Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Archdiocese Celebrates Those In Consecrated Life

By GRETCHEN KEISER,Staff Writer | Published February 23, 2006

The archdiocese celebrated the gift of consecrated life at a gathering Feb. 6 for vespers and dinner of men and women who are members of religious orders or other expressions of consecrated life.

The event was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for the Vicar for Consecrated Life, Sister Mary-beth Beres, OP, and hosted by the Cistercian monks of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers.

As an estimated 160 men and women filled the choir stalls of the abbey church at the monastery for evening prayer, Sister Mary-beth said the witness of their lives was vital to the church and the world.

“Especially in these times of violence and even hatred,” she said, “we live with joy and hope as visible signs of the resurrection” of Jesus.

The local celebration reflected the observance internationally on Feb. 2 of World Day for Consecrated Life, which was established by Pope John Paul II in 1997, and which is being continued as an international celebration by Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop Wilton Gregory was unable to preside as he attended a memorial service for Coretta Scott King.

Welcoming the gathering of people, who came in great numbers despite heavy rain, Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler, OCSO, said, “This is a great grace to have all of you here in this holy place … each of us called somehow by God in incredible ways.”

As consecrated people, “each of us was called by name,” he said, and, in calling them, God is also working to bring them into the fullness of that person he truly created them to be.

“It is a wondrous journey, brothers and sisters,” the abbot said.

Sharing a bit of his own story of conversion to Christ, he said he was raised as a cradle Catholic, becoming a young man generally rebelling against everything, and then a searcher who found in the Gospels a call to a new life and God who loves him madly.

“Just sitting and reading it, I was bowled over,” the abbot said. “I’m still bowled over 32 years later.”

“As it slowly sank in, I said to myself, ‘if this is true, I can’t live like this anymore. I have to find a new way to live.’ … Less than a year later I was here in this monastery.”

Each person there has their own extraordinary story of being called by God and answering, he said.

While the call to consecrated life is not superior to other calls, it is a special one, he said, and perhaps, as brothers and sisters in consecrated life serving in the archdiocese, they could do more to support one another.

“We’ve been called to be disciples in a different way than lay people, yet, for the most part, we move about our business pretty much by ourselves,” Abbot Francis Michael said.

“Maybe this is a gentle reminder that we do have each other and we should support each other. … There is something we share. We have been touched and called. … Let us not only thank God for our own vocation but thank God for each other’s vocations. Reach out to somebody we don’t know and give a brother or a sister a kind word.”

Writing an article for the occasion, Sister Mary-beth said the celebration helps draw attention to the path of consecrated life, which may not be as well recognized as other vocational paths.

“It is an opportunity for the church to educate parishioners about people who serve God in countless and sometimes unexpected ways, while maintaining their commitment to a consecrated life.”

In the Archdiocese of Atlanta, 23 different religious institutes or orders of women are represented, from the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, to the Missionaries of Charity and the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Women Religious serve in a variety of ministries from the Visitation order’s cloistered monastery, to hospitals, hospices and health care, to schools, parishes, social services, Hispanic ministry, black Catholic ministry, Court of Appeals, and a wide range of community ministries.

There are 15 religious institutes or orders of men represented in the archdiocese, several of which, including the Claretians, Conventual Franciscans, Marists, LaSalettes, Fransalians, Passionists, and Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, staff parishes in North Georgia. Men Religious in the archdiocese also enrich the community with their retreat work, teaching, monastic life, college and high school campus ministry, Hispanic and Polish ministry, and ministry to families.

Both men and women Religious are involved in counseling, spiritual direction, and serving the poor.

In addition, Sister Mary-beth noted, “Religious in the archdiocese sponsor schools, health care facilities and spirituality centers.” To mention just a few, they include Saint Joseph Hospital, founded by the Sisters of Mercy, the Jesuit order’s Ignatius Retreat Center, Marist School, established and run by the Marist Fathers and Brothers, and Pinecrest Academy, Holy Spirit Prep School, and other schools affiliated with the Legionaries of Christ.

“Two religious institutes serve in a ministry of prayer for the church locally and universally,” she said.

Religious institutes “are special charisms of the church,” she said. “Members of each institute witness in distinctive ways to the meaning of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. This witness is given through the way members live, the values they practice and their ministries.”

There is also a secular institute in the archdiocese, Caritas Christi, and there are consecrated women who are auxiliaries of Our Lady of the Retreat of the Cenacle and consecrated women and men of Regnum Christi, the lay apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ. A total of 11 consecrated women and one consecrated man are in the archdiocese.

Following vespers, a social hour and dinner provided a gracious opportunity for those who work in different places in the archdiocese to be together, share a meal and enjoy the good company of one another.

During the social hour, Sister Patricia Caraher, OP, said that the Dominican order’s charism includes an emphasis upon “veritas” or truth that she finds most compelling today.

“I think God’s truth is so varied and faceted. We each have a little eye into God’s truth,” said the sister, who is part of the administrative staff in charge of family services at the International Community School in DeKalb County, where children from around the world are studying together.

She believes it is critical at this time for people to reach out to those of different faiths, cultures and traditions. “This reconciliation of differences, of diversity is so needed today,” Sister Patricia said.

Father David Musso, SM, reflected on his wonderful opportunity to work with students as campus chaplain at Marist School, Atlanta.

“When you walk into a group of kids on retreat, the profound experience shouts the fact that they want a deep experience of sharing something with other people and that something is God,” he said. “Our job … is to give them this fire and let them know there is something much deeper than the culture offers.”

Speaking after dinner Sister Mary-beth said it was “the first gathering of this magnitude” in the archdiocese of consecrated men and women.

Meeting in a monastery founded on St. Benedict’s “school of love” and shortly after the publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical on the love of God, she said, “We gather to give thanks for our consecrated life in which we express back to that Lover how much we appreciate that love. This God of love who is more than all of creation wants to be in relationship with us.”

“Part of what we celebrate here is the diversity of our many different charisms,” she continued, adding, “we need all the differences, we need all the diversity. Each of us must be fully ourselves.”

“The Gospel is a message of love and it is love for all of creation,” she said. “We need to be known as the early Christians were known: how they love one another.”