, and Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church, which has a chapter concerning religious life.

As part of his ministry, Bishop Richard F. Stika has greatly expanded the role of religious in the Diocese of Knoxville.

Since coming into the diocese in 2009, Bishop Stika has led efforts to increase the number of religious orders represented in the diocese to more than a dozen.

“The Diocese of Knoxville is greatly enriched by all the consecrated men and women who come from a variety of religious congregations and serve Christ so faithfully and joyfully in our schools, our parishes, our hospitals and Mobile Clinic, our missions, our Chancery and our communities,” Bishop Stika said. “It is truly a blessing for us to know these men and women are being the hands, face and heart of Jesus in the communities they serve, also knowing the power of prayer and the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, our contemplative community, are supporting them all in their good work.”

Sister Mary Charles believes the Holy Father called for the special year “because vocations, I would say, are diminishing in some communities. There are vocations out there, but people don’t know that the religious exist in a lot of places—they’ve never even seen a religious, and I think people need to know that it’s a legitimate vocation as married life is a legitimate vocation, and he wants people to be able to identify and kids to be able to see religious and see more youth enter religious orders.”

Sister Mary Charles said she hopes the Year of Consecrated Life will help religious “to revitalize their own religious communities and their own faith life, because Pope Francis talks about joy being an aspect of the religious vocation, which is definitely out there. He believes that religious are joyful and they need to share that joy, so it’s a great opportunity to do that. If you’re not joyful, then become joyful, so it’s a challenge to all religious.”

Sister Mary Charles also said she hopes the Year of Consecrated life will result in “an increase in the members of their orders” for women religious “and for men as well, for brothers and priests. We’ve got the Glenmary Missioners, we’ve got the Apostles of Jesus, we’ve got the Paulists, we have the Alexian Brothers, there are CMIs (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate).”

Bringing attention to religious life can help adults, children, young men, and young women “see that this vocation exists in the Church” and respond to God’s will, Sister Mary Charles said.

“God’s not out to make your life miserable,” she said. “He’s calling us to be joyful in following him, and some people can and some people can’t accept that call because it means leaving family, entering an order, living in community life, and doing things and having someone tell you what to do, so your life is not your own anymore. But it can be a very joyful and fulfilling life, and it’s a life called to the love of God, so to the degree that we can surrender our own will and do God’s will, that’s what’s going to really make the difference for us.”

Sister Albertine Paulus of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, formerly the diocese’s longtime director of evangelization, reflected on her 65 years in religious life.

“When I entered the convent, my mental image was I was 19 years old, I was giving God a blank check with my life on it, and he could do whatever he wanted with it,” she said. “It’s been amazing what he’s done. I’ve had experiences, opportunities, education, met people in ministries beyond anything I could have imagined, and now in my old age and retirement, it’s mostly just, ‘Wow, God you’ve done this wonderful thing. How can I ever thank you?’ So now it’s praise and thanks.”

Fellow RSM Sister Mary Martha Naber said that “it’s been an honor and privilege to be able to be called by God to service to others every day.” She serves as the liaison for mission at Physicians Regional Medical Center, formerly St. Mary’s Medical Center, in Knoxville.

“As I’m in ministry at the hospital, I’m privileged to share God’s love and goodness with people who are in need,” she said, “people who need support in their journey of life, and I feel like so often I’m in the right place at the right time, and it’s such a blessing.

“It’s so humbling to know how God uses me and uses others to reach out to people and to support them, especially when they’re struggling with illness, or also for our employees when they’re struggling with family issues, financial concerns. So often I find when I meet with people, so often being present to someone and just being there for them and with them and to listen to their story is such a gift that we can offer to one another.”

Sister Albertine said God “puts you where he needs you.”

“He gives you the opportunities and the strength to do the things you never would have dreamed of. I can’t think of anything that’s any better anywhere. But it’s a calling. He doesn’t call everybody, but he does call people, and he knows who he needs. So the bottom line is if he calls, listen up.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville, who also is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also praises the important role men and women religious play in the life of the Church.

“Our brothers and sisters in Christ living consecrated lives make great contributions to our society through a vast number of ministries,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “They teach in our schools, take care of the poor and the sick and bring compassion and the love of Christ to those shunned by society; others lead lives of prayer in contemplation for the world.”

Prayer intentions, prayer cards, a video on consecrated life, and other resources are available at www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/consecrated-life/year-of-consecrated-life/index.cfm.

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