An exceptional event took place Oct. 3: Anne Therese Stephens of Fort Wayne gave her life to Christ as the second consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades presided over the Mass of Consecration and accepted her vows to a life of perpetual virginity at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.
As the candidate entered a bridal union with Christ, several aspects of the consecration ceremony resembled a traditional wedding. She chose to wear a white wedding dress, “guided by the principle that our Lord is the king of kings,” she said.
The candidate was accompanied by two women; her sister Mary Clare Stephens, who is currently discerning the consecrated life, and Jessica Hayes, who was consecrated in the same manner in 2015.
Hayes reported that the first time she met with Anne Therese, she thought it was about her desire to better understand the life her sister Mary Clare was considering. Hayes had not realized Anne Therese was also discerning consecrated life.
Several members of the Stephens family assisted in the liturgy: her brothers, Joseph and Peter, served as lectors; her parents, Michael and Jean, brought up the gifts, and her sisters Mary Clare, Bernadette and Reginamarie sang the offertory meditations.
Once the Gospel was proclaimed, Anne Therese came before the bishop in front of the altar with a lighted candle. This candle represents the wise virgins in the Gospel who made ready their lamps in preparation for the coming of the bridegroom.
Bishop Rhoades delivered his homily seated before the altar, in accordance with the prescribed rite for consecration to a life of virginity. In his homily, he related the story of another young woman named Anne-Therese, born in France 223 years ago, who professed vows of a consecrated life and came to the isolated woodlands of Indiana to establish schools. Her religious name is St. Mother Theodore Guerin.
The date of Anne Therese’s consecration coincided with the feast day of the Indiana saint.
“On this feast of St. Theodore Guerin, another Anne Therese resolves to follow Christ in a life of perfect chastity,” Bishop Rhoades stated. “The Church consecrates her today to a life of virginity. Mother Theodore was espoused to Christ as a nun. Anne Therese will be espoused to Christ today as a woman living in the world. She does so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
He called her vocation, “a gift to the Church, a surpassing sign of the Church’s love for Christ.”
Reciting words from the Roman Pontifical, he continued: “God has called Anne Therese to be more closely united to Himself and to be dedicated to the service of the Church. Her consecration is a call to greater fervor in spreading the Kingdom of God and in giving to the world the spirit of Christ. We look forward to the good she will accomplish by her prayers and good works, and the abundant blessings she will obtain from God for holy Church, for human society and for her family.”
Addressing Anne Therese, he continued to read from the Pontifical.
“The life you seek to follow has its home in heaven. God himself is its source,” he said. “Our Lord Himself taught us the high calling of such a life, consecrated to God and chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“Make your whole life reflect your vocation and your dignity. Our holy mother the Church sees in you a chosen company within the flock of Christ.
“Never forget that you are given over entirely to the service of the Church and of all your brothers and sisters,” he continued.
“Your joy and your crown, even here on earth, will be Christ, the Son of the Virgin and the Bridegroom of virgins. He will call you to His presence and into His Kingdom, where you will sing a new song as you follow the Lamb of God wherever he leads you.”
Anne Therese presented herself before the bishop to demonstrate her dedication to a state of perpetual virginity. The Litany of Supplication was sung while Anne Therese laid prostrate before the altar in a sign of dying to self.
Unique to the ceremony is the prayer of consecration, which sealed Anne Therese’s new vocation. She was then presented with a veil to symbolize her new life as a bride of Christ in service of the Church.
Another similarity to a wedding is the presentation of the ring, which Bishop Rhoades bestowed upon Anne Therese, again to mark her union with Christ and a reminder to “keep unstained fidelity to your Bridegroom.” She was given a book of the Liturgy of the Hours to maintain a strong and dedicated prayer life.
At the close of the Mass, Bishop Rhoades bestowed a blessing upon Anne Therese. Because Mary serves as the greatest example of perfect virginity in the Catholic faith, the “Ave Maria” was sung as all assembled faced the cathedral’s central stained-glass window that depicts the Immaculate Conception.
Anne Therese felt a personal theme for her special day was her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she said. “I think one thing that draws me to the Sacred Heart is the physical element of this.”
