Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Priscilla A. Greear - Florida Catholic
Photography: ROBERTO AGUIRRE | FC
MIAMI | Growing up in Naperville, Ill., Brittany Samuelson set an example in high school through leadership in the nondenominational Christian Young Life program. Then, at the Catholic Center at Illinois State University, she encountered inspiring Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary — not having realized that women religious still existed.
In college, she majored in middle school education while serving in Catholic outreach and mentoring at-risk youth. She later taught for two years at a Catholic school. But feeling called herself to deeper waters, she sold all her possessions and headed south to Miami — seeking not sand and sunlight but freedom in Christ.
“The Lord chose me,” said a smiling Sister Brittany, 27. “I finally opened my heart to ask what is your plan for my life and he made it clear he wanted me to be totally his — a lot of prayers but a lot of peace once the Lord confirmed.”
After over two years of formation, she and three other young women professed their first vows as Servants of the Pierced Hearts Jan. 6, at a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski. Over 1,000 friends and family filled Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Miami for the ceremony.
The others making first vows as Servants of the Pierced Hearts were Alexia Zaldivar-Boillat of Houston, Texas, Clare Bailey from Bourbonnais, Ill., and Mary Hart of Clearwater, Fla. Sister Alexia will serve in the house of formation in Miami, Sister Brittany at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, and Sister Mary and Sister Clare in campus ministries in Illinois.
Testifying to the order’s vitality, more than 50 professed Pierced Hearts joined them for the liturgy in their cocoa brown habits, veils, cushioned shoes and crucifix necklaces.
As the population of women religious has plummeted nationwide from 180,000 in 1965 to 50,000 in 2014, the order founded in Miami in 1990 has grown to 54 women in convents here, in St. Augustine and Orlando, as well as in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., Rome, Italy, and Minas, Uruguay. Over 25 serve the Archdiocese of Miami in positions including director of religious education, chaplain, and executive assistant to the archbishop.
Following Scripture readings, the novices declared: “Here I am Lord; I want to follow you with all my heart.”
In his homily, Archbishop Wenski described consecrated life as the Church “concentrated… Your radical embrace of the Gospel makes manifest the inner nature of every Christian’s calling.”
He thanked them for their commitment to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and the order’s fourth vow, of total Marian availability, and affirmed from Vatican Council II that women religious “have a ‘special experience of the light that shines forth from the Incarnate Word.’”
“The only reason for this choice in life is to seek to know his will, to build a community of brothers and sisters in which God is sought after and loved before all else,” he concluded. “Your existence, in the world but not of the world, points to the possibility of a different way of fulfillment of one’s life, a ‘way where God is the goal, his Word is the light, and his will is the guide…’”
The Servants’ foundress, Mother Adela Galindo, received their profession. “I ask the Lord that you may live your religious life in total identification with the dispositions of the Heart of Mary: oblate love, life-giving purity, generous and joyful availability to embrace any apostolic mission and to foster at all times a life of authentic fraternity and communion.”
The women were presented with their order’s habit and crucifix and left the worship space to vest as the congregation sang “Un Viaje Largo” (A Long Journey). As they reentered, congregants broke into enthusiastic applause.
Afterwards, the cheerful sisters chatted with guests in the packed parish hall anchored by a statue of Mary. Mother Adela said she believes women are drawn to the order’s “identity forming women like Our Lady so we can serve like Our Lady.”
“It’s a very particular attraction, our Marian charism and our religious work closely with the bishop. We understand our mission and our feminine genius in communion and service of the apostolic and Petrine mission of the Church,” she said. “I’m very grateful to the Lord. We began in a little garage — to see what the Lord has done with us and through us. All I have to do is be attentive to the Lord and see what the Lord has placed in my heart.”
‘You are mine’
As for Sister Alexia, after graduating from Catholic high school in Houston on Pentecost 2015, she moved to Miami and entered the order that August, as her peers headed off to college. Now 20, she remembers at age 13 first considering her vocation as she contemplated a class poster on God’s unique plan for every child. She discovered the order through their website, piercedhearts.org (in Spanish, corazones.org.)
“I began to grow in my relationship with the Lord and to ask him what is his perfect plan for my life. And I felt from my heart he told me you are mine,” said Sister Alexia, whose family emigrated from El Salvador.
She expressed profound gratitude to her parents. “Although they don’t understand my vocation they really support me in my prayer and discernment to be able to do whatever is God’s will for my life,” she said. “The formation they gave me growing up prepared my heart and when the Lord spoke to my heart to my vocation, I was able to say yes and to say a yes forever.”
Likewise, Denise Zaldivar said of her daughter, “I admire her entrega (dedication) and how joyful she is, how happy. Her love for others impresses me.”
Her father, Julio Zaldivar, believes her example can encourage other youths in holiness. “It’s not usual for young people to actually embrace vows of poverty, chastity and total Marian availability in these days. And to have someone give her life without interest to love and serve the people, that’s a big light in this world,” he said.
Sister Brittany’s proud father, Frank Samuelson, admitted his initial fatherly concerns but said he felt reassured after visiting her and experiencing the order’s love and ministry to the sick. The biggest challenge was limited communications with her during formation — only 15 minutes monthly in the third year.
Although the commitment is hard and involves daily sacrifice, his daughter reassured him that she’s actually “extremely happy.”
‘Not be selfish’
“It was easy to accept when I realized it was God and all I had to do was not be selfish,” he reflected. “She chose a wonderful order with a fantastic set of values and wonderful contributions they make every day… The commitment is hard to believe but at the same time it’s extremely wonderful, emotional.”
Growing up “she was a gentle, kind soul and is the real deal,” he added. Furthermore, “she’s brilliant, received an academic scholarship. She’s a gifted kid, doesn’t forget anything.”
Nearby, Isman Martinez said he started attending the order’s prayer cenacles 19 years ago. Discovering his own call, he now completes diaconate formation and attends first Saturday Mass and adoration at the convent through their Apostles of the Pierced Hearts spiritual family.
“Other vocations (also) have fruits in Mother Adela’s vision,” he said. “It’s a blessing to see the Church is still alive, not dying like many people think… We are a church always evolving, creating new ways to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not only in our hearts but in our communities and in the whole world.”