Shortly after I came to Catholic Memorial High School nine years ago, I used a 3 x 5 notecard to write down a series of goals. These were goals which I had for myself and for the school. In truth, I just listed, in descending order, a series of numbers.
For a long time that card was inside the cover of a journal I use each day to remember people in need of prayers. The numbers descend from very large – a dollar goal for the school’s endowment; through the reasonable – enrollment goals; right down to the number “1.”
Every day I pray that each year from among CMH’s graduating class or recent alumni, there will be at least one person who responds to the inner call of a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
The school has often been blessed with vocations in its history. From my own class of 1984, I eventually entered the seminary, and a classmate became a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Charity. Among our 64 graduating classes, there have been several priests and religious sisters or brothers.
A few days ago, we were again blessed. Abby Dedinsky, an outstanding woman from our Class of 2016, became Sr. Maria Gracia. Along with five other young women from throughout the hemisphere, Abby was solemnly received into the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary.
It was a beautiful celebration at the community’s retreat center in Delafield. To begin to grasp the radical nature of following a vocation, it is worth noting that before graduation Abby had received, and then set aside, college acceptances to Boston College, Georgetown, Loyola, Marquette and Notre Dame.
The ceremony for reception was a very intentional blend of the nature of the community. Know that the Schoenstatt movement we experience in Milwaukee is German in origin, very Hispanic in spirit, and classically American in its apostolate. Furthermore, the ritual was both timely in its reflection of a global church, and timeless in its imagery and its expressed priorities.
Before the procession into Mass, I had a moment to congratulate Abby and to thank her for responding to her vocation. Just like each of the women in her group, her smile radiated joy.
They all wore white gowns and veils as they were now to be brides, entering a very special bond with Christ, his church and their community. They were clearly excited, but never giddy.
They were genuine reflections of joy for the present and future of the Schoenstatt Sisters. They are tangible reflections of a faith, vibrancy and zeal which should speak to all of us in our own faith lives.
How rare indeed it is to see a ceremony such as this. Rare also is the disposition which these women so graciously offer.
When the novices are asked of their intentions and desires, they make a statement of their undivided self-surrender. This level of commitment to Christ, his Mother, and the work of the church is nothing short of a show of courage rarely seen in the world.
At the heart of the ceremony, each bride comes forward and receives the dress and garb which will outwardly be signs that they are Schoenstatt Sisters. Their commitments are not hidden, but rather are punctuated by the visible belt, veil and medal.
After receiving these, and bearing a candle which represents their willingness to follow the sacrificial love and eternal light of Christ, the women departed from the congregation for a time.
While the giving of the dress and other symbols might be the heart of the ceremony, the lump in your throat, the mothers’ (and fathers’) crying moment, was when the six new sisters returned dressed in their deep blue habits and veils. A transformation, a self-surrender, had clearly occurred.
After Mass ended, the novices led a procession to the small Schoenstatt Shrine. There, after just having offered themselves in self-surrender, after setting aside so much of what the world’s secular standards prefer — big-time colleges, lucrative careers, families, and life’s comforts — they collectively offered a prayer thanking God for the grace of their vocations.
They offered thanks for being able to sacrifice so much. They offered thanks for the privilege to have made such a radical statement with the fullness of their lives.
I need not try to list all of the social, cultural, political and seasonal examples of things to which these six women have responded to so faithfully and so fully to reject. I need only point out that if any of us can emulate even a small part of their example, and reject even a small part of that which separates us each from Christ, then they, these newest Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, have been true heralds of hope.