September 25, 2015

Consecrated religious gather with archbishop to celebrate ‘different communities all focused toward God’

Three sisters from different orders in various locations across central and southern Indiana share stories in the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis during a reception for all consecrated religious in the archdiocese on Sept. 13. They are Carmelite Sister Martha Hall of the Carmelite Monastery in Terre Haute, left; Franciscan Sister Martha Ann Rich of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who serves at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis; and Providence Sister Marilyn Herber of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, who currently lives and volunteers in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Three sisters from different orders in various locations across central and southern Indiana share stories in the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis during a reception for all consecrated religious in the archdiocese on Sept. 13. They are Carmelite Sister Martha Hall of the Carmelite Monastery in Terre Haute, left; Franciscan Sister Martha Ann Rich of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who serves at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis; and Providence Sister Marilyn Herber of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, who currently lives and volunteers in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Full veils, short veils, no veils.

Habits and robes of brown, gray, white, blue, black and lavender.

Races including African, Caucasian, Filipino, Hispanic and Indian.

The look of the religious men and women at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 13 was as varied as the different orders serving throughout central and southern Indiana. They came together to celebrate solemn evening prayer with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life. The archbishop also recognized those religious celebrating 25-, 50- and 75-year jubilees.

“Certainly Pope Francis gave us this year for the Church as a whole to thank God for the gift of consecrated life, and for people like us to look at our past with gratitude, our present with serenity, and our future with hope,” the archbishop said during his homily.

In 1997, St. John Paul II designated February 2—the Feast of the Presentation—as the World Day for Consecrated Life to honor all men and women religious.

On Nov. 30, 2014, Pope Francis took this honor one step further by declaring that date through Feb. 2, 2016, as the Year of Consecrated Life.

“This year is a letter of encouragement for consecrated life,” Archbishop Tobin continued in his homily. “This celebration tonight remembers how consecrated life has encouraged the Church in Indiana.

“When you think of the role of religious in the history of this state, we can marvel at the works that were accomplished. We can say that the history of the Church—and probably the history of the state— could not be complete without the contributions of the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg, or the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.”

The archbishop briefly addressed the history of religious life in general.

“Dedication to the consecrated life became visible in the Church when martyrdom ceased to be a feature of the Christian life,” he explained. “People feared they would lose the radical nature of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

“And so the Holy Spirit raised up women and men who, forsaking all, sought to imitate Jesus in living a life of obedience.”

To encourage those living consecrated lives in the archdiocese to inspire more vocations, Archbishop Tobin quoted directly from St. John Paul II’s 1996 apostolic exhortation, “Vita Consecrata:”

“Young people will not be deceived: when they come to you, they want to see what they do not see elsewhere.

“An immense task awaits you in the future: in a special way, young consecrated persons, by witnessing to their consecration, can lead their contemporaries to a renewal of their lives.

“An impassioned love of Jesus Christ is a powerful attraction for those other young people whom Christ in his goodness is calling to follow him closely and forever. Our contemporaries want to see in consecrated persons the joy which comes from being with the Lord. …

“You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things” (#109-110).

Sister Christabel Mary, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary based in India, reflected on the solidarity of the many religious orders present for the prayer service.

“I think when we get together and pray together, and think of religious life, we are all one in Christ,” she said. “We have different charisms, but one way to get to heaven; different ways and different communities, but all focused toward God.”

At a reception following the prayer service, a spirit like that of a class reunion hovered in Assembly Hall at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center. Members of the various religious orders in the archdiocese mingled, chatted and laughed.

Providence Sister Theresa Clare Carr, a member of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for 65 years, was grateful to the pope for dedicating the special year.

“It really put a spotlight on consecrated life, both in recognition of the service religious have given over the years, and that there is still a need there,” she said.

Donning his order’s signature white robe, Dominican Father John Meany, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, agreed.

“We’re grateful for the concern the Holy Father has shown us, the support,” he said. “That’s always important. I thought it was important to be here and support one another.”

That support from the Holy Father is what most struck Franciscan Sister Kate Holohan, who has been a member of the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis in Oldenburg for 62 years.

“[The Year of Consecrated Life has] come at a time where it’s really needed [because of] the struggles that women religious have gone through with Rome recently,” she said.

“Some people ask if I’m worried about the numbers of religious going down. But I’m not.

“There will always be consecrated life. There will always be a call there.” †

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