“God calls our name personally” - Nine Lovers of the Holy Cross profess perpetual vows
ARLINGTON — In front of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington, a larger-than-life stone statue of Our Lady of La Vang welcomes parishioners and visitors. On July 31, there were many people to welcome.
Parishioners and visitors from as far as Vietnam traveled to celebrate the profession of perpetual vows of nine religious sisters from the order of the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Vinh.
Among the newly professed were Sister Anne Vinh Thi Nguyen and Sister Mary Kim Thuan Thi Phan, who both live in the Arlington convent of the Lovers of the Holy Cross. The other seven sisters are studying and working throughout the United States and gathered at the Arlington church for their solemn profession.
The bilingual Mass drew more than 600 parishioners and lay guests as well as several dozen priests and deacons who joined in celebrating the sisters’ unity and their individual vocations to the religious life. The reception following Mass featured food, music, and dancing.
As the Mass began, the nine candidates lined up and processed into the church — with clock-like precision — holding candles as the choir sang the entrance hymn in Vietnamese.
The Mass settings were sung in English, and the hymns and prayers in Vietnamese. The first reading and the Gospel were read in English, and the psalm and second reading in Vietnamese.
In his homily, Bishop Olson compared the call of religious sisters today to the call of Samuel in the first reading. “Jesus has given you the gift of an intimate belonging to Him as His spouse,” he said.
After the homily and an examination of readiness, the sisters lay prostrate, faces to the stone tile floor in front of the altar while the congregation prayed the Litany of the Saints for the soon-to-be-professed sisters.
When the moment of profession arrived, the sisters — three by three — approached Sister Maria Nguyen Thi Nga, Superior General, who had traveled from the Vinh Diocese in Vietnam to hear and accept the sisters’ vows. They placed their hands in hers, and in unison they read their vows, pausing to allow each of the sisters to say her name in turn. Then each sister placed her formula of vows on the altar.
After the prayer of consecration, nine rings on a tray in the shape of a pink heart, were brought up to Bishop Olson. He presented each sister with a ring and a wooden crucifix. The gifts marked them as members for life of the Lovers of the Holy Cross. In unison, the sisters held up their crucifixes to the altar, then turned to each side of the church. Then the Lovers of the Holy Cross shared hugs and bright smiles with each of the newly consecrated.
Each sister had her own reaction to professing vows. Some smiled serenely, others dabbed tears of joy from their faces.
After Mass, visitors and parishioners were ushered into the parish hall for a reception complete with balloons, decorated tables, a buffet of noodles, shrimp, vegetables, and more. After opening prayers, Father Anthony Minh Vu from St. Athanasius Parish in Louisville, Kentucky hyped up the crowd. “Come close to the stage!” the master of ceremonies cried. “You’ve never seen anything like this before in your life! Maybe you’ve seen sisters dancing, but you’ve never seen these sisters dancing. They are going to dance from the heart because they love Jesus so much!”
Then the nine newly professed Lovers of the Holy Cross took off their shoes and danced. The skirts of their black habits swirled around them as they spun and swayed. In time with the music, the sisters performed gentle dance steps and choreographed hand motions.
According to Sister Anne Vinh Thi Nguyen, the song, Ngai Goi Ten Con, was about God’s calling. “God calls our name personally and we respond.” Sister Vinh is currently teaching religion at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Classical School in Fort Worth.
She pointed out the many parishioners, priests, and religious gathered to celebrate with the sisters that day. “I feel so loved by God,” she said. “God is loving me through the people. There are so many people here today!”
Sister Mary Kim Thuan Thi Phan explained that the Lovers of the Holy Cross have two main missions — “to take care of the sick,” which she did while studying as a pharmacist during her postulancy in Vietnam, and educating, which she does now, teaching religion at St. Maria Goretti Catholic School in Arlington.
“I love to teach,” she said, “to help people, especially youth, to empower them to joyfully be disciples of Christ.”
Sr. Thuan Phan greeted a table of Franciscan sisters she used to live with and a table of Dominican sisters, including Sister Theresa Paul Tran, OP, who lives in the Blessed Imelda Convent on the campus of Nolan Catholic High School. According to Sister Theresa Paul, religious communities often support each other, and the local Dominican order is no stranger to the Lovers of the Holy Cross. “We are friends because we are all religious sisters,” she said.
The reception continued into the evening and included several songs onstage, a violin duet, roses for the nine newly professed sisters, and another dance.
The Lovers of the Holy Cross and Vietnamese Martyrs Parish punctuated the celebration with an invitation to grow closer to Jesus and His blessed mother. As guests left the festivities, they were presented with a gift: a small statue of Mary with her arms open.