By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published August 18, 2011
The morning sunlight illuminated a stained glass window that read “fortiter et fideliter” (“bravely and faithfully”) in the small chapel at the Visitation Monastery as Sister Teresa Maria Kulangara prepared to profess her final vows.
Surrounded by family and friends from all over the country, Sister Teresa Maria was all smiles as she reverently participated in the Mass of Solemn Profession celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory on Aug. 7.
The soft, gentle voices of the Visitation sisters lead the assembly in song, reflecting the subtle and hidden spiritual life they live together. During his homily, Archbishop Gregory spoke of the importance of religious life and the benefits of communal living.
“You sisters, living here in common life, you too participate in the mysterious plan of God for salvation,” said the archbishop. “You do so quietly, in prayer, in common life, in generous service toward one another, and in a desire to be of service to the church through your witness of poverty, chastity and obedience.”
Following the homily, Archbishop Gregory asked Sister Teresa Maria to profess her intent publicly: “Sister, what do you ask of the Lord and of his church?”
“I, Sister Teresa Maria Kulangara, ask the mercy of the Lord and for the love of God, our Savior, the grace of being received to holy profession in this Monastery of the Visitation, there to consecrate my whole life to the service of God and of his church, in chastity, obedience and poverty,” answered the nun.
After vocal approval from the monastery’s superior, Mother M. Jane Frances Williams, Sister Teresa Maria prostrated herself before the altar as the assembly recited the Litany of the Saints.
She then recited her vows, promising service to the order and the church while asking for the love and protection of Christ and his Blessed Mother.
“I choose the order of the Visitation and our holy founders to guide me in the way of holiness,” she concluded.
Archbishop Gregory then presented the newly professed sister with a veil, a cross and a lighted candle, symbolizing her official entrance into the order.
“Sister, you are now definitely a part of our community,” said Mother Jane Frances. “May you dwell with us in peace and the love of our only Lord.”
Sister Teresa Maria, 43, will spend the rest of her days in prayer and common life with the sisters of the Visitation, whose monastery sits on 27 acres of land in Snellville, east of Atlanta.
She currently runs the host room, where thousands of unconsecrated hosts are unpacked, repacked and sent to parishes to be used in the celebration of Mass. The sisters receive the hosts from a company in Poland, ordering new batches monthly. They accommodate the parish orders in this industry, which helps to sustain the monastery.
Prayer is the cornerstone of the life of the Visitation sisters. They come together to pray in community five times a day, and the schedule also allows the sisters time to pray alone. The day begins with private prayer between 6 and 7 a.m., followed by a communal recitation of the Divine Office and Mass and ends with night prayer at 8:30 p.m.
A native of Kerala, India, Sister Teresa Maria has been in the United States for nearly 25 years, first arriving to study and pursue a career as a pharmacist but eventually discovering that God was calling her to serve in a different way.
After earning her license as a pharmacist and working in the field, Sister Teresa Maria began to discern a call from God to a deeper spiritual life in the late 1990s, she said. She actually entered the monastery as a postulant for 11 months in 2000 but left after feeling unsure if this was her vocation. She returned in 2005.
“I knew I had a vocation. I just wanted to be sure,” she said.
Faith had always been an important part of her family life growing up in India, as she remembers her parents showing strong belief in God and in prayer.
“My father was strong in faith,” said the newly professed sister, adding that her father passed away almost four years ago. “He wanted family prayer every day.”
Sister Teresa Maria’s mother, Aleyamma Kulangara, was present for the profession of vows, which was a joy for the nun as her mother had a strong influence on her faith as well.
“My mother was very devotional,” said Sister Teresa Maria. “It is the prayers and support of my family that brought me to the monastery.”
The support of her family was visible on the day of her profession, as relatives from all over the country came to witness this important moment in the life of their daughter, cousin or friend. They came from New York, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Illinois and elsewhere.
One of her sisters, Stella Stephen, said that she was “very fortunate to have her as my sister.”
“She is a good influence on the family, especially the kids,” Stephen added.
Following the Mass, family members and Visitation nuns moved to the monastery parlor to greet the new sister. Sister Teresa Maria’s mother entered with a smile nearly as big as the newly professed sister, proud of her daughter’s continual journey of spiritual growth.
“I am very blessed to be here,” she said. “She is a very special child. … I am very glad to see her a sister.”
The nuns at the Monastery of the Visitation are equally excited to have Sister Teresa Maria profess her solemn vows.
“She just fits right in here,” said Mother Jane Frances. “She is a very well-rounded person, and she is in love with Jesus Christ.”
“God wants her to be here,” added the mother superior. “And if God wants you to be here, you will be here.”