The following comes from a Jan. 22 story by Jim Graves in Catholic World Report.
In Northern California, the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa are preparing to receive their first three postulants on February 2. The new community of four perpetually professed sisters was established as an Association of the Faithful in 2012. Their charism includes intercessory prayer for the Diocese of Santa Rosa and the instruction of the faithful in the Catholic faith. They were welcomed into the diocese by the newly appointed bishop, Robert Vasa, in 2011.
The Church in Santa Rosa has suffered much in past decades due to financial and sexual scandals, and vocations to the priesthood and religious life experienced a period of stark decline. However, this diocese of 140,000 Catholics has been experiencing a slow turnaround in recent years. The establishment of the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa has been a part of that, and the community’s superior, Mother Teresa Christe, hopes to see her small order grow and make a significant contribution to the spiritual revival of the diocese. She recently spoke with Jim Graves for Catholic World Report.
CWR: How did you decide to become a nun?
Mother Teresa Christe: The Lord took me by surprise!
I grew up in a large family in Los Angeles. I had seven brothers and two sisters. My mother was a devout Catholic.
I felt directed toward the married state. I had a life full of activity; we owned horses, I liked ice skating. As a teenager, I dreamed of getting married and moving away from the big city to Montana, where I’d have 10 horses and 10 children.
Although I had read about women religious, I had never met one. It was a dormant period in religious life when I grew up; if I did see a sister, I did not recognize her because she did not wear anything to indicate her vocation.
In the 8th grade, my parents sent me to a Catholic boarding school in northern Idaho. It was there that I first encountered sisters in full habit. I was scared to death when I arrived, because I thought the nuns would be hard and strict. But, they were the most kind, warm and sensitive people I’d ever met. I was happy there. I learned to live in the state of grace and have fun.
My respect for religious life grew, but I didn’t feel the call. At 17, I got my first job, and began making my own money. When I went to Mass, I thought I’d be happy because for the first time I could put money into the collection basket that I’d earned myself.
But, when the basket came around, I had an unusual and dramatic experience. I pulled the money out of my pocket, looking at it, then the crucifix. I felt a profound sadness. I said to Our Lord, “You gave me your whole self, and all I can give you is a few dollars.”
I had the sense that I wanted to put my whole self into the basket. I knew God wanted more from me….
CWR: You became a sister with the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (Congregatio Mariae Reginae Immaculate), a group that identifies itself as Catholic but is not in union with the Holy Father. You were one of about 50 sisters at Mount St. Michael in Spokane, Washington. You later returned with 14 other sisters to full communion with Rome. How did you make this decision?
Mother Teresa Christe: Conversion comes in many layers. In the traditional community I entered, we never thought of ourselves as out of full communion with the Church. But the grace I received in baptism acted as a homing device that called me to full communion.
I loved my life in the traditional community. But, it was the saint for whom I’m named, St. Teresa of Avila, who said, “In the end, I die a daughter of the Church.” I realized that to have the fullness of the Catholic faith, I need to be in union with Rome. We have to trust Our Lord; where Peter is there is the Church.
My former community believes that due to confusion and heresy, the popes after John XXIII lost their authority. It’s really a hopeless outlook….
CWR: How were the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa founded?
Mother Teresa Christe: When the 15 of us left the CMRI community, the Diocese of Spokane, first under Bishop William Skylstad and then Bishop Blase Cupich, set us up in a temporary situation by incorporating us as the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church…. Father Thomas Nelson of St. Michael’s Abbey in Southern California suggested Bishop Vasa, who was on his way to Santa Rosa. Since I had met Bishop Vasa and we had an incredible connection, we sent him our packet. We received a response from him immediately. He agreed to give our new community a try.
I moved with another sister to Santa Rosa in 2011. Two other sisters from a Marian community in Connecticut joined us.
CWR: How is it working with Bishop Vasa?
Mother Teresa Christe: I love working with him; you know exactly where he stands.
Bishop Vasa has been placed in a region of the country that is very liberal. Many here are sensitive to being politically correct; Bishop Vasa comes in and says, “The Ten Commandments say this.” He has been a faithful, straightforward bishop in an area where he’s learned you have to apply the truth gently. He won’t compromise, but I think he’s recognizing areas where he’s come on too strong.
CWR: What is your apostolate?
Mother Teresa Christe: I work at the diocese’s Cardinal Newman High School where I teach two theology classes. They were the idea of the bishop.
Newman High is a good college prep high school with a good sports program, and we attract many students, both Catholic and non-Catholic. It’s in an affluent area, where many people can afford a private education. However, practicing Catholics only make up about 20 percent of our classroom population. Many of our students don’t know what the word “Eucharist” means.
My theology classes are a kind of “AP religion” for students who want a more challenging education in the Catholic faith. There was some resistance from the administration, who initially argued that we’re saying the Catholic kids are better than the non-Catholic kids, and that they valued diversity.
But my classes have gone well, and haven’t caused division among the students. We started with a freshman class, and now we’ve added a sophomore class.
Our other sisters are involved in works of Catholic education as well. One runs the confirmation program and teaches religion classes at the cathedral school. Another works in the chancery assisting the superintendent of Catholic schools. Our goal is to teach people the Catholic faith, emphasizing its beauty and goodness…
CWR: What will a typical schedule for your postulants include?
Mother Teresa Christe: They will rise early, and begin with an hour of Eucharistic adoration. They will especially pray for the priests of the diocese. They will chant the divine office, and then say Marian consecration prayers. They will share breakfast together while listening to spiritual reading. They will then go about their daily duties, coming together later to say the Rosary, make an examination of conscience, and recite the Angelus at noon.
There will be afternoon recreation, other prayers throughout the day and a common dinner. One of the sisters formed in religious life will lead them. Ours is a structured religious life, which works for four or 400 sisters. Our vision is to faithfully and lovingly live our lives.
CWR: Where do you live?
Mother Teresa Christe: We live in a house vacated by the bishop. He said it was too big for him, so he gave it to us. It has a chapel. But since we’re growing, we’re making arrangements to move into what was once a convent for the cathedral. It’s being renovated for us….
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