Kneeling at His feet: Sister Maria Sagrario takes first vows as Carmelite
ARLINGTON — After years of discernment, prayer, and learning about the quiet work and hidden service of her chosen religious community, Sister Maria Sagrario of the Pierced Heart of Jesus professed first vows as a Carmelite novice during a Dec. 4 Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael Olson inside the Carmel of the Most Holy Trinity chapel.
“I feel very happy, very blessed,” Sr. Maria said moments before the start of the morning liturgy. “To prepare for this day, I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer and being alone with Jesus.”
Kneeling behind a grille that separated the religious order from the rest of the congregation, Sr. Maria pledged vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a large contingent of family members watched from the front pews of the chapel.
When asked by the bishop if she wished to consecrate herself to God in solitude and continual prayer for the universal Church, the 30-year-old Houston native uttered a resolute, “I do.”
Bishop Olson then presented a crucifix to the newly professed sister with the words, “Receive this crucifix. May it be your strength in weakness, your comfort in sorrow, the seal of your vows, and the joy of your heart.”
Sister Teresa Agnes, the Carmelite order’s mother prioress, fastened the crucifix to her habit after placing a wreath of flowers on Sr. Maria’s white veil.
The Discalced Carmelite community in Arlington is part of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and models its mission after Mary of Nazareth who followed God’s will unconditionally. They observe papal enclosure, meaning the nuns do not leave the monastery ground except for medical care. To show solidarity with the poor, the order is discalced or “shoeless.” Members wear sandals without stockings regardless of the weather.
Before entering the Carmelite monastery as a postulant on the Feast of All Saints in 2018, Rebecca Garcia studied psychology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and belonged to a young adult group at Prince of Peace Parish. Thoughts of a religious vocation began at a retreat.
“She started to become more involved in the church and told us [entering a contemplative convent] is what she wanted to do,” explained older sister Jessica Garcia. “We were surprised because she had a lot of friends and went out with them.”
Describing her younger sibling as a caring, family-oriented person who is always thinking of others, Garcia said everyone in the family prays for Sr. Maria and accepts her decision to become a cloistered nun.
“If she’s happy, that makes me happy,” her sister added. “I’ll miss her at family gatherings, but we have a very close mind/spirit connection. Every few months we talk on the phone or write letters, so I don’t feel much of a loss.”
In his homily, Bishop Olson used the story of two sisters, Martha and Mary from the Gospel of Luke, to show how the Carmelites demonstrate discipleship by their unique vocation. Like Mary, who sits at the foot of Jesus and listens intently to His words, “the same holds even more true for the vocation and discipleship of a Carmelite,” he told the gathering of worshippers. “It is love initiated by Jesus that links service to the poor and prayer — a love that is received and expressed at Jesus’ feet.”
The vocation of the Carmelite is given by Christ not just for the Carmelite but for the salvation of sinners, explained the bishop who concelebrated the Mass with Monsignor E. James Hart, diocesan chancellor and moderator of the Curia, Vicar General Father Jonathan Wallis, and a cadre of diocesan priests.
Witnessing the ceremony was Father Sebastine Okoye, Sr. Maria’s spiritual director. The pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Freeport, Texas, said guiding someone’s vocation journey requires listening to their stories and helping them see what God is communicating.
He recommends Scripture passages and reading about lives of saints who answered a vocation call to inspire reflection.
“Above all — like my being here today — I pray for them,” Fr. Okoye said. “And I encourage them to pray and empty themselves before God.”
Now a professed novice, Sr. Maria offered words of advice to other young women considering a religious vocation.
“Give it a chance and see what the Lord says,” she suggested. “Try to respond because the enemy will try to dissuade you from anything that is good and gives glory to God. Take a leap of faith.”