December 12, 2018 // Diocese

Consecrated virgin named to BBC 100 Women of 2018 list

Jessica Hayes of Fort Wayne attracted international news coverage when she became a consecrated virgin in August 2015. Hayes’ faith put her back in world news again in late November when she was named one of the BBC network’s 100 Women of 2018.

The BBC story about this year’s 100 Women list identifies Hayes as “a consecrated virgin – vowing perpetual virginity as a bride of Christ – who teaches high school theology classes and serves as a vocational adviser.”

“I’m pleased they would consider putting me on the list because of my consecrated life,” Hayes said, noting the mention informs more people about the consecrated virgin vocation. She believes she currently is the only consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Hayes, 41, teaches the subjects of Dignity of Women, Sacraments and Morality at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne. As an adviser for the diocese’s Vocations office, she also assists people considering the consecrated life.

In addition, Hayes serves as a teacher in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at her parish, St. Vincent de Paul in Fort Wayne, and occasionally speaks at various parishes on topics such as the dignity of women and vocations.

Jessica Hayes, theology teacher at Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne, is pictured during her Mass of consecration to a life of virginity in 2015. Her vocation is attracting the attention of media again this year: The British Broadcasting Corporation has included her in its yearly list of 100 inspiring women. 

The BBC 100 Women list each year recognizes a diverse range of women from across the world and explores their stories through documentaries, features and online content, BBC publicist Suzie Schilling said in response to questions asked by email. 

Suggestions for women to include on the list come from journalists working for the BBC World Service’s 42 language services, Schilling said.

The 100 Women list for 2018, which Schilling described as a “momentous year for women’s rights,” includes women ages 15-94 from more than 60 countries who are trying “to spark positive change in the world around them” or who are less well-known “but still have done something inspirational … .”

The BBC also featured Hayes in a separate story about consecrated virgins, which the network published the evening of Dec. 6 Fort Wayne and South Bend time.

As of August, 254 women lived as consecrated virgins in the United States, the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins reported on its website, www.consecratedvirgins.org. About 4,000 consecrated virgins served the Church worldwide in 2015, the most recent figure available, the website said.

Hayes learned she would be included on the 100 Women of 2018 list when a BBC correspondent called her in August to interview her about “Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago,” an instruction the Vatican issued in July about the vocation of consecrated virgins. Hayes wasn’t aware of the 100 Women list before that call.

Becoming a consecrated virgin has had a major impact on her spiritual life, Hayes said.

“It is entirely different to relate to the Lord as spouse rather than as the sons and daughters we all are,” she said.

“My life is primarily about growing in knowledge and love of the Lord and learning to be more of an attentive listener (so) that I can live my life according to His will,” Hayes said.  “The Lord gives Himself to us in the measure we open ourselves to grace, to his life and love. My days are arranged so that there are many opportunities for me to return to the Lord in prayer, particularly in the Blessed Sacrament.

“As a bride of Christ,” she added, “I am seeking to live, as far as possible in this life, the reality that all of us hope to enjoy in heaven: the union of the soul with God alone.”

Being a consecrated virgin also has prompted her students to ask many more questions about vocations than they did previously, said Hayes, who is grateful for that impact.

“The most-oft asked question is: ‘How did you know your vocation?,’” she said. “They want to be sure that they are following God’s will, and they don’t know what that certainty looks like.

“They also ask how I was able to give up marrying and having a family,” she added. “They see this as a great sacrifice. I have to explain to them that it is normal to desire marriage and children — the question to put before the Lord is: How do you want me to love: to be a mother or a father?”

Since her consecration, Hayes said she also has had some female students speak to her outside of class about consecrated life.

“It is new (for me) to have them considering at all, and seeking, to discern God’s will for their life with an openness to consecrated life. I’ve even had a couple of girls say aloud to the class that they were considering this for themselves and interested in going on discernment retreats. This did not happen at all in the first 15 years of my career.” 

When students have possible interest in the priesthood or consecrated life, Hayes offers them this advice:

“I always emphasize personal prayer and the sacraments,” she said. “They can only be certain of God’s will by drawing near to Him in prayer, by discerning in time the sound of His voice. There are no shortcuts to this.”

People with questions about the consecrated virgin vocation can contact Hayes at JHayes@bishopdwenger.com.

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