WARWICK — Religious priests, sisters and brothers celebrating jubilee anniversaries were honored for their years of service to the Church during a gathering at St. Kevin Church, Warwick, on Sunday.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin presided at the annual Mass that honors religious jubilarians serving in the Diocese of Providence. He thanked those present for their many years of dedicated service and took the opportunity to pray for an increase in vocations to the religious life.
“Dear sisters and brothers, by your life, by your service and by your consecration you make the Church stronger, you make the world a better place, a brighter place in which to live,” he told those gathered. “Our congratulations and appreciation to one and all of our jubilarians present here today.”
Sister Elizabeth Castro, director of the Office for Religious, organized the annual celebration. In an email to Rhode Island Catholic, she noted the event’s importance both for members of religious orders and for the laity of the Church who follow their example of service.
“Their consecration to God has been a light in the lives of the people of God,” she said. “They are and have been an inspiration to many souls in the service of the Lord, that is, the fruit of their generous ‘yes’ to the calling of God. This is what we celebrate today.”
The weekend also marked the celebration of Mother’s Day as well as the 100th anniversary of the first Marian apparition at Fatima, observed on Saturday, May 13. During his homily, Bishop Tobin reflected on God’s call to Mary to be the mother of Jesus and her profound example of faith, trust and prayer in responding to that vocational call.
“When Mary said yes, when she agreed to become the mother of God, she had to have a sense of trust because she could not begin to understand what the future would hold for her,” he said.
“She had no idea where that vocation would lead her. But she had enough trust in God that she knew regardless of what happened or what would come her way, that God would be with her and love her and take care of her.”
Bishop Tobin recalled that scripture tells us Mary kept and reflected on the events of her life in her heart, bringing them to God in prayer even when they were beyond her understanding. He said her example of trust and prayer provides us with a way of making sense of and accepting our own vocations.
“We never know what the future holds but we have a sense of trust that regardless of what happens, God will be with us and he will love us and he will take care of us. And that takes away all fear, all anxiety for the future because God is with us,” he said.
Sister Elizabeth Ann Doyle, a Sister of Mercy celebrating 60 years of religious life, is familiar with the act of unconditional trust required to answer a call to a religious vocation. At a reception following the Mass, she recalled how she first considered the call to the religious life while a student at St. Leo School, Pawtucket, then at St. Mary Academy – Bay View.
“It was there that I discovered I wanted to be a sister because of how wonderful the community was,” she said.
Sister Doyle spent her long career as a Sister of Mercy serving as a teacher, spiritual director and pastoral minister at schools, parishes and retreat centers throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts and now assists at St. Raymond Church, Providence. Like many who answer the call to a religious vocation, she said her journey has been filled with surprises as well as joy.
“God puts you where you’re supposed to be and that’s where I’m supposed to be right now,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but if you had told me I was going to be a spiritual director, I would’ve said you were crazy.”
The day was also special for Sister Mary Antoinette, a Daughter of Our Lady of the Garden and teacher at St. Rocco School, Johnston, celebrating 60 years of religious life. She recalled first hearing the call to her vocation as a child growing up in her native Italy.
“I was eight years old. My house was near a convent and at that time they had an orphanage, and I was very touched at the way the sisters took care of those girls and I just wanted to be one of them,” she said.
Her vocation would bring her to teach in New England, a happy life she said she would not change if she had to make the decision again. Over the years, several students have come to her to ask about the religious life, including Sister Donna Beauregard, a former student from Connecticut who now serves alongside Sister Mary Antoinette as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Garden at St. Rocco School.
“I saw how they got along – how joyful and generous,” said Sister Beauregard, recalling the nuns who served at Marianapolis Prep School in Thompson, Connecticut, when she was a child.
Sister Beauregard, who celebrates 40 years of religious life this year, also remembers how, as a student of Sister Mary Antoinette’s, she would ask the older sister to borrow her habit so she could practice being a nun. Sister Mary Antoinette encouraged the vocation, and now the two serve side by side, guiding a new generation and celebrating their own response to God’s call.
“Now we’re together. And smiling,” said Sister Beauregard.