The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa
All the research points in one direction: today’s young people are searching for authenticity. Perhaps this is why a new, little-known California community of Sisters are fielding dozens of inquiries a year?
The Marian Sisters were canonically founded by Bishop Robert Vasa in 2012 in the diocese of Santa Rosa, with just two members. They now have twelve and the average age of their new members is 24. And interest is growing; these days they receive about nine inquiries a month from young women.
Their community is unique in its Marian Spirit, lived sincerely according to the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary taught by their patron, St. Louis Marie de Montfort. They also are one of the only contemplative active communities that have a peaceful relationship with both forms of the Roman Rite – both the extraordinary and ordinary forms. They are traditionally minded and still present to their brothers and sisters who have not been nurtured in the traditions of the Catholic Faith.
They have a contemplative spirit nurtured during the early years of formation, the basis for their active works of communicating the Faith. The Sisters strive to support priests by a spiritual maternity of prayer, sacrifice and practical support. They pray and work for souls, communicating the beauty, goodness and truth of their precious Faith through witness, catechesis and reverent liturgical practices.
All these elements seem to attract those seeking to consecrate themselves to Christ while serving in His vineyards. In fact, the Sister’ greatest need is adequate housing for the growing number of young women seeking to discern their vocations with them. Recently, REGINA Magazine visited the Sisters and listened to what three of their young novices had to say.
REGINA: How did you know that you had a vocation?
Sr. Caritas Marie: I didn’t. Looking back now, I see very clear indications of a religious vocation, and a religious vocation to a Marian community with a charism embracing the fullness of the liturgical life and having an evangelistic mission, but never once was I certain of being called to religious life. From my childhood, I was taught to seek God’s will. I strove to develop a prayer life, and sought the advice of people wiser and holier than myself. It was through the conviction that others held that I might have a religious vocation that I came to see that it was possible and even probable. Eventually, there came a point where I knew that I would never know unless I acted. I began to act on faith, faith that if I wasn’t called, the community and the Church would recognize it and then help me to see that I wasn’t called, and that if I was called, the community and the Church would recognize a genuine call and help me to respond to it. It was only through living the life that I came to see that He had indeed called me to this state of life.
Sr Margaret Mary: There were many indicators in my life that suggested that I might have a religious vocation: comments from others, including my pastor and my Godmother, and a growing desire to do God’s Will. However, the final answer came one day as I was praying, and God gave me the grace of receiving an interior knowledge that I was called to be His bride. It was not a voice out of the sky or anything tangible, but an undeserved grace that cannot be explained other than His infinite goodness to me.
Sr Marie Vianney: I had never really thought about having a religious vocation until one day when the new priest at my parish asked me – out of the blue – if I had ever considered the religious life. I was shocked and called my mom to share this crazy experience with her. Only, she told me that she had always thought that was a possibility! With these two people, completely separate from each other and whom I trusted, saying that they saw something in me, I felt I should at least pray more seriously about it. That prayer led to more and before I knew it, I was consumed with the thought of religious life – and I had never even seen a nun in a habit! However, one day while praying before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament I heard the words in my heart, “Be not afraid”. It’s not that I then knew for sure that I had a vocation, but I knew he was calling me to take a step forward. So I did. And I continued taking steps – visiting different communities, getting a spiritual director, striving for a better prayer life… I also had many doubts along the way. Really, me??? However, doors kept opening and whenever I looked back on my journey it was so clear that God was guiding each step.
REGINA: What drew you to the Sisters?
Sr Marie Vianney: In the beginning, what first drew me to the Sisters was the beauty of their website. Both visually and in content, the website kept attracting me. I would visit it often. After visiting the Sisters for the first time, I saw that what I seen on the website was truly lived – and even more than I could have imagined! I experienced with the Sisters a deep love for our Faith – for Jesus, the Church, the Sacred Liturgy, the traditions… They lived their consecrated lives so authentically and lovingly. I wouldn’t have been able to verbalize it at the time, but it was truly the charism that was speaking to me – to magnify Jesus by communicating the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Catholic faith. This is what God was calling me to be and I saw it in the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa.
