‘I make to God in your hands … the simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience’

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The 12 sisters kneel before Bishop J. Mark Spalding as he makes the examination on their readiness to dedicate themselves to God and to seek perfect charity. Photos by Rachel Lombardi

Hundreds of family, friends, and Nashville Dominican sisters witnessed 12 women profess the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience during a Mass for the Rite of Perpetual Religious Profession celebrated on Tuesday, July 25, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.

The 12 sisters – Sister Mary Joseph Wittman, OP, Sister Maria Lucia Rosenhoover, OP, Sister Sofia Thomas Coulter, OP, Sister Anna Joy Tipton, OP, Sister Rachel Marie Boyd, OP, Sister Felicity Heither, OP, Sister Isabelle Marie Assirati, OP, Sister Moana Grace Taufa’ao, OP, Sister Clare Dominic Pottratz, OP, Sister Eva Marie Gorman, OP, Sister Lucia Christi Blankartz, OP, and Sister Rosaria Bermejo, OP – made their final vows for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation following eight years of formation.

“Truly today is a day of great joy for us as a Catholic community, whether you are part of the congregation of St. Cecilia or the wider Church,” said Bishop J. Mark Spalding, who served as the main celebrant of the Mass. “Truly, we gather here and are mindful of the dedication of these women to Christ. As we begin, let us be mindful that God has blessed us with those who have responded with the great ‘yes’ to the call of God.”

Along with Bishop Spalding, the Mass was concelebrated by Bishop David P. Talley of the Diocese of Memphis, Bishop Michael J. Izen, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Abbot Cletus D. Meagher, OSB, abbot emeritus of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama.

Sister Eva Marie Gorman, OP, makes her profession of vows to Prioress General Mother Anna Grace Neenan, during the Mass for the Rite of Perpetual Religious Profession on Tuesday, July 25, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

For Sister Eva Marie Gorman, OP, the day was the fulfillment of a dream that first began when she was 12. 

“As I got to know the Dominican Sisters, I was drawn by our charism to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of our contemplation,” Sister Eva Marie said. “I longed, and still long, for deep union with God in prayer and for the grace to let this prayer overflow in preaching, spreading the truth of the Gospel for the salvation of souls.

“Religious consecration is the fruition of the grace of baptism, and baptism draws us into the New Covenant of Jesus Christ,” she added. “It is a tremendous gift to be plunged more deeply into the graces of the New Covenant that Christ pours out from His sacred heart.” 

Sister Rachel Marie Boyd, OP, said her call came much later in life while she was a senior at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, where she was taught by the Dominican sisters and friars. 

“As I listened to the Lord more deeply in prayer throughout the next year, He made it abundantly clear that He was calling me to enter the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and filled my heart with peace and joy at the prospect,” Sister Rachel Marie said. “In this community, I find the echo of the desires of my own heart – a deep love for Jesus, a dedication to preaching and teaching His truth and His love, a simple and beautiful spiritual motherhood, and the freedom that comes from living a life completely given to God.” 

Before officially making their vows, the 12 sisters, along with the rest of the community, heard Father Peter Martyr Yungwirth, OP, of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, tell the story of St. Dominic, patron of the Dominican Order, and his vision of the Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, in his homily. 

St. Dominic was “lifted from the earthly dormitory to the heavenly mansion where he beheld all kinds of religious from various other orders but none of his own, and, for lack of his own brothers and sisters, he began weeping and kept his distance from the Lord and His mother,” Father Yungwirth explained.

When the Lord asked St. Dominic why he was weeping, he replied, “‘Because I see all the other orders here but there is no sign of my own,’” he continued.

“Then, our Lord, putting his hands on the shoulder of the Blessed Virgin, said to our father Dominic, ‘I have entrusted your order to my mother,’” he continued. “At that, the Blessed Mother opened wide her mantle and spread it out before our holy father Dominic, and to him it seemed vast enough to cover the entire heaven and, under it, he saw a large multitude of his brethren.

“Prostrating himself in their presence, St. Dominic gave thanks to God and to blessed Mary.”

While this story has become well known amongst the Dominican community, it’s not just a story of old, Father Yungwirth said.

“It truly is applicable to us even now,” he said, noting a line in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Canon, which reads, “In communion with those whose memory we venerate.”

