By Katie Peterson
July 25th was the best day of my life,” declared Sister Maria Beatriz Durão, OP, of Brazil. That was the day she and seven others made their final profession of vows with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville.
“True love is for life, and a deep peace and joy follow the final profession of vows when you know for sure you will belong to the one you love for the rest of your life,” Sister Maria Beatriz said. “Religious Sisters do not renounce being brides and mothers. We are married to Jesus, and we are spiritual mothers of many, many people. It is a very joyful life.”
The Mass for the Rite of Perpetual Religious Profession for the eight sisters — Sister Maria Grace Thielman, OP, Sister Maria Beatriz, Sister Monica Marie Slonkosky, OP, Sister Mary Martin Linn, OP, Sister Teresa Joy Berry, OP, Sister Mary Imelda Ohotnicky, OP, Sister Madeline Rose Kraemer, OP, and Sister Mary Judith Reilly, OP — was celebrated on July 25 at Nashville’s Cathedral of the Incarnation.
This final profession of vows comes after eight years of formation from inquiry to final profession, when each Sister vows poverty, chastity, and obedience for life.
The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and concelebrated by Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding, Archbishop Emeritus and Tennessee native J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, and Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis.
“As the personal representative of the Holy Father to the Church in the United States, I express the spiritual closeness and paternal affection of Pope Francis to these sisters, their families and friends, and your community,” said Archbishop Pierre at the beginning of his homily. “Be assured of my prayerful best wishes and heartfelt congratulations.
“As we heard in the opening Collect for this Mass, religious profession is a particular way of living out the fundamental vocation of baptism — the following of Christ as a disciple,” Archbishop Pierre said.
“Through the profession of perpetual vows today, you consecrate yourself to the following of Christ in the manner of life inspired by St. Dominic de Guzman,” he continued. “It is said of St. Dominic that he always spoke to God or about God by fervently preaching and teaching the Gospel, and zealously seeking the salvation of souls. These are the hallmarks of this life. Eight hundred years after the founding of the Order, the Dominican way of life still offers the individual, the Church, and the world a unique path of holiness.”
Archbishop Pierre noted three things about the Dominican way of life — it is communal, contemplative, and apostolic.
This life is communal
“St. Dominic recognized that to be a fervent teacher one first has to be a fervent witness. The credibility of the Word that is taught and proclaimed is sustained by the lived Word of the teacher and preacher,” Archbishop Pierre said. “The community is where the Word who is Christ first taught, lived, and celebrated.
“The common life and the vows lived joyfully witness to the love of Christ,” he said. “This love gives meaning and strength to your words and actions. Teaching and preaching are most effective when it is a lived experience through the joyful witness of your Dominican life.”
This life is contemplative
“To preach and teach Christ, one has to be one with Christ. St. Dominic was one with Christ through contemplation. To transform minds and hearts by the Gospel message, St. Dominic emphasized the study of revealed truth — the truth who is Christ,” Archbishop Pierre said. “He also believed if one is going to speak about spiritual truths, one must be immersed in the source and summit of the spiritual life of the Church — the Eucharist and liturgical prayer.
“Through prayer and study, eternal truths are learned and embraced in a new and deeper way. In this sustained encounter with Christ, one comes to possess and pass on a teaching that is not only intellectual understanding, but a personal and living experience of the mystery of salvation,” he continued. “This is expressed by the great Dominican teacher St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation.’”
This life is apostolic
“Authentic and joyful witness to Christ, and teaching and preaching formed by contemplation and informed by study, are the distinctive characteristics of your apostolic service and the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of souls, particularly for the religious formation of youth in the Catholic faith, the strengthening of the faith in their families and in the local churches where you serve, and in all efforts of evangelization,” Archbishop Pierre said.
“A vibrant proclamation of the Gospel brings people to know the true meaning and purpose of life found in Jesus Christ, an understanding of the difficulties that must be overcome to realize that purpose and confidence in the transforming power of the grace of Christ to overcome the difficulties.
“A teacher who is zealous for the salvation of souls and lives the Gospel message in an authentic and joyful manner convinces people of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and invites them to journey on the pathway to genuine and lasting happiness in Christ,” he concluded. “Always be mindful to accompany them on this journey.”
The profession of vows
Following Archbishop Pierre’s homily, the eight Sisters stood before him in the sanctuary as he questioned them on their readiness to dedicate themselves to God and to seek perfect charity according to the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Dominican religious community.
Then, as the eight Sisters lay prostrate, the congregation kneeled as the Litany of the Saints was sung.
“One moment of Mass that was very powerful was when we prostrated ourselves before the altar and the whole congregation prayed for us,” said Sister Mary Martin of Milwaukee. “We lay our lives down through our religious life, and this is something that happens in the heart of the Church, within the embrace of her support and prayer.”
Sister Mary Imelda of Denver called the moment “profound.” “I felt the whole Church was present and rejoicing in our vows,” she said.
Following the Litany of the Saints, each of the new sisters stood before the Prioress General, Mother Anna Grace Neenan, OP, and read the formula of profession before approaching the altar to place the formula of profession and signing it upon the altar.
“Making my final profession of vows has been such a gift,” said Sister Mary Martin. “I am full of joy and deep gratitude to God and to our community.
“I knew that I wanted to become a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia when I visited the motherhouse in Nashville,” she continued. “Spending time with the Sisters, I found that I was free to be myself, free to love God and to love His people. I was happy and at peace, and I knew that those were good signs that the Holy Spirit is at work.”
Sister Mary Imelda said it was “very fulfilling.”
“Our lives are meant to be given away, and there is nothing more fulfilling than to give yourself totally to God,” Sister Mary Imelda said. “My journey to religious life was very simple. I asked the Lord what He wanted of me, and He answered.
“He asked me to say ‘yes’ to him and gave me the grace to do so,” she continued. “All we can bring to religious life is what the Lord has given us. I hope and pray that I hold nothing back and give all for love of the Lord Jesus.”
Sister Maria Beatriz said officially professing her final vows was the most special part of the Mass, as her journey to that day has been long.
“I was born and raised in Brazil. The first sign of God’s plan for my life came after college when the Lord asked me to study English,” Sister Maria Beatriz explained. “I already spoke some English, but Jesus wanted to improve it because he knew that I would need it.
“I spent a few months in the U.S. learning the language, and during this time the Lord called me to be a Sister,” she continued. “I was 100 percent sure that I was born to belong exclusively to the Lord. I chose the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia because of their fidelity to the Dominican charism and to the religious life.”
The Sisters final vows now professed, Archbishop Pierre prayed a final blessing over them as they knelt before him and were then officially welcomed with the sign of peace from their fellow sisters.
“May the Holy Spirit fill you with the same zeal of St. Dominic for the truth and for the salvation of souls,” Archbishop Pierre said at the end of his homily. “Commending these sisters, their families, and all gathered for this Profession Mass to St. Dominic, St. Cecilia, and the Immaculate Virgin, His Holiness Pope Francis imparts his Apostolic Blessing.”