By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
In an era when women’s vocations to religious life are in steep decline in most countries, if one very young congregation invests 12 young women with its habit, that’s news.
It happened Dec. 6, as a prelude to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., and three of those young women were from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The congregation is the rapidly growing Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará (S.S.V.M), who were founded in 1988 in San Rafael, Argentina, by Father Carlos Miguel, as a sister-congregation to the Institute of the Incarnate Word (I.V.E.) founded for men four years prior.
Incarnate Word priests run St. Veronica Parish in Philadelphia and the sisters minister at Misión Santa María Madre de Dios in Avondale, Chester County. Both both the parish and mission have attracted local religious vocations.
In keeping with the custom of the congregation, the names in religion given to the 12 novices is a virtual litany of the Blessed Mother. The three new sisters from Avondale, now studying at the congregation’s Kateri Tekakwitha Novitiate in Upper Marlborough, Md., are Sister María Aurora Salutis (Mary Dawn of Salvation), who is from Puerto Rico; Sister María in Inatzin (Mary Most Holy) who is from Mexico; and Sister María Ancora Confidentiae (Mary Anchor of Confidence) who is also from Mexico. They received the traditional gray habit and blue scapular of the congregation and a white veil symbolizing they are novices.
Sister Inatzin, who entered at age 20, attended both public and Catholic schools. The seed of her vocation was planted at age 12 by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Mexico.
“I became a religious because I want to serve God,” she said. “Being a religious means to me to help other people in their needs … and to evangelize the culture.
“I chose the S.S.V.M. because I love their charism and I want to be a missionary,” she added.
Sister Aurora Salutis, who entered at 33, said her choice of vocation grew with prayer and discernment. She chose the S.S.V.M. congregation because of its great devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, its great devotion to the Blessed Mother, its unquestionable obedience to the Holy Father and the magisterium of the Church and also the great joy the sisters manifest.
“I want to do God’s will because I want to get to know and love God with all my heart in order to serve Him better in this life and be happy with Him in heaven for all eternity,” she said.
Sister Ancora Confidentiae entered at age 20. She attended public schools in West Chester.
That all three are of Hispanic heritage is probably because that is the ethnicity most served by Misión Santa María. Many of the other newly invested novices were not Hispanic, notes Mother Maria Lumen Christi, vocations director for the congregation. She is from the Camden Diocese, graduated from Camden Catholic High School and first realized her religious vocation “probably at 18 or 19” while studying at the Catholic University of America with like-minded young women.
She was drawn to the charism of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará who, like their male counterpart, have a Marian-based spirituality which springs from the teachings of St. Louis de Montfort and also the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Mother Maria entered the congregation at age 22 in 2004. Her formation-journey is typical for the congregation. After a period of postulancy and a year as a novice, she took one-year temporary vows for a total of three years, and at the same ceremony where this year’s new novices were invested, she took temporary vows for a final three years. When that is completed she will make her perpetual vows.
“I love this life, but that’s not to say it’s an easy life. It really is a calling from God,” she said. “There comes a point when God transforms our heart and we ultimately desire to belong only to Him. That’s where we find our happiness, our fulfillment – belonging exclusively to God.”
The three local novices join three other sisters from the Philadelphia area already in the congregation. Sister Ancora is a blood sister to Sister Mary Mother of Hope who is missioned to Brooklyn, N.Y., and who was born in Mexico City.
Sister Mary Mother of Hope became acquainted with the sisters in Avondale and entered at age 19. “It started with spiritual direction, the spiritual exercises and the example of the sisters in my parish. The love of Mary, the charism and the spirit of family attracted me,” she said. “I want to draw souls to God, especially those who suffer. Being a religious is living the spanine counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience for love of God and the salvation of souls.”
As members of a missionary congregation, Sisters of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará serve in a variety of ministries world-wide, including social service, catechesis, teaching and health care.
Sister María Guadalupana, also from Misión Santa María, took final vows last year. She is a member of a cloistered branch of the congregation, living a life of prayer at St. Edith Stein Monastery in Brooklyn.
Sister Mary of the Incarnation, who entered at 21, is ministering in California and is the only local sister who is not of Hispanic heritage. Originally from St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Horsham, she attended Villa Joseph Marie Academy and West Chester University. As a child in a Catholic family, she thought about a religious vocation but not seriously until she was a freshman at West Chester when she met the Avondale sisters. “My initial attraction was the religious habit and as I spent more time with them, it was their inherent joy and complete offering of themselves for love of Christ. Their deep prayer life and active apostolate also spoke to my heart.”
“Unlike a job where you work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday,” she said, as a vowed religious, “every moment of every day of my life, I give myself completely to God and His will.”
For further information on the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará see www.ssvmusa.org.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.