By Karen Clifford
MISHAWAKA — The feast day of St. Clare was an appropriate backdrop as Sister Lethia Marie of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration at St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka completed her Rite of Perpetual Profession on Aug. 11. With General Superior Sister Magdalena Krol from Germany accepting her vows of profession and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades presenting Sister Lethia Marie a ring as the insignia of profession, family, friends and religious from the Franciscan community and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend watched with pride and reverence as this long awaited ceremony progressed.
During Bishop Rhoades’ homily, he described the similarities between St. Clare’s and Sister Lethia Marie’s devotion to God. “Inspired by Clare’s example of consecrated life, today Sister Lethia Marie, with the help of God’s grace consecrates her life to God, giving her life for the glory of His name. She has been chosen to love, to praise and to serve the Lord as His bride, loving Him with an undivided heart.”
The path to consecrated life for women requires perseverance, reverence and faith. According to Provincial Superior Sister Angela Mellady, a young woman becomes a candidate and requests entrance into a community and begins the application process working with the vocation director with frequent visits to the motherhouse. There is a period of almost a year where she is a postulant. Following the postulant period there is an investiture and the young woman becomes a novice and receives the habit and the veil.
The novitiate period lasts for two years and afterwards the novice can request to make her first vows. At that time the woman would receive a black veil to replace the white novice veil. Her first vows are for a period of three years, and at the end of the three years she would request permission to renew her vows. The renewal is for two years. A junior sister lives with sisters of all ages in the community and engages in full-time ministry. She may receive education toward a degree or other professional training as needed. After five years of temporary profession, the junior sister would then request to make a profession of perpetual vows.
Sister Lethia Marie described her discernment process as being prayerful, listening, waiting and evaluating in concert with others. “There is nothing new in the pattern. I believe God places in the soul a prayer for each to want to know what we are called to be and do in this world. Sometimes the prayer is easily recognized and other times it is not. Every year high school students are off to colleges to begin the step of their journey for what they hope is an answer to their prayer of what am I called to do. For the majority it was not an overnight decision but one made over time,” she said.
The decision to pursue the consecrated life was also nourished through the help of family, friends and others whose advice Sister Lethia sought. “God uses a variety of ways to bring forth this prayer. This is why every story is different. Once the calling was recognized, I discussed the possibility with those closest to me. It was also during this time I had a spiritual director who was able to direct me to communities as well as help to evaluate the processes.”
Shirley Leveille, Sister Lethia’s mother, recalled her daughter’s journey to the perpetual profession of vows with pride. “I’m very excited for her because it’s been a long journey. She has always been a very religious person and has great love for God. ”
Bishop Rhoades described this love when referring to Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, “Vita Consecrata”: “Consecrated persons discover that the more they stand at the foot of the Cross, the more immediately and profoundly they experience the truth of God, who is love.”
He continued, “And that love is revealed most profoundly in the cross of Jesus Christ. Pope John Paul wrote about the consecrated life reflecting the splendor of this love. How? By fidelity to the mystery of the Cross! By believing and living this love of Jesus through the evangelical counsels, through abandonment to God’s holy will, by dying to self and living for God and others.”
One of the highlight’s of the Rite of Perpetual Profession was the acceptance of Sister Lethia Marie’s vows by General Superior Sister Magdalena Krol. It was the general superior’s first visit to St. Francis Convent.
“This is for me a special gift to celebrate with our sisters. We have not had any novices or sisters taking final vows in Germany so this encourages me in my faith and the whole community. This is my first year as a general superior and the first time I am accepting a sister of perpetual vows,” said Sister Magdalena proudly.
Bishop Rhoades offered a blessing for Sister Lethia Marie by invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary as the most perfect model of consecrated life. “Sister Lethia Marie, like Mary who in the Magnificat proclaimed not herself but the greatness of the Lord, may you always humbly serve the Lord, proclaim His greatness, and rejoice that He is your Savior and your Spouse. May our Blessed Mother be close to you each day and intercede for you always!”
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