Sr. Margaret Mary: Our Lady led me here. Because I am a native of Santa Rosa, I had the privilege of working with the Sisters and sharing in a little bit of their life before I entered. Through the lives of the Sisters, Mary showed me the beauty of the Total Marian Consecration and of authentic religious life. Their love of the liturgy in both forms of the Roman Rite and all things beautifully Catholic greatly attracted me as well.
Sr. Caritas Marie: The authenticity of their witness as Spouses of Christ combined with their evident love of the Church and her sacred liturgy unconsciously attracted me to the community.
REGINA: What were your first impressions?
Sr. Marie Vianney: My first impression on arriving at the airport for my first visit was “home”. I saw Mother Teresa Christe and Sister Mary Rose (I had met Mother once before, but not Sister) and I was overwhelmed with the sense of being home. That sense continued throughout the visit.
Sr. Margaret Mary: I first saw the Sisters a few days after they arrived in Santa Rosa at a daily Mass one morning. Very curious as to who they were, my family met them and happily learned that they were going to start a community in our diocese. There had not been a visible presence of authentic religious life in this diocese for many years, so I had not really been with Sisters in my life. I was impacted by their reverence at Mass and love for Our Lord in the Eucharist, and as I got to know them, their Mary-like life and presence.
Sr. Caritas Marie: I knew that these were women who were genuinely living consecrated life. When I was first introduced to the community, I was not discerning religious life but I was attracted by the authenticity of the witness of the sisters and by their joyful acceptance of the crosses of daily life. The community was very new when I met the sisters, but because each sister was intent on living the charism, they prayed and worked together as if they had been doing so for years.
REGINA: How did your family react?
Sr Marie Vianney: My family was (and is!) extremely supportive of my vocation. My parents were particularly helpful and supportive. Even though I am the only girl in the family they were happy and proud to give their daughter to God. Even my some of my extended family who do not really understand the religious life were happy for me because I was following what God was asking me to do.
Sr. Caritas Marie: Positively and with great love. From the time my brothers and I were small, my parents taught us to seek God’s will faithfully. They made it clear that nothing was more important that knowing God’s will and doing it, even if there was sacrifice involved. A great deal of sacrifice is asked of the family of a consecrated person. It has not been easy for my close-knit family to be separated, but God’s grace makes all things possible and sanctifying. In fact, the very sacrifices demanded can elevate the natural love shared by a family to a supernatural love focused on Christ and the salvation of souls.
Sr. Margaret Mary: My immediate family was not very surprised at my vocation because they had seen the way God was leading me, and very happy that I was to be here in this diocese. There is sorrow at any parting between those one dearly loves, but there is also a joy that can only come from making the sacrifice to do God’s Will in everything He asks, even the hardest things.
REGINA: What are the most surprising things about your experience of your vocation to these sisters?
Sr. Caritas Marie: Most surprising? Probably how normal convent life is, if normal is recognized to be a Christocentric living of the Church’s liturgical life.
Sr. Margaret Mary: Because I had the grace of being with the Sisters before actually entering, I wasn’t surprised at much that I found upon entering. I was delighted to find out how much good, holy fun we can have, and the very unique sense of humor of each sister. Sisters can be VERY funny! God invented humor, and it is a necessary ingredient in convent life!
Sr Marie Vianney That God would not only allow, but desire for me to be a Sister in this community. I certainly do not deserve nor did I merit this vocation in any way, but in His Wisdom He sees fit to have this poor one as one of His brides.
REGINA: Can you tell us about your life so far in the convent?
