By Sr Clare Harris SJC Photo: Enrico de Shong
The early 20th century history of the St Joseph of Cluny Sisters (SJC) in the West Indies, records a Sr Wenceslaus Spratt from St Vincent. Then in 1989, Sr Jacinta Wallace (Bequia/the Grenadines) made her first profession as a Cluny sister.
Almost 30 years later, we celebrated on August 25, at the Cathedral of the Assumption, Kingstown, the Solemn Final Profession—the perpetual vows—of two Vincentian, fairly young ladies, coming from opposite ends of the island: Sr Mary Ann de Shong from Bottom Town, Kingstown, and Sr Dieon Mc Coy from Sandy Bay, both past pupils of St Joseph’s Convent, Kingstown. This wonderful event was the culmination of ten years of Religious Formation.
At 10 a.m. the traditional procession of cross bearer, acolytes, deacons, priests, 17 Cluny Sisters and Bishop Gerard County CSSp entered the Cathedral. They were preceded by young liturgical dancers swaying gracefully to the music of Richard Ho Lung’s ‘Rejoice My Soul’, led by the melodious voices and instrumentalists of the Jubilee Choir.
The families and friends of both sisters and other faithful filled the church which was beautifully decorated with flowers in abundance; each pew also had its own sprig. Two well crafted banners hung at the back walls which read respectively: ‘Called to serve’ and ‘Launch out into the deep’. The cover of the artistic programmes carried this same motif. This ceremony took place within the Holy Mass.
Many remarked that the ceremony was like an elaborate wedding. A true comparison as the ceremony of Religious Profession includes receiving a ring, pronouncing sacred vows, and certain questions: “Sisters, what do you ask of God and of his Church?”. Then follows ‘The Examination of the Candidates’ to questions such as “Are you resolved by the bond of perpetual profession to make this consecration even more total?”; “Are you resolved, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to participate in the mission of Christ our Saviour, generously spending your life in the service of the People of God?”
A day before the ceremony, Bishop County met with the two ‘brides’, and shared his heart with them in his homily. He encouraged them to always walk closely with their spouse, reminding them of the chorus of the recessional hymn on the programme: “I know nothing of tomorrow except the love of God will rise before the sun; the love of God will rise before the sun.”
After the homily and the examination of the candidates, the two Sisters prostrated as the Litany of the Saints, which included Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey (1779–1851) our foundress, was sung.
The last four petitions were: “Make Sr Mary Ann and Sr Dieon more like Christ the first born of many/Give Sr Mary Ann and Sr Dieon grace and strength to persevere in their purpose/Give your special blessing to their parents and relatives whose devoted love has brought them to this day/Bless all those who have helped them to respond to your call to follow you in the religious life—their mistresses of Formation, their companions who shared the journey with them, those who collaborate with them in our ministries.”
Finally came the solemn moment, the act of Profession of Sr Mary Ann and Sr Dieon. All stood as the Provincial Superior Sr Maureen Alexander, in the name of the Congregation, received the vows, which they pronounced: Vows of Obedience, of Chastity, and of Poverty: “ In the name of the Church, I receive the Vows you have pronounced in the Congregation of St Joseph of Cluny. May God unite your offering to the sacrifice of Christ and enable you to live it in its fullness.”
Srs Mary Ann and Dieon then signed the document of their profession on the altar, as well as Bishop County and our provincial. The newly professed then knelt for a long blessing which ended with the words: “Lord, Holy Father, guide the steps of Sisters Mary Ann and Deion and guard them in their pilgrimage. At the judgement seat of the King of Heaven, let them not fear Him as their judge, but hear the voice of the Bridegroom inviting them to the wedding feast of Heaven.” Gold rings were then presented (with temporary vows within Cluny silver rings are worn).
Each Cluny Sister present (we did have Carmelites among us) then filed to exchange a hug of peace and joy with the newly professed.
At the Prayer of the Faithful, as we prayed for the deceased, the mother of Sr Mary Ann was remembered. Symbols presented at the Offertory Procession included a boat symbolic of ‘launching out into the deep’ and our Constitutions.
The Meditation Hymn was a stirring solo rendition of Richard Ho Lung’s ‘Magnificat’ sung by Penola Ross. The ceremony and its rich symbolism was well explained and animated by Sr Jacinta Wallace.
This was Bishop Gerard County’s first time presiding at such a ceremony. Let us pray that during his tenure as Bishop of St Vincent and the Grenadines it will not be his last!
We, the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny thank all those who supported us and helped in any way to make this event the wonderful and memorable occasion it was, not the least the Jubilee Choir led by Jennifer Browne.
To GOD BE THE GLORY.