Hymn of Love: Sister Marie Thérèse professes her solemn vows
ARLINGTON — On May 31, the chapel of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington resonated with a choir of voices singing Tình Khúc, or “hymn of love,” a Vietnamese hymn inspired by St. Teresa of Avila.
The occasion for the chorus? The solemn profession and veiling of Sister Marie Thérèse of the Holy Face of Jesus, OCD, (née Theresa Marie Uyen Nguyen). After spending 11 years with the Dominican order, and then several years with the Carmelites, Sister Marie Thérèse professed her solemn vows to live the rest of her life as a Carmelite nun praying for all souls. The Carmelite monastery in Arlington was filled with family and friends eager to celebrate this important milestone for Sister Marie Thérèse.
Dominican sisters filled many pews. Friends made sure visitors had a place to sit, putting out folding chairs and, with big smiles, ushering folks to their seats.
The Mass began with Sister Mary Francisca playing the organ to accompany the soprano Gregorian chant of the Carmelite sisters singing the Entrance Antiphon for the Feast of the Visitation. After the readings and the homily, Bishop Michael Olson questioned Sister Marie Thérèse about her desire to profess solemn vows; she responded with an enthusiastic “Yes, I am so resolved.” She then lay prostrate on the chapel floor, surrounded by roses, as the Carmelites sang a litany.
Following the litany, Sister Marie Thérèse professed her solemn vows as a Carmelite, her voice trembling with emotion.
Then came the veiling. Mother Teresa Agnes and Sister Joseph Marie carefully removed Sister Marie Thérèse’s white veil. With great care, they pinned her new black veil in place, then crowned Sister Marie Thérèse with roses.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist followed, and the communion hymn was the Tình Khúc sung by Sister Marie Thérèse’s family. The family choir was accompanied by Thien-Kim Pham, Sister Marie Thérèse’s goddaughter, on the keyboard. Thien-Kim’s father, Vu Pham, stood by proudly, recording the scene on a phone camera. Sister Marie Thérèse’s family sang passionately this Tình Khúc, this hymn of love to Jesus, reading from sheet music and singing toward the Carmelite sisters behind the grille. Many members of the congregation sang along. The melody swelled in a dramatic crescendo as the family harmonized with each other.
On the other side of the grille, Sister Marie Thérèse knelt, surrounded by flowers, weeping quiet tears of joy as she listened to her family singing and her goddaughter on keyboard for the communion hymn. Sister Marie Thérèse lifted her glasses to wipe her eyes.
After the Tình Khúc closed with a gentle flourish of high piano notes, Bishop Olson prayed for the newly professed Sister Marie Thérèse, “who is bound to You by solemn vows consecrated this day by her holy offering….”
Holy offering. That’s how Sister Marie Thérèse views her life as a Carmelite. “Religious profession is a consecration in which one makes the offering of oneself,” she told the NTC. She quoted her patron Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who wrote in a letter, “Zero by itself has no value, but when placed next to a unit it becomes powerful… That is where Jesus has placed me…”
Sister Marie Thérèse added, “This is our Carmelite vocation: to remain a little zero behind our bishop, priests, religious, missionaries, catechists, and all who are working for God’s kingdom. I hope by God’s mercy that this simple act of love to remain a little zero will multiply the missionary’s works and evangelization by 10.” How does she offer herself and overcome obstacles to holiness? “By devotion to Our Lady and the saints,” she said.
After Mass, Sister Marie Thérèse’s sister Trang Nguyen ushered visitors toward the food — egg rolls, rice, noodles, shrimp, vegetables, fruit, and other delicacies. Sister Marie Thérèse, Mother Teresa Agnes, and Sister Joseph Marie greeted visitors in the parlor. Friends, family members, and admirers lined up to give Sister Marie Thérèse gifts through the grille.
Meanwhile, Sister Marie Thérèse’s mother, the inspiration of Sister Marie Thérèse’s Catholic faith, sat at a table in the parlor, eating lunch with her daughter.
“I was raised up in a Catholic environment with daily Mass and family Rosary in the evening,” Sister Marie Thérèse said. “When I was a baby, [my sisters] sang hymns as lullabies to put me to sleep.”
During the reception, the keyboard remained in the corner of the chapel, a silent sign of the Tình Khúc, the hymns of love Sister Marie Thérèse, the Nguyen family, and the Carmelite community sing to the Lord.