She chose the artwork for the worship aids, as well as for the bishop’s chasuble and miter for the occasion. All were adorned with a beautiful image of the Sacred Heart. Through this image, she said, “We can see His love beating for us … the love that God has for us and the love that He seeks from us … He lowers Himself to such an extent that He wants to have this intimate relationship, this intimate friendship with us.”
By providence, Bishop Rhoades chose the Sacred Heart to use on Annual Bishop’s Appeal mailings earlier this fall. Anne Therese saw it as unexpected connection and said she believed that the bishop also recognized God working in the small details. She remarked, “For him, I think it was kind of a beautiful moment.”
It was a beautiful moment, too, when family, friends and priests gathered outside the cathedral after Mass to congratulate Anne Therese and wish her joy as she stepped into her new life, now mystically espoused to Christ Jesus.
‘Why would I not give God an opportunity’?
By Jennifer Barton
Throughout much of her life, Anne Therese Stephens anticipated a future that included marriage and children. Yet, as it is for many who come to the religious life, God had something else in mind for her. She credits a conversation that she had with a religious priest that first set her on the path to considering a distinctly different vocation.
Speaking with her spiritual director about whether he thought she might be destined for something outside of marriage, he suggested “this particular kind of vocation” and advised her to pray about it. However, it wasn’t until she asked her pastor, Father Andrew Budzinski, to pray for her while on a pilgrimage to Rome years later that things were fully set into motion. “He prayer for me at the tomb of St. Clare … and I can definitely pinpoint that time as a source of grace, that actually opened my heart to this vocation,” Stephens revealed.
She had tried the dating scene with no success, and decided it was time to look deeper. “If I’m giving men an opportunity, why would I not give God an opportunity – God, who I already love and who is the most perfect and who has my best interests at heart?”
Although letting go of the plans she had in mind for her life was not an easy feat, she gradually became responsive to the idea of consecrated virginity. She would not be the first to follow this path, however, and therefore would not need to explain her unique vocation to everyone. She met with Jessica Hayes, consecrated to perpetual virginity in the diocese in 2015, to determine what her life might be like if she was called to it.
In speaking with Hayes, Stephens said she “saw that she was living a very full life, in love with our Lord, that there was a spousal relationship that she shared.” Her concerns melted away. Instead of a life of loneliness, Stephens said, “I go home and enter into this deep intimate union with the Lord, so it isn’t a life of loneliness … There’s definitely a beauty in just the freedom to spend time with God.”
The idea of giving up a typical life with a husband filled her mind. “But God definitely fills the place. I tell Him my car’s broke and things, and I can definitely see God working in ways that a husband would work,” Stephens commented. She compared these ways to gifts that a husband might give his wife. “He’s not giving me a wrapped gift, but if you look, it’s definitely there, His presence. It’s awesome.”
Stephens, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, moved to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend about five years ago and has been employed in the Marriage Tribunal since. As the second oldest of nine children, she grew up in a faith-filled family.
“My mom and dad, I think, were very influential in passing on the faith to us, which I’m grateful for,” Stephens said. She noted that homeschooling strengthened her mother’s relationship with God, as well as her own. With the exception of a sister who lives in Alaska, Stephens’ entire family attended her consecration.
Stephens said she sees the beauty in the complimentary nature of married life and consecrated life and how her vocation “points toward heaven, points toward eternity. It’s a simple love reminding everyone that we’re not here on this earth forever, that there’s an afterlife, and that our goal is heaven.”
To commemorate her consecration, Stephens gifted those present with a booklet written by St. Alphonsus Ligouri, “Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary.” In a note enclosed within it, Stephens wrote, “Anecdotally, it was through this booklet that my prayer life blossomed and intensified.”
Through spiritual direction, she began dedicating a half hour to adoration, but, as she states in the note, “As the 30-minute mark approached, I was meditating on the Eucharistic reflections from this booklet. It struck me that there was no task more important, more worthy or more a privilege than spending time with Our Lord in the Eucharist. Even my hunger pains diminished in light of the breathtaking gift God has given us in the Eucharist.”
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