Sr Marie Vianney: One of my favorite memories is when I was clothed as a novice. It was on an early autumn morning and it was dark outside. We had practiced the ceremony the day before, but nothing is like the real thing. I still recall very vividly kneeling at the back of the chapel facing the altar, asking for entrance into the novitiate, and then having my hair cut. That part was particularly memorable because I didn’t think it would affect me so much. I thought the symbolism was beautiful, of course, but I never cared too much about my hair and didn’t mind losing it. However, when those first snips began, I looked up at the tabernacle and I began to cry. It wasn’t just about cutting my hair, nor was it a mere symbol. I was giving everything to Christ at that moment.
Sr. Margaret Mary: One of my favorite memories so far is my clothing day, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. God planned from all eternity that I would receive my name, Sister Margaret Mary of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on that feast. Kneeling there in Chapel, renouncing the world, and giving myself totally to Christ was an unforgettable moment.
Sr. Caritas Marie: Beyond the daily beauty of the life, the praying and laboring in common, there are moments that hold special significance. One of the most significant of those for me was investiture, being received as a novice. It is here that one is received by the community, receives the habit, and is given a religious name. I remember kneeing in adoration after the ceremony, newly clothed in the holy habit, praying that I may never have to lay it aside and that Our Lady would keep me faithful to my promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience all the days of my life.
REGINA: Why do you think that convent life is so attractive to many young Catholics?
Sr Marie Vianney: This life is so attractive to many young Catholics because it is real – the life actually is what we claim it to be (even amidst our human shortcomings). The life is beautiful and demanding, it entails real sacrifice and I believe that people desire to give of themselves unto sacrifice because that is true love. I think as the world becomes more and more materialistic and relativistic, young Catholics will continue to appreciate the consecrated life more because it is completely centered on God. They may not all be called, but I believe they will be more open to ask if that is God’s Will for their life. Hopefully, those who are called will have the grace and fortitude to give themselves completely to the Beloved.
Sr. Caritas Marie: Created in God’s image and likeness, we are all seeking to have Him as the center of our lives. Those fortunate young Catholics who have tasted the goodness of God want more and more for us means a total gift of self. We have received all that we have from Him, returning it to His hands is the most normal and fulfilling action that we could possibly take.
Sr Margaret Mary: Authentic religious life, lived how the Church wants Her daughters to live, is something so real, but at the same time humanly impossible, something that can only be done by God’s grace. No one would do this for any other reason than God. It is very evident that there is more to life than this temporal world, and each person has a longing for the infinite. Religious life is a testimony to both the longing for more and the solution that will satisfy that longing; union with God, especially in prayer. On a practical level, the habit was also an attracting factor for me because it is that outward sign of a life belonging to Christ. If I’m going to give my life totally to Christ, I want the whole world to know that I am His! The habit is a public witness to the reality of God, Heaven, and the truth of the Catholic Faith. We evangelize just by walking out the door! It also shows that this is until death, a total commitment to God Who is entirely worth the gift of my entire life.
A Day with the Sisters
Mother Teresa Christe (front row, center) explains that “Throughout the day you will find the sisters praying before our Eucharistic Lord , laboring in the classroom, serving priests, chanting in choir or working in the sacristy.”
Before 5 AM
“I arise and put on Jesus Christ Crucified Whom my soul loves and in Whom my heart rejoices”
We begin with a Eucharistic Holy Hour during which we pray the Fatima Prayers, Lauds, Marian Consecration Prayers and Mental Prayer.
Breakfast includes a reading that nourishes the mind and heart while we nourish our bodies.
We begin our daily duties or “labors of love” as we like to call them. These can be classroom teaching, serving the Bishop at the chancery or working in ministries dedicated to the sacred liturgy. The sisters in early formation have classes related to religious life.
We pray the Holy Rosary, Angeles and mental prayer at midday.
After lunch the sisters in early formation have an hour of prayer, rest or personal time.
Daily Duties resume until 4:15 Community Recreation
Chanted Vespers, Prayers for Priests, Lectio Divina
6:00 Angelus and Dinner
9 PM Grand Silence
10 PM Lights Out
FOR MORE INFO CONTACT:
PO Box 1297
Santa Rosa, CA 95402