Blessed John Paul II wrote: “The consecrated life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit.”
This coming week, we give thanks in a special way for the gift of consecrated life as we celebrate the World Day for Consecrated Life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. On this day, forty days after Christmas, we remember the presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple. This feast is also called Candlemas Day since it is the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. It is an appropriate day to celebrate consecrated life in the Church since consecrated men and women are called to reflect the light of Christ to all people.
We often speak of those in consecrated life as men and women religious. They are those who are consecrated to God by the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They are religious sisters, brothers, and priests who have answered the Lord’s call to serve him with an undivided heart. Most belong to religious congregations and are active in various apostolates of the Church, according to the charisms of their communities. Some live a cloistered life, devoted to prayer and contemplation.
Consecrated life is truly a gift to the Church. I think of the religious sisters who taught me through twelve years of Catholic education back home in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. I will be forever grateful for their excellent teaching and especially for their beautiful witness of the faith. One of my favorite sisters, who taught me at Lebanon Catholic High School, recently wrote to me that she has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Please remember her in your prayers. She is a beautiful woman of faith who had a very positive influence on my life and my vocation. I am sure that many who are reading this column have had similar experiences of wonderful religious sisters, brothers, and priests who helped them in their lives in a multitude of ways.
We are very blessed by the large presence of consecrated men and women in our diocese.
We have over 200 Holy Cross priests and brothers in our diocese, serving at the University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross College, and in parish, health care, and educational ministries. The U.S. Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross (priests and brothers) and the Midwest province of the Brothers of Holy Cross are headquartered here in our diocese. We have nearly 200 Sisters of the Holy Cross in our diocese. The Sisters of the Holy Cross, who sponsor Saint Mary’s College, also have their provincial house here and are active in various apostolates.
We have over 70 Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration in our diocese. Their provincial motherhouse is in Mishawaka where we are blessed to have a Chapel of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Sisters of Saint Francis sponsor the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and are quite active in health care and educational apostolates. The corporate offices for the Sisters’ health care system, the Franciscan Alliance, is also headquartered in Mishawaka.
We have over 70 Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ in our diocese. Their provincial motherhouse is in Donaldson. The Poor Handmaids sponsor Ancilla College and they are also active in health care and social outreach ministries.
The Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Victory have their provincial motherhouse in Huntington. We have over 80 “Victory Noll Sisters” who are involved in the mission of catechesis and pastoral renewal. Archbishop John Noll was instrumental in their founding and locating in our diocese.
Many of the religious sisters, brothers, and priests mentioned above are now retired from active ministry, but not retired from religious life. They continue to bear witness to Christ and to serve the Church through their prayers, sacrifices, and witness of faith.
In Fort Wayne, we also have two new communities of consecrated men and women, the Franciscan Brothers Minor and the Franciscan Sisters Minor. As new communities, they are not yet “religious institutes,” but are “public associations of the faithful,” according to canon law. The brothers strive to live the original Rule of Saint Francis according to the Capuchin reform. The sisters are discerning a contemplative life according to the Rule of Saint Clare.
We have many other religious men and women serving or living in our diocese (some as students at our Catholic universities) who belong to congregations that are not headquartered in our diocese. The men belong to the following religious institutes: the Friars Minor Capuchins, the Friars Minor Conventuals, the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, the Order of Friars Minor, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, the Society of Divine Word, and the Society of Jesus. The women belong to the following religious institutes: Adrian Dominicans, Congregation of Saint Joseph, Daughters of Divine Charity, Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy, Dominican Sisters of Peace, Felician Sisters, Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Handmaids of the Most Holy Trinity, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of Providence, Sisters of Saint Agnes, Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, and Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Third Order of Saint Francis.
Let us remember all these men and women religious in a special way in our prayers on February 2nd. They are a blessing to the Church. Let us intensify our prayers for vocations to the consecrated life. We definitely need more religious sisters, brothers, and priests, just as we need more diocesan priests. We need these witnesses of what Pope John Paul called “the radicalism of the Gospel.” Living the evangelical counsels, they are a sign to all of us of our call to follow Christ and to conform our existence to him. They follow Christ in a special way and give their lives in the service of God and his Church. The Church needs men and women who devote themselves totally to God and to others out of love for God.
We are all called to holiness. Consecrated men and women remind us of this call. They follow a specific path to holiness through their profession of the evangelical counsels. How many saints of the Church were consecrated men and women religious! Just think of some of some of the more recently canonized saints like Holy Cross Brother, Saint Andre Bessette, and Indiana’s own Saint, Mother Theodore Guerin. Later this year, we will see the canonization of another American religious, Mother Marianne Cope, who served the lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. And, of course, there is Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom I pray will also soon be canonized. May these saints pray for us and for an increase of vocations to the consecrated life in the Church!
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