For centuries, the Catholic Church in the United States relied heavily on foreign missionaries, European priests and religious, to fill up its ranks. Now, in some small way, at a convent in Vigne, Italy, some 45 miles north of Rome, Americans are beginning to return the favor.
On June 28, 2019, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in a 14th century church in the Italian hilltop town of Narni, four Americans advanced along the path of religious life in the Consoling Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The ceremony began with two postulants taking the habit of the congregation. Celine Archer and Madeleine Bomberger, both of St. Mary’s, KS, approached the altar in wedding gowns, escorted by their fathers. After Fr. Emmanuel du Chalard, spiritual father of the Consoling Sisters, blessed their new religious garb, they left the church, returning after a few moments clothed in these habits and the white veils of novices. When they returned to the sanctuary, Fr. Chalard imposed upon them their new religious names, Sr. Maria Gabriella dell’Addolorata and Sr. Maria Margherita dell’Annunciazione.
A solemn high Mass then began, and after the Gospel was sung, two more young Americans approached the altar. Sr. Maria Maddelena (Rita Bomberger, Saint Mary’s, KS) and Sr. Maria Bernadette (Aleina Cassian Bissing, Post Falls, ID) knelt before the open tabernacle and pronounced the three vows of religion, as well as a fourth, particular to the Consoling Sisters, of promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart. Fr. du Chalard then bestowed up them black veils and the distinctive medals and rings of the congregation. Finally, each received a crown of thorns on her head and cross on her right shoulder, symbolizing union of wills with the Passion of Our Lord. The profession ceremony concluded, they returned to their places for continuation of the Holy Sacrifice.
Despite temperatures soaring into triple digits, many friends of the Sisters attended the moving ceremony to offer their support, encouragement, and prayers. Notable among them were the Sisters of the Society of Saint Pius X and the Disciples of the Cenacle, as well as world-renowned historian and defender of Tradition Professor Roberto de Matei and his wife. The United States was also well-represented. Large contingents of the families of all the candidates made the long trip to support their daughters and sisters, as did an impressive number of friends and former schoolmates. Three American priests were in attendance as well. Frs. John Mark McFarland and Alexander Wiseman functioned as deacon and subdeacon of the Mass, while Fr. Otto Keiser added a clerical presence to the small army of photographers. The moving ceremony and the profoundly Catholic joy of the sisters will not soon be forgotten by anyone present and are sure to inspire many other young ladies to seek the religious life under the banner of the Sacred Heart.
The Consoling Sisters of the Sacred Heart were entrusted by their dying founder, Fr. Basilio, CP, to the care of the SSPX in 1996. At that time, there were only six sisters, all Italian. Years of spiritual growth and increasing knowledge of Tradition followed, but new recruits were sorely lacking. Then, thanks especially to new interest generated by the Sisters’ orphanage in India, the situation began to improve. In the last few years, a small but steady stream of candidates has sought admission to the novitiate, both in Italy and in India. Now, in addition to Italians and Americans, the congregation boasts of sisters from France, Mexico, and India. Five more young ladies are expected to begin their postulancy at the motherhouse in Vigne this year. Four of them are American.
This growth is not without its trials. Most pressing is the need for more room. The Sisters have outgrown the small motherhouse and plans for expansion remain ensnared in bureaucratic red tape. In the meantime, they are seeking temporary accommodations in the vicinity, but with no success thus far. This Sisters would greatly appreciate your prayers for these intentions.
Nevertheless, as Fr. Chalard expressed it in his sermon for the ceremony of June 28, “How can we not thank Our Lord for these new vocations, when we see the collapse of the religious life and the closing of so many convents, one after the other?” And he added a plea that we pass on to our readers throughout the world, “Do not forget to pray for these vocations and their perseverance.”
O Lord, grant us many holy religious vocations!
For more information about the Consoling Sisters of the Sacred Heart, contact:
Via Flaminia Vecchia, 20
05030 Vigne di Narni (TR) – Italia
Vocations Director: [email protected]