One of the most beautiful times of the Church year is the spring, when many dioceses throughout the world celebrate the ordination of their new priests. During my years as a seminarian and now as a priest, I look forward each year to this joyous day and, like so many of my brother priests, cannot help but relive our own priestly ordination. Two years ago, I had the powerful experience of, for the first time, attending a religious profession of vows. I was deeply moved by the Mass and ceremony and this past August returned for the second profession as my friend, formerly Anna, now Sister M. Clare, went from being a novice to a junior professed sister of the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George. I had the true gift of being Sister Clare’s parish priest during my four years at St. Columba in Hopewell Junction and have remained close to her family in the years that followed my transfer. It was a wonderful grace to travel to Alton, Ill., again this year to be at the Mass where Sister Clare once again professed her vows taking this next step in her formation.
The Mass was in a charming, old church and it was a blessing to be with almost 50 of my brother priests who had a connection to the sisters. Bishop Paprocki, ordinary of the diocese of Springfield, Ill., was the main celebrant of the Mass and the one who received the new sisters. Along with my friend were three young women who were becoming novices with the order after spending the year as postulants. During her profession, one of the new novices was clearly emotional, wiping away tears of joy as she made her vows. I could not help but think of how many times in my years of priesthood I have seen a bride struggle through her vows overwhelmed with happiness as she looks into the eyes of her beloved. With bright sunshine streaming through the stained glass windows of the church, surrounded by brother priests, with the sisters filling the first pews of the church and the emotional family members of the new sister behind them, it was like a scene out of a movie. Looking at it from the perspective of faith, it seemed like a foretaste of heaven. It was a day and an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.
A month earlier, at the beginning of July, I was at Marycrest convent in Monroe, with the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate. I have known the sisters there since my first days of priesthood when I was at my first assignment in Monroe at Sacred Heart. The Mass and celebration that morning was not a religious profession but a jubilee for sisters celebrating 25 years and two sisters who were celebrating 70 and 80 years of religious vows. What an enormous gift to be with those who have given the entirety of their lives for the gospel and have lived lovingly and faithfully the commitment they made to their Spouse so many years before.
This column is normally focused on priestly vocations or events that are happening in the seminary, but it is a good reminder of the incredible gift the sisters are to the Church. In his 2015 apostolic visit to New York, Pope Francis presided at evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with priests and religious. During his remarks that evening, the pope said, “Where would we be without the sisters!” That comment received the loudest applause of anything he said during his visit. Indeed, what a gift they are in their dedicated and joyful service. It is a joy that I saw clearly on the tear-stained face of a young novice reflected on the old and wizened face of an elderly sister.