Poor Clare sister gives a ‘definitive yes’ to God

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The quiet of an Alexandria neighborhood was interrupted by the sound of a bell ringing from the top of the Mary, Mother of the Church Monastery of the Poor Clares Jan. 26. The sound signaled the beginning of a wonderful and unusual liturgical event and served as an invitation to all to join the celebration. Despite the cold and snow-packed roads, more than 100 people crowded into the chapel with the hope of catching a glimpse of Sister Mary Damiana of the King of Glory, a 26-year-old Maryland native about to make her final profession as a Poor Clare Sister.

As the Rite of Solemn Profession began, guests could hear the sisters singing "Audi Filia" from behind the chapel grate, the entrance song from the Mass of St. Clare. Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, the liturgy officiate, processed up the aisle carrying the crozier of Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, the first bishop of Arlington, as well as the ring and pectoral cross of Msgr. Justin McClunn, symbols of two men who were instrumental in bringing the Poor Clares to the Arlington Diocese.

The communion doors to the right of the altar were opened, and there stood Sister Mary Damiana holding a tall white candle that shone almost as radiantly as the young sister's smile.

At different points in the liturgy and during the homily, Bishop Loverde expressed his deep admiration for Sister Mary Damiana's sacrifice and gratitude toward her family for supporting her in her vocation despite living in a culture that often does not value religious life.

"This morning, we are witnessing a very unusual event, an event which is foreign to the culture in which we live: A woman is pledging her commitment to live as a vowed cloistered religious, to serve for the rest of her life. The culture around us speaks of 'temporary,' 'for a while,' 'maybe,' but this woman, Sister Mary Damiana, is proclaiming 'permanent,' 'for the rest of my life,' 'forever yes!' This disciple of the Lord has crossed out all maybes from her lexicon and her life," said Bishop Loverde. "How encouraged we are - and strengthened as well - by the definitive 'yes,' which Sister Mary Damiana will proclaim in our midst."

That moment for Sister Mary Damiana to make that definitive "yes" finally came. She approached the communion doors and placed her hands in those of the abbess. While kneeling, she recited her promise to live a life of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure for the remainder of her life. The abbess then presented her with the symbols of her solemn profession: a silver ring and a crown of thorns.

After placing the ring on her left hand and the crown of thorns on her head, Sister Mary Damiana's family was invited to the door for the sign of peace with their newly professed daughter, sister, aunt and friend. Her father and mother embraced her, and before leaving, her father, Gerald Walsh, gave her a special blessing, one that thanked God for the years his daughter had spent with them, and now he was giving her back to God.

"This day is every bit as special as any of our kids' marriages," said Walsh. "It was a very emotional culmination of not just seven years of discernment but much longer than that." According to her parents, at a very early age Sister Mary Damiana would ask to go to church to visit Jesus. When she turned 14, she revealed her desire to be a sister.

While the day was a mix of smiles and tears, her family views her vocation as a treasure.

"When we come for our visits two times a year she is still a vibrant part of our family," said Irene Walsh, Sister Mary Damiana's mother. "In some ways she is closer to us than ever."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016