CANTON – Sister Thérèse Marie entered the contemplative community of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration with her First Profession Mass Jan. 7 at the Sancta Maria Monastery Chapel.
Originally from Wexford, PA., near Pittsburgh, Sister Therese Marie graduated from high school in 2018. It was then that her mother’s intuition realized where her daughter’s ultimate vocational path would lead.
“We were going on college visits and I made the comment: ‘Should we also be looking at convents?’” said Bernadette Walters, Sister Thérèse Marie’s mother.
Her daughter replied: “I think God is calling me to be a student right now, though.”
So she enrolled in Slippery Rock University with the intention of studying to become a physical therapist.
“When I went off to college, I went to a secular, public school, and I got involved with the Newman Center there … Even though I was raised Catholic, my faith became my own during this time,” said Sister Thérèse Marie, who spent a year at Slippery Rock.
“She did a lot of growing up that year. She made the decision that ‘This is my calling.’” said Walters.
Sister Thérèse Marie began contemplating her first step toward religious life in 2019. “When I realized that I was called to religious life to be a sister, then I went through discernment where I decided if I wanted to be an active sister and have a ministry – like nursing or teaching – or be a contemplative.
“And through discernment and prayer, I realized that God was calling me to the contemplative life,” she said.
Choosing the contemplative life narrowed her search of religious residences. “I got in contact with different communities. As part of my formation, according to the Vatican, you have to go through one year of contact with your community for you to discern them and for them to discern you and make sure that this is really a good fit,” Sister Thérèse Marie said.
She chose Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, the cloistered monastery here.
“I was really devoted to Eucharistic Adoration. So, I started looking for different communities with adoration … I started looking throughout the United States and it led me to this one. As soon as I came here for my first visit, I knew I was home,” she said.
Arriving in the summer of 2019, she officially became a postulant in 2020. “I am in the time period called ‘initial formation.’ Before taking my final vows, I go through six years of preparation,” she said.
Between her entrance as a postulant until her First Profession Mass, Sister Thérèse Marie also studied, prayed and discerned her calling to this religious life.
“This past year was my canonical year of the novitiate – time as a novice who has been accepted into the community. It was a bit more concentrated and focused on the First Profession Vows and specifically detachment from my natural family so that I can grow into this religious family,” she said.
As part of her First Profession Mass, Sister Therese Marie, who was formerly known as Emma, was given a new name.
“We give our top three names 30 days ahead of our ceremony to Mother Mary Gertrude, the abbess at the monastery, and she discerns which name is calling us … Mother chooses the name. When we receive our habit, Mother announces our name during Mass,” Sister Thérèse Marie commented.
Thérèse is the French version of Theresa. The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration were founded in France in the mid-19th century. Their foundress was Marie de St. Claire Bouillevaux.
“All the sisters have the name Mary on it. I am Mother Mary Gertrude because of my special devotion to Saint Gertrude. We can put ‘Mary’ either in the beginning or after the name,” said Mother Mary Gertrude, PCPA.
As preparation continued for Sister Thérèse Marie to receive her First Profession, they learned that Bishop David Bonnar would celebrate the Mass.
“This is not the final vow or the solemn profession, but he chose to come and celebrate this joyful occasion with us and we are very grateful for his support,” Mother Mary Gertrude said.
Sister Thérèse Marie also had the support of her community, her family, religious communities from the Diocese of Youngstown and the Diocese of Erie at her First Profession Mass.
“Three sisters who taught me in Catholic school actually attended my daughter’s profession of vows. Their motherhouse in Erie closed and they moved to the House of Loreto. I recognized them right away.
“I am from a family of 12 and they did not know which one my daughter belonged to. When I went over to talk to them, they asked, ‘Do you remember me?’ Of course, I remembered them! They were so formative. And now my daughter is a religious sister,” Walters said.
At such a momentous occasion, Sister Thérèse Marie admitted to being nervous, but her fellow sisters were there for her.
“The prayers and the love of the sisters helps us through this big, big celebration. Also, knowing that your sisters are around you and supporting you and loving you and praying for you helps you make it through the emotion of those moments,” Mother Mary Gertrude said.
The abbess recalled her First Profession Mass and the continuity of the monastery through newly professed sisters.
“The good thing in religious life is, because we witness over and over again when a young woman professes her vows, and it’s just like reliving that time that we made our first profession, it just inspires and strengthens our vocation. Also, I give praise to the Lord that we have another member of our community,” said Mother Mary Gertrude.
Mother Mary Gertrude joked that Sister Thérèse Marie may have been nervous because she was going to sing the responsorial psalm during Mass.
“My family has hardly heard me sing. I was not much of a musician at home. I would have laughed if anyone would have called me creative a few years ago,” said Sister Thérèse Marie.
“I heard her sing this year and it moves me. I can pick out her voice and it is beautiful,” Mother Mary Gertrude remarked. “Music is very important in our everyday life. We chant.
“Sister is very talented in music. She is the main one to accompany us during Divine Office and Mass. So, there is a way to cultivate the talent of the gift that the Lord gave her in the monastery for the good of the community.”
During his homily, Bishop Bonnar mentioned that, in the first reading, Sister Thérèse Marie echoes the voice of Samuel in her First Profession of Vows. “Here I am. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (Samuel 3:1-10)
He also remarked about the life that she has chosen. “I want to thank you for your response to God’s call. Thank you for saying yes. In this day and age, you clearly have chosen the road less traveled, to be a woman of prayer. That prayer will always be centered on the Holy Eucharist and most especially, Eucharistic Adoration,” he said.
Sister Thérèse Marie received signs of profession, including: her black veil and Profession Crucifix; the Franciscan Cord; Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration Monstrance (the symbol of the order); a crown of roses; the rule and constitution of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration; and the Suscipe (the prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola of total self-sacrifice to God).
Walters said by attending her daughter’s First Profession Mass, she has a better understanding of her daughter’s vows.
“It is a beautiful calling. It’s a beautiful vocation. The grace abounds. Of course, we miss her and she us … but it is His grace that is applied that comforts us. When He gives a vocation, He blesses the entire family,” Walters said.
She continued: “Whenever anyone asks me anything about her, all I have to do is show them the picture of her, because anytime we get to see her, she lights up from the inside.
“Her joy is so radiant. It is almost palpable,” Walters noted. “That’s how I have the understanding and know that she is where she is supposed to be.”