Sister Lola ‘Ulupano professes her first vows as a Sister of St. Mary of Namur

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

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Sister Mary Meridian, provincial for the Sisters’ Western Province, presents Sr. Lola with her cross, symbolizing her membership in the community. The cross belonged to the late Sister St. John Begnaud, who requested that it be given to the newest member of their community.

Sister Lola ‘Ulupano promised to show her congregation — the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur — something they had never seen before during her profession of first vows ceremony at St. Michael Church. She did not disappoint.

The native of Tonga asked members of her ethnic parish community to incorporate some of their religious customs into the Aug. 17 Mass celebrated by Father Jeff Poirot. They honored her request with a rousing Procession of the Word marked by uplifting music from the Tongan choir, dancing, and a float.

Worshippers stood enthralled as four girls, resplendent in traditional dress, performed rhythmic dance steps up the center aisle of the church. Behind them four men, wearing ta’ovala mats tied with kafa rope, carried a young boy — seated inside a symbolic boat — on their shoulders. Raised in his hands was the Book of the Gospels which he slowly lowered to Deacon Sangote ‘Ulupano, Sr. Lola’s father, who waited at the foot of the altar.

“I’ve kept it a secret. This is the first time the sisters will see this type of procession,” enthused the new sister days before the special liturgy. “We have a lot of big processions in Tonga.”

Sr. Lola’s profession of first vows was the end of one stage in her vocation process and the beginning of another. The 34-year-old has already completed formation as a postulant and two and a half years as a novice. Part of her time in the novitiate was spent in Brazil where she learned Portuguese and tutored school children in reading.

“I fell in love with the people. Their friendliness and simple way of life really reminded me of Tonga,” said Sr. Lola who lived with three other novices in Brazil.

But there was also a darker side to her visit. Seeing homes with dirt floors and holes in the ground for toilets exposed her to the extreme poverty that defines some Brazilian neighborhoods.

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Sister Lola ‘Ulupano stands with her father, St. Michael Deacon Sangote ‘Ulupano, before her profession of first vows.

“I’ve never seen such poor people in my life,” the sister explained. “I felt so close to them, especially the children. Looking at them is like looking at Jesus. It’s an ache in my heart. I wanted to help them.”

Now back in the United States, Sr. Lola plans to earn a degree in elementary education and strengthen the call to serve God that’s been in her heart since childhood. Raised by her grandmother in Tonga, the young sister comes from a long line of her family’s vocations. An uncle and cousin are priests, an aunt is a nun, and her father is a deacon.

Before professing her first vows, Sr. Lola traveled to the South Pacific island of her heritage to visit her grandmother who was unable to attend the ceremony. The elderly woman thanked her granddaughter for giving her life to Jesus.

“She reminded me that I almost died as a very young baby from a fever,” said the sister, who left Tonga 14 years ago. “She was so happy that Jesus gave me a second chance at life and now I have chosen to follow Him.”

Fr. Jeff Poirot shared similar enthusiasm in his homily. Offering his blessing and words of encouragement, he told the sister the life she has chosen is a good one.

There will be difficult times, the priest admitted.

“But there’s a whole lot of good stuff and joyous times,” he said. “Msgr. (Charles) King always told me, ‘It’s a great life. Just don’t take it too seriously.’ Those are words that a lot of us should live by.”

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At the end of her first profession Mass at St. Michael Parish in Bedford, Sr. Lola stands with the members of her new community, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, along with Fr. Poirot (far left) and Dcn. ‘Ulupano (far right).

Referring to the day’s “Martha and Mary” Gospel, he advised the young sister to maintain a balance of service to God and service to others in her ministry.

“Sr. Lola my hope and prayer for you is that in the days and years to come, you will be able to balance the Martha and Mary in you so you will be an instrument of God’s love, presence, and peace,” he said. “And in ministering to all those you love and serve, you will be energized by being closely connected to God.”

After professing vows in front of the congregation, the provincial of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, Sister Mary Meridian, presented Sr. Lola with the cross once worn by the late Sr. St. John Begnaud. Before she died last August, the longtime member of the community requested that her cross be given to the newest member of the religious order.

“Sr. Lola had a long journey and has blossomed,” Sr. Meridian told the North Texas Catholic. “She’s followed our charism for many years, so we’re happy to celebrate with her today.”

A second novice, Sr. Soledad Quintero, joined the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in early August.

“So we see new life and new growth,” she added. “Sr. Lola adds to our multiculturalism. She brings in the Tongan culture and that’s a first for us.”

Sr-Lola-1st-Vows-Button.jpgSister Lola ‘Ulupano promised to show her congregation — the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur — something they had never seen before during her profession of first vows ceremony at St. Michael Church. She did not disappoint. The native of Tonga asked members of her ethnic parish community to incorporate some of their religious customs into the Aug. 17 Mass celebrated by Father Jeff Poirot. They honored her request with a rousing Procession of the Word marked by uplifting music from the Tongan choir, dancing, and a float.

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