‘Blessed’ — World Day for Consecrated Life Vesper Service

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen / Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

“It’s a wonderful life.” That’s how Sister Louise Smith, described her 67 years as a Sister of St. Mary of Namur.

“I had the opportunity to teach young people of all ages,” says the retired educator who taught at the elementary, secondary, and university level. “As a music teacher, I taught children to read music and to sing — something everyone can do throughout their lives.”

Sr. Louise and other religious who dedicate themselves to serving others through Christian education, spreading the Gospel, charitable works, and contemplative prayer, were recognized during a World Day for Consecrated Life vespers service celebrated Feb. 3 in St. Patrick Cathedral.

Newly-ordained Bishop Michael Olson presided at the liturgy which brought together more than 75 sisters, brothers, and priests from across the Diocese of Fort Worth.

“This was Bishop Olson’s first diocesan gathering with the religious and he expressed his deep gratitude for the presence,” said Sister Yolanda Cruz, SSMN who organized the event under the theme “Blessed.” Each year the number of religious men and women attending has increased.

In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life and attached the celebration to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2 — also known as Candlemas.

“On this day (altar) candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. In the same way, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples,” Sr. Yolanda explained.

Speaking to a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Candlemas Sunday, Pope Francis called people living a consecrated life — especially religious sisters — “the leaven that carry the people of God forward!”

“What would happen if there were no sisters in the hospitals, in the missions, in the schools. One can’t imagine it!” he declared. “The consecrated life appears to us just as it really is: a gift from God!”

All Christians are consecrated to God in baptism and should generously give of themselves to their family, at work, in acts of mercy, and in church service.

But, “those in religious life experience this consecration in a particular way,” the pontiff said. “Consecrated to God, they are totally given over to their brethren to carry the light of Christ where the darkness is thickest and to spread his hope to hearts who are discouraged.”

Pope Francis intends to dedicate the year 2015 in a special way to religious life.

Father Richard Villa, a Marianist brother for 39 years before he was ordained a priest for the Society of Mary in 2008, said the World Day for Consecrated Life raises consciousness that serving the Church as a religious man or woman is a viable option.

“At the same time, it becomes a day when we come together and support one another,” he added. “It creates an awareness of the type of ministries offered in the diocese and the Church in general.”

Fr. Villa, who is currently the president of Nolan Catholic High School, said he was especially appreciative of Bishop Olson’s commendatory words of praise and gratitude for religious who work in the diocese. Following vespers, the congregation dined with Bishop Olson in the St. Patrick Parish Center.

“It was a good opportunity for religious men and women, who are generally so busy working in their parishes or ministries, to speak with the bishop in a ‘family’ setting,” said Sr. Louise. “We seldom have the time or opportunity to get to know priests and religious who work in the diocese.”

Sr. Louise and other religious who dedicate themselves to serving others through Christian education, spreading the Gospel, charitable works, and contemplative prayer, were recognized during a World Day for Consecrated Life vespers service celebrated Feb. 3 in St. Patrick Cathedral.

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