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Manassas millennial becomes professed Dominican nun

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As with anyone facing a big commitment, Sister Mary Grace felt a little daunted contemplating her life as a cloistered nun. But on the day she made her solemn vows in front of her family, friends, priests and the 10 other women whom she lives with at the St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden, she felt freed. “Now that I’m here, I’ve been struck by how freeing it is to be bound to God,” she said. “If people knew how happy God wanted to make them, they wouldn’t be so afraid.” 

Sister Mary Grace, born Grace Van de Voorde, believes she first felt called to be a nun at age 5 or 6. While in high school at Seton School in Manassas, she sought spiritual direction from one of her parish priests, Father Juan A. Puigbo, parochial vicar of All Saints Church in Manassas.

“He asked me to write down my dream list for religious life, what (I) would you look for if (I) could pick. He was like, ‘Do you want to nurse, do you want to teach? and I was like, ‘I could if I had to but it's not like I really want to,’ ” she said with a laugh. “I just wanted to belong to God and that was the present and central thing for me. So he said, ‘Why don’t we look at contemplative life?’ ”

Many of the orders she reached out to wanted the 17-year-old to wait a few more years before seriously discerning with them. But the prioress of St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden encouraged her to visit, and she liked what she found. “It just struck me how normal it felt to be in the monastery, so I asked if I could come back,” said Sister Mary Grace. After several visits, she began the process all the nuns go through. The September after she graduated high school, she made her aspirancy, a six-week trial period where she still wore her everyday clothes and was called her nickname, Gracie.

Then she spent a few months with her family, preparing to fully enter. She filled out paperwork, got character references, went to the doctor to ensure she was healthy. Then she became a postulant. She donned a blue jumper, white blouse and a small veil and became Sister Grace. After a year, she entered the two-year novitiate. She received her new name, Sister Mary Grace of Jesus, along with a white tunic, white scapular, a rosary and a white veil. 

At the end of the novitiate, a nun makes her temporary vows, leading to a four-to-nine-year period of discernment. After four years, 25-year-old Sister Mary Grace made her solemn vows Jan. 25. As with an ordination, she made her vows during the celebration of Mass. After the homily, given by Dominican Father Thomas Petri from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, she affirmed her desire to be consecrated to God to her prioress, Sister Mary Fidelis of the Pierced Side. 

Sister Mary Grace prostrated herself as they sang the litany of saints. Then she knelt with her hands in the hands of the prioress and promised obedience to her, her successors and to God. After Sister Mary Grace received the sign of peace from Sister Mary Fidelis, Father Petri extended his hands over the newly professed nun and blessed her. She then received a blessed veil and a blessed ring — her grandmother’s wedding ring. 

She felt especially blessed to have her father, Deacon James R. Van de Voorde, serve at the Mass. “It was very special to have him so close,” she said. “It's going to take a long time, probably the rest of my whole life to soak it all in. The only emotion I could express was this immense relief, not so much as to finally arrive as to finally begin. It was very humbling. I was so grateful for the gift of God, the gift of my community, the gift of my family and the gift of our diocese.”

Dominican Sr. Mary Grace of Jesus poses with her family after making her solemn vows the St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden Jan. 25.  SPIERING PHOTOGRAPHY  |  COURTESY

 

CR FAMILY PHOTO

 Afterward, she was able to greet guests through the cloister lattice. It was the first time she, her parents and her six siblings were all together in eight years. “The whole day was a nice reunion,” she said.

She’s not the only religious in her family — in addition to her deacon dad, one of her sisters is a Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother in Valencia, Spain, another is a lay consecrated woman with Regnum Christi.

Read more about Sister Mary Grace's vocation-filled family. 

Her family is able to visit the monastery six times a year, and as some of her siblings live overseas, her mom jokes she’ll see Sister Mary Grace more than her other children. They know where to find her — “and I can’t leave,” she said with a laugh. 

“I don’t know if this is going to sound weird but I’m so excited to be stuck here. I am so in love with our life as Dominican nuns,” said Sister Mary Grace. “I’m excited for it to be normal from now on.”

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020

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