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Religious share hope for future of consecrated life
BY BRIAN J. LOWNEY, Assistant Editor

NORTH PROVIDENCE – St. Dorothy Sister Irene Escobar wouldn’t change one thing if she had to live her life over again. She’s enjoyed more than 52 years of active ministry, bringing God’s love to people of all ages while living in a religious community that has offered her many blessings and prayerful support.

Sister Escobar, a native of Fayal in the Azores, entered the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Lisbon, Portugal in 1959.

“I wanted to do some missionary work,” Sister Escobar recalled, adding that she was attracted to the Dorotheans by their mission to educate, as well as to serve the elderly, immigrants, and those less fortunate.

In 1961, Sister Escobar was missioned to Southern New England, where she has ministered to the area’s burgeoning Portuguese immigrant community. She also taught religion and Portuguese language classes at Our Lady of Fatima High School in Warren for several years, and currently serves as a pastoral minister at St. Elizabeth Church in Bristol.

“Our charism is one of simplicity and I like that,” she reflected.

Sister Escobar joined many religious serving in the Diocese of Providence on Sunday at the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Center to commemorate the annual World Day for Consecrated Life. The event included dinner, a keynote address and prayer service led by Bishop Louis E. Gelineau.

World Day for Consecrated Life, established in 1997 by Blessed John Paul II, is held annually on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

“The presentation of Jesus in the temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus – the chaste, poor and obedient one,” the pope explained in creating the special day to pray for an increase in vocations and to honor those who have accepted God’s call to consecrated life.

Keynote speaker Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sister Catherine Hannigan, a staff member at the Jesuit Provincial Office in Watertown, Mass, reflected on the past and present position of religious life, as well as the challenge for its future.

“I think it’s important to remember that this may not be the best moment for consecrated life, but it is our moment and it is our challenge to make the future possible,” she said.

Echoing Blessed John Paul II’s words, Sister Hannigan said the presentation of Jesus in the temple illustrates “the finest moment” in Anna and Simeon’s lives.

“They set an example for us,” Sister Hannigan continued. “We never know what our finest moment will be.”

To promote religious vocations, Sister Hannigan said all Catholics should pray that “the future life will be as rich for others as it has been for us” and that those in consecrated life should be an example for others to emulate.

“Africa is the future of the Catholic Church,” she observed, noting that many religious orders are experiencing a surge in vocations from Third World countries.

Sacred Heart Brother Clifford King, a teacher at Mount St. Charles Academy, Woonsocket, said his order is using the Internet to attract vocations. The brothers also recently participated at the first annual Diocesan Vocations Fair, where several members discussed their discernment and ministries with young men who attended the event.

Brother King added that he’d like future vocations events to be held on college campuses, where more young men and women who are discerning God’s call could discuss religious life and the many opportunities that are available to serve the church.

“We need to get out there and tell our stories,” Sister Hannigan urged, adding that religious must make everyone – not just Catholics in the pews – aware of the great need for vocations, and that religious should also demonstrate the happiness that consecrated life can bring to a person’s life.

Felician Sister Janice Gaudette, a former teacher and principal who now serves as a pastoral minister at St. Adalbert Church, Providence, described her religious vocation as one that has given her “blessing after blessing.

“It’s a very rich life,” Sister Gaudette noted, adding that she has enjoyed working with children, families and parishioners of all ages.

“Every day I have an opportunity to reach out to someone in need,” she said.

Sister Gaudette added that when she was a young girl, she wanted to be the mother of 12 children. However, God blessed her abundantly with a rewarding educational ministry and with many more children who she was able to love, nurture and bring closer to the Lord.

The joyful sister said that any sacrifices she has made have been outweighed by countless opportunities to receive God’s graces, and to lead a peaceful and prayerful life.

Brother King, a religious for 38 years, said he was attracted by the brothers’ teaching apostolate.

“When I visited the brothers, immediately I felt connected,” he said. “I felt a sense of belonging.”

Like the other religious, Brother King emphasized that his vocation and ministry have also been a blessing.

“It’s an experience that I would not alter or change in any way,” he added.

Brother King said that as the number of Sacred Heart Brothers in active ministry continues to decline, the order’s three provinces in the United States – New England, New York and New Orleans – have set a goal to merge by 2015.

“The young people are looking for something but they can’t seem to put his finger on it,” he said, attributing a lack of vocations to the “constant tug between secularism and religious life.”

“These young people don’t know what they are missing,” Sister Escobar noted.

Sister Hannigan said that she remains optimistic despite these shortcomings.

“God is counting on us to do our part,” she said, adding that she is very hopeful for the future of the church and consecrated life.

Without a doubt