“It’s about sharing in something … and in that sense, it’s very interpersonal in its meaning,” he said. “In other words, since we are sharing what is theirs in an interpersonal way, their merits and prayers aren’t those of someone removed from us, who only happens to be nice because they’re in heaven. Rather, these merits and prayers are coming from those who are invested in us and are willing to share with us both the fruits of their labors and the fruits of their heavenly peace.

The newly professed receive the Fraternal Kiss from their fellow Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation.

“Because we are in communion with them in a deeply interpersonal way, they long to share their heavenly goods with us so that we can join them in the heavenly mansion,” he continued. “This is what St. Dominic’s heavenly visions offer to you sisters this day, one on which you will profess your perpetual vows. In a very real way, you are being offered the gift to share in the Blessed Mother’s protection over the order, to be under her mantle for all your life.”

“When you profess your perpetual profession today, while making your vows in mother’s hands, you do so to the honor of almighty God and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of our holy father, St. Dominic,” Father Yungwirth said. “You are entrusting your fidelity to living out the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, not only in the hands of (the prioress general) Mother Anna Grace and her successors, but also in the hands of the Blessed Mother.

“In that moment, you will be offered the gifts that she desires to cover you with, the things that are bound up with her own life, the things she merited, the things that she’s known for, mainly a life of virtue and holiness,” he added. “She won’t just sprinkle you with holy water from heaven, but even more so with an overflow of virtue pouring forth like a beautiful waterfall from heaven as she nourishes you and molds you with her virtues.”

To conclude, he asked them to reflect on the final moments before officially making their life-long profession.

“As you make your ‘Yes’ to the Lord, offering Him your goods, your body, and your will, as you offer Him the whole of your life, may you entrust yourself to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to our holy father, Dominic, so that through their merits and prayers, in all things, you may be defended by their protecting help,” Father Yungwirth concluded. “In this way, by beseeching their intercession and grace, your hearts will become like wells ready to receive the overflow of the heavenly waters of grace, so that being nourished by the waters of eternal life, you may one day join the preacher’s band, sounding forth the bells of heaven.”

Following the homily, each of the 12 sisters were examined by the celebrant, proclaiming their readiness to dedicate themselves to God, prostrated themselves upon the altar as the Litany of Saints was sung, and finally, one-by-one, made their profession of vows, as received by Mother Anna Grace, OP, and signed the document of profession upon the altar.

“To the honor of Almighty God and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of our holy father St. Dominic, I make to God in your hands, Reverend Sister Anna Grace Neenan, Prioress General, the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for all my life, according to the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Dominican Sisters of this Congregation of St. Cecilia.” 

“The Mass was heaven on earth from the moment it began. To make final vows is a gift beyond anything I could have known or for which I could have asked. The entire day is so deeply imprinted on my heart, full of deep graces and abundant joy. I think that if I had to say how it felt, my answer would be: simple and complete,” said Sister Rachel Marie. “I belong entirely to the Lord, I have given all of my heart and all of myself to Him and He has taken me as His bride. Now I can look forward to every single day of the rest of my life knowing that I am His bride, simple and complete. My heart was flooded with joy and deep, deep gratitude.”

Sister Rosaria Bermejo, OP, said she also enjoyed professing her vows the most, making them twice, once in English and once in Tagalog in honor of her family and all those watching via livestream from the Philippines. 

“I wanted to proclaim it for all to hear and to mean every word I said,” Sister Rosaria said. I hope to be faithful to my vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for all my life. I want to live my vows more deeply each day for the love of Jesus and His Church. 

“I pray that God may make me a saint through the faithful living of my religious life and that many souls may be saved through His grace at work in me,” she said. “I know that the graces to be faithful are real, because my vows and my consecration are real.

“I felt a deep joy and gratitude to make my final vows,” Sister Rosaria added, noting that she has felt the call to religious life since she was 14 with God gradually revealing her Dominican vocation over her years of discernment. “I have desired to give my whole life to Jesus for so long, and at last He was granting me this gift through my community with the blessing of the Church. After my life and the sacraments, my religious vocation is God’s greatest gift to me.”

Following the vows, the new sisters lined up to receive the Sign of Peace from their fellow Dominican sisters. 

“My favorite part was the Sign of Peace, when all the perpetually professed sisters embraced us as a sign of our acceptance into the congregation,” said Sister Eva Marie. “It was a joyful experience of the fraternal love of our community life, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my sisters’ goodness, mercy, and love.” 

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