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Cloistered Poor Clare Sister renews solemn vows, embraces her family

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It has been 22 years since Poor Clare Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels hugged her mom or the rest of her family. It was the first time she hugged many of her nieces and nephews.

The last hug was in 1994 when she made her solemn profession. On the solemnity of Pentecost, more than 120 friends and family gathered to greet Sister Rose Marie at the Poor Clare Monastery of Mary, Mother of the Church in Alexandria as she renewed her solemn vows June 9.

The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and concelebrated by Father Keith M. O’Hare, Franciscan Father Robert McCreary, Father John F. Heisler and Msgr. John C. Cregan.

“It was such a joy for all of us to celebrate this milestone in our sister’s life. For someone to persevere for 25 years in a hidden life of prayer and penance is a proof of God’s grace,” said Mother Miriam Love, abbess. “It helps confirm all of us in our vocation to serve the church with our prayer and with our lives.”

During his homily, Bishop Burbidge said, “Today, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, we celebrate the Silver Jubilee and Renewal of vows of Sister Rose Marie. She asks for the grace to be strengthened in faith, hope and love and to persevere faithfully in her consecration. Together, we ask God ‘to send the fire of the Holy Spirit into the heart of his daughter that she may always be one with him in loving fidelity to Christ, her bridegroom,’" Bishop Burbidge said. “How blessed we are as her sisters, family members and friends to participate in this sacred liturgy and to thank God for the gift that Sister Rose Marie has been and remains to the church and to each one of us. I am sure that at the conclusion of this ceremony, we will all be able to say, ‘There was no doubt that the Holy Spirit was here today.’”

“Having so many opportunities in front of her for a successful and professional career in basketball and to cling to what the world deems necessary for happiness,” Bishop Burbidge said, “the Spirit of God proved to be more powerful than such allurements and allowed Sister Rose Marie to hear and to respond to God’s voice inviting her to a radical new way of living in his presence within a community of Sisters devoted entirely to the Lord and dedicated to prayer for His Church and His people.”

After the homily, Sister Rose Marie came to the open communion doors to the right of the altar and renewed her vows.

After Bishop Burbidge asked her what she asks of God and the church, she replied, “I ask for the grace to renew my solemn vows, to be strengthened in faith, hope and love, and to persevere faithfully in my consecration.”

After a prayer offered by Bishop Burbidge, Sister Rose Marie knelt before Mother Miriam and placed her hands in the hands of the abbess and renewed her vows. Bishop Burbidge extended his hands over Sister Rose Marie in blessing and embraced her with the sign of peace.

Then, one by one, 40 to 50 members of her family extended the sign of peace.

Before entering the convent, Sister Rose Marie, known as Shelly Pennefather, was a basketball star.

Beginning in high school, she spent three years at Bishop Machebeuf Catholic High School in Denver, and one at Notre Dame High School in Utica, N.Y., after her family moved. She led Machebeuf to three consecutive state championships and a 70-0 record. She led Notre Dame to a 26-0 record, making for a no loss record for her entire high school career.

Pennefather was named to the Parade All-American High School Basketball Team. She was a U.S. Olympic Festival selection in 1981 and 1983. She turned out for the USA Women's R. William Jones Cup Team in 1982 where she earned a silver medal.

She played at Villanova University (1983-87) in Villanova, Pa., becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer for both men and women with 2,408 career points; the program’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,171 rebounds; owns the Villanova women’s basketball record for points in a game with 44 versus Cheyney University in Cheyney, Pa., Dec. 27, 1985; three-time Big East Conference Player of the Year; First Team All-American (1986-87). She received the Wade Trophy in 1987, given to the top player in NCAA Division One women’s basketball, and is one of six Villanova women’s basketball players to have her jersey retired.

Pennefather played three seasons of professional basketball for the Nippon Express in Japan after graduating from Villanova. During her off-seasons, she volunteered at Mother Teresa's mission in Norristown, Pa. Reportedly, an article about the Poor Clare sisters from the October 1990 vocation issue of the Catholic Herald inspired her to consider the order after her mother showed her the article. She retired from basketball and entered the convent in 1991.

Sister Rose Marie’s brother, Dick Pennefather, attended the ordination of priests at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington June 8.

“To see four men begin their priestly life on Saturday and watching my sister celebrate the jubilee of her vocation as a Poor Clare on the feast of Pentecost was a great way to end the Easter celebration,” he said.  

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019

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