By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published September 26, 2013
ATLANTA—It was at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta that the former Ahidee Peralta, now Sister Sophia Marie, says her soul “came back home.”
Peralta became a consecrated sister of the Sisters of Christian Charity Aug. 16 in the Chapel of Mary Immaculate in Mendham, N.J., with her family and friends present.
A native of Costa Rica whose family moved to Atlanta, she graduated from Emory University with bachelors’ degrees in biology and psychology. Before entering the religious life, she had a career as director of projects at ALTA Language Services in Atlanta.
“Although as a child I was mesmerized by religious sisters, back then the thought of it as a possible option never occurred to me; in my childhood ignorance I always thought it was for very pious and perfect people, and I knew I was neither,” Sister Sophia Marie said in an email interview.
Raised a Catholic, she said throughout her teens and 20s she was more of a “cultural Catholic,” living her faith on her own terms. But she also experienced a spiritual hunger.
“It was in college that an internal yearning and searching for that ‘more’ that I couldn’t buy or achieve began,” she said.
In her late 20s, she began to realize that God was the “more” she had been missing. She credits the faith community at Christ the King.
“It was through all the different programs offered and especially the wonderful clergy, staff and community of Christ the King that I learned more about Christ—the very heart of our faith—who is the way, the truth and the life,” said the sister. “When I began to realize and experience the impact that Christ had on every aspect of my life and the profound joy and peace in spite of life’s circumstances, I felt so whole and complete that I just fell in love.”
Peralta’s joy in serving others struck Deacon Whitney Robichaux.
“She became very active in several ministries at the Cathedral and we worked together on a couple of them. She was always enthusiastic and willing to take on new roles to help people,” said Deacon Robichaux. “You always saw a smile on her face.”
Sister Sophia Marie, now in her early 40s, said that during several years of volunteering with RCIA, with the parish Stephen Ministry of one-on-one care to those in crisis, and other programs, the seed of her vocation was “continuously being nurtured and strengthened.”
Receiving the Eucharist frequently, spending much time in prayer and also with Jesus in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the sister began to hear the “soft whisper” to consecrate herself to him as a religious.
When friends would ask if Peralta had considered religious life, she would answer that she had not been called—her way of not really addressing the question or taking the journey.
But the call would come.
“It was in one humbling moment of grace, when in a flash of insight, light, awareness, realization, clarity, that ‘Aha’ moment—when my eyes were unveiled, and everything—my whole life, all I had lived and experienced fell into place and made sense … that God had been calling me, molding me, preparing me and saving me for Him and for this wonderful life of self-donation,” said Sister Sophia Marie.
Her discernment was helped, she said, by practices like weekly Eucharistic adoration, attending retreats and volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity at the Gift of Grace House.
For anyone considering religious life or trying to discern their own call, Sister Sophia Marie suggests incorporating times of silence into the day and deepening prayer life.
“There is so much ‘noise’ in the world and we are so ‘plugged’ into our technology that for those starting this new stage of their faith journey, I would highly encourage you to sign up for a holy hour of Eucharistic adoration,” she said.
She also visited several religious communities to learn which best matched her Eucharistic spirituality and where her gifts could be of best service to others. A priest recommended that she visit the Sisters of Christian Charity in New Jersey, and she was drawn to the community’s love of the Eucharist and wide range of apostolic works.
“She continued to have contact once she decided which order to join and when she would come back to Atlanta to visit, she would always make contact and it was good to see how happy she was,” said Deacon Robichaux.
The Sisters of Christian Charity, formed in 1849 by Blessed Pauline von Mallinckrod in Germany, worked to help neglected children, the blind and others in need. Pope John Paul II beatified Pauline in 1985. Sisters are serving in a wide range of educational posts, health care, parish ministry, and social services.
Bishop Manuel Cruz of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., celebrated the Mass where Sister Sophia Marie and two others professed their first vows before a congregation that included the superior general of the congregation, Sister Maria del Rosario Castro, who came from Rome.
“The theme for our liturgy was ‘Totally Yours.’ It was a perfect day, one I had longed for, for so long and which was finally here—the day of my consecration,” said Sister Sophia Marie.
“The whole liturgy was absolutely heavenly, from the flowers to the singing, to the bishop’s friendliness and enthusiasm,” she said.
Bishop Cruz suggested the women ask the elder sisters about the secret to perseverance.
“From so many of them we learned that the secret is truly intimacy with the Lord. There is no other way,” said Sister Sophia Marie.
Lay friends from the Cathedral attended, as did Father Richard Morrow, Deacon Robichaux and Father Joseph Mullakkara, MSFS, now serving at St. Benedict Church, Duluth.
The women knelt individually to profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience before Sister Joan Daniel, provincial superior. After changing their veils from white to black in the sacristy, the sisters turned toward the other nuns, their family and friends.
“It was such a blessing to see the happiness of all that my eyes filled with tears of joy,” she said.
Sister Sophia Marie was “thrilled” to have her parents, Fernan J. Peralta and Maria Cabrera, her younger sister, Vivianne, and her brother and sister-in-law, Fernan A. and Carrie Peralta, and niece Sofia Grace attend, adding that she wanted “to thank my family for the intangible gifts of the heart that I have received from them.”
She has already started her first assignment at St. Paul Inside the Walls, the Center for Evangelization of the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., where she is assistant diocesan director of catechesis. She will be working with directors of religious education and catechists. The office develops and implements a unified vision for catechesis and provides solid formation for catechists serving in all the parishes of the diocese.
The sister added that she had been blessed beyond measure at Christ the King, where God took her “five loaves and two fish” and transformed these simple gifts and her.
“I am so grateful for each of you with whom I have had the privilege of having been in community with you, praying with you, serving in ministry with you, and learning from you,” she said. “You hold a very dear place in my heart and I will continue to pray and intercede for each of you.”