Sister Jacinta of Jesus professes solemn vows as a Carmelite
ARLINGTON—Sister Jacinta of Jesus remained stoic and focused as she professed solemn vows making her a Carmelite for life. It was only at the end of the 90-minute liturgy, held Aug. 18 at the Carmel of the Holy Trinity monastery in Arlington, that the 35-year-old’s demeanor changed.
Separated by a wooden grille from the rest of the congregation, the newest charter member of the contemplative order spied her family, seated in the front pew of the chapel, and beamed.
“She was glowing,” agreed her father, Tony Gienger. “She’s at peace with this. She’s been at peace with this since the day she entered.”
Bishop Michael F. Olson concelebrated the morning Mass along with several diocesan priests. Father Luis Castaneda, a Carmelite friar, presided during the Rite of Religious Profession.
A cradle Catholic who grew up in rural northwest Kansas, Jody Lyn Gienger was a soil scientist, employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, when she joined the Carmelites in November 2012.
A cloistered order dedicated to praying for the special intentions of others, the Carmelites and their isolated, peaceful lifestyle attracted the young professional.
“I knew she was looking into different religious orders but I was surprised when she chose the Discalced Carmelites,” admitted Sr. Jacinta’s mother, Joan Gienger. “She found the Carmelites on their website and the prayer life intrigued her. That’s what drew her.”
The religious community is part of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and models its quiet work and hidden service after Mary of Nazareth who followed, unconditionally, God’s will. Each sister wears a scapular of the Patroness as part of her religious habit.
They observe papal enclosure — meaning the nuns do not leave the monastery grounds except for medical care, and no one enters the cloister except for necessary maintenance.
Sr. Jacinta’s parents, her sister, Kari Toon, and a gaggle of young nephews and a niece try to make the 750-mile trek from Kansas to Arlington twice a year. The close-knit family always enjoyed doing things together.
“I take games and books and she plays with the grandchildren through the grille,” explained her mother. “They get to know her and she gets to see their personalities and hear the noise.”
The most difficult part of her daughter’s life in Carmel is the familial separation.
“But you don’t say no to God,” Joan Gienger said, adding lightheartedly, “people who do that end up in the belly of a whale for three days.”
Accepting God’s will is a process, she continued.
“If that’s what God wants of your child, blessings will come with it. You want your child to be happy.”
The formation period for a Carmelite is six years or more and includes one year as a postulant and two years in the novitiate. Then a young woman takes temporary vows and wears the white veil for three years. Time is spent getting to know the young woman before she enters the convent.
“Sr. Jacinta is at the point of making solemn vows and receiving the black veil which is the final commitment,” said Mother Anne Teresa, the prioress who chose the nun’s name to honor St. Jacinta Marto, one of the recently canonized Fatima children.
The Arlington monastery currently houses 10 charter sisters and one sister who professed temporary vows.
“She certainly is a person of prayer,” the mother superior said, describing the community’s newest permanent member. “That is the first element we look for. The perfection comes with time and that’s God’s work. Not our work. We all want to imitate Him as we’re told to pick up our cross and follow Him.”
Seven hours spent in prayer each day includes daily Mass, chanting the Divine Office, and silent, mental contemplation. The nuns strive to accept God’s will for them each day.
“And we find it in the work we do — simple tasks within the monastery,” she explained. “There also is prayer. For a Carmelite, it’s very important.”
During the Rite of Religious Profession, Sr. Jacinta voiced a desire to totally consecrate her life to the service of God and his people as a cloistered Carmelite nun until death.
“So, with my sisters, I may spend all my days giving praise to God and offering prayer and sacrifice for the good of all mankind.”
In his homily, Bishop Olson reminded the congregation that religious vocations within religious life are distinct and not interchangeable. Each has its own nature and beauty.
“And the vocation call Sr. Jacinta is accepting and promising to live out perpetually is not just a general or universal call. It has the particular character of a Carmelite,” the bishop said.
The vocation to Carmel is a not a vehicle for self-understanding, he asserted. It is a gift of love and sacrifice — even if nobody else knows that in detail except Christ.
“That is the vocation you have accepted in gratitude and in love not only for your own sake, but also for the sake of your sisters and really for the sake of all of us gathered in the Church,” the prelate added. “The Church needs your vocation in Carmel more than ever.”
As she prepared to profess permanent vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, Sr. Jacinta spent time in retreat and praying “for what the Lord is inspiring me to do.” The nun also took comfort in knowing her vocation, as a Carmelite, is part of a larger picture — the Lord’s plan.
“We’re here to pray for people and the Church. We pray for the sick and people going through difficult times,” Sr. Jacinta said. “Nobody knows we exist. That’s part of who we are.”