A Joyful Life: Spiritual Mother of a Growing Family
Interview with Mother Teresa Christe of the the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa (California).
The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa (California), canonically established by Bishop Robert Vasa this January, is growing and has had to relocate to accommodate more postulants.
The dynamo behind this fruitfulness is Mother Teresa Christe. She has been on a dramatic journey from a traditionalist congregation to full communion in the Church, and the zeal of her quest to follow Jesus Christ is working a miracle in the Bay Area.
She spoke with passion and conviction regarding her vocation, her love for the Lord and devotion to the Church. Joy shone in her words as she described her life.
Where did you grow up, and how would you describe your spiritual upbringing?
I grew up in Los Angeles, Torrance specifically, near the beach. I am the sixth of 10 children. My mother is a woman of faith who integrated a great deal of Catholic culture into our lives. She introduced us to the lives of the saints when my siblings and I were young. She talked about her relationship with God. She modeled charity in thought, word and deed towards others; she taught us to keep Sunday holy. In short, she made the faith "real."
What inspired you to enter the religious life?
It was Jesus’ total gift of himself to us. Giving myself back to him through the religious life was my response. I have great devotion to our Blessed Mother, and I wanted to be in a community where devotion reached its maturity.
When did you enter the religious life?
I entered young, in 1982, and was finally a professed consecrated religious in 1988.
What is your apostolate?
Our first apostolate is intercessory prayer for the diocese and world and public witness. It is also to communicate the goodness, beauty and truth of the Catholic faith, especially teaching. Our charism is significant. People need to be re-introduced to God. There is a spirit of joyful evangelization. We need to magnify what is good, true and beautiful and show the joy of living that life.
How would you describe a typical day?
The day begins with prayer, Eucharistic Holy Hour, holy Mass and breakfast. At breakfast, we listen to inspirational material like Archbishop Fulton Sheen. There is cleanup, and we go to our apostolate, like teaching. Sister Mary Rose does confirmation classes at St. Eugene’s Cathedral (in Santa Rosa). We help with RCIA and CCD. I work in the diocesan chancery office. We stop at noon for the Angelus and Rosary, have recreation and spiritual reading, dinner, choir practice and pray the Compline. We chant the Divine Office. There is quiet time and the Grand Silence.
Why do you wear the habit?
The habit is a longtime tradition. We live in the world and are apart from it. It is a sign of witness and consecration. Our habit is blue and white, symbolizing the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in salvation. Many sisters see it as a wedding dress.
What is the role of the common life?
The common life gives us an opportunity to live as a family with one heart and mind like the apostles. It’s a beautiful way of life. The Mass and adoration are the source and summit of our life. It fills and sustains us. We put the Mass first in our day; we wear the rosary. It’s very dear to us.
What is your favorite spiritual reading?
I love True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, books by Peter Kreeft and Abbot Van Zeller’s Approach to Prayer. Another great author/speaker is Father Robert Barron, whom I have come to appreciate more and more as the years go by. Of course, Archbishop Sheen will always be a favorite author as well.
Why do you have so many vocations to your order? How do you promote it?
We’re just getting off the ground. We have 15 young women interested in visiting. We’re moving to a new place. Young women called to the religious life are looking for the full and authentic living of the religious life.
Orders that are living the fullness of the consecrated life are drawing in more and more vocations.
We are being known mostly through word of mouth, our website (MarianSisters.com) and Facebook page.
We show that real people have been called to this life, and we have well-adjusted, happy sisters. It’s a viable option in the Church.
How do you help young women discern?
Discernment in religious life has two sides: the individual and the community. It is done in a time-tested, gentle way. It is done with a great deal of prayer and living the life. Former postulants say it was time well spent. It is a gentle process of prayer and dialogue.
What inspired you to join the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church? Did you look at other orders?
Yes, I looked at other orders, but this one claimed my heart because of their ministry to youth and their devotion to Jesus through Mary. It was a community alive with joyful commitment — it was actually originally called the Congregation of Mary, Immaculate Queen, and when we transitioned from sedevacantism into full communion with the Church, we formed a transitional community called Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church.
How would you describe your transition?
After long years of discernment, and with the help of Bishop William Skylstad and several diocesan priests of the Spokane, Wash., Diocese, 15 of the 50 members of the Congregation of Mary, Immaculate Queen moved into full communion. Let’s just say that the grace of baptism is a homing device that leads the heart from error to truth — as long as we stay open to God’s grace and inspiration. It was a long yet gentle process of conversion, during which Jesus brought me back home through his grace and the powerful pastoral influence of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop Skylstad. During a four-year transition, these 15 sisters set up a temporary community of discernment (Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church) in which we could continue living our life as religious nuns while we discerned the next stage of our lives. It was in this transitional community that I was invited to the Diocese of Santa Rosa to continue my life of love and labor for God and souls.
What is the role of Bishop Vasa in your order?
Last August, Bishop Vasa welcomed two sisters to live out their lives of consecration as a new community in Santa Rosa. He is our "canonical founder," or the bishop who approves a community of sisters to grow and develop in his diocese for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. He hopes we will grow as a community and assist with the work of evangelization.
What is the role of the Holy Father in your life?
Jesus commissioned Peter and his successors to govern and instruct. The Holy Father has this teaching office. The Marian Sisters have the quote "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" — from the Heart of the Church — and we try to operate both spiritually and practically from the core of Church teaching and Tradition. One of the sisters reports from the Vatican news site daily (News.va). We pray our daily Rosary for the needs and intentions of the Holy Father. We read or listen to the weekly (papal) Angelus. We read many documents from the Holy Father. We promote the Holy Father, his role and teachings to our students and their families.
What do you think of the Vatican’s current investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious?
I’ve worked in education. Every healthy organization goes through auditing. We want to be a good organization. For sisters to think they’re being persecuted isn’t healthy. They should accept it gratefully. We should look at it positively as room for improvement.
Have some orders placed a higher priority on social justice than the religious life?
Emphasis has been taken off the spousal union with Christ and the life of prayer. Some communities have focused more on social justice to the exclusion of other parts.
What is the role of being a bride of Christ in your life?
It’s an intimate relationship with Christ: He is the first thought when I wake up in the morning. We are partners in the salvation of souls, like a marriage of partners having children. God is first. There is exclusivity like that of a spouse with her husband.
How has the crisis over marriage affected the religious life?
Children need good, healthy marriages; children see patterns around them. When they see 50% of marriages fail, they see lifelong commitment as impossible. Young people want commitment. Same-sex "marriage" sets the stage for confusion in roles and identity. I think the growing attention to this issue has caused much confusion, especially among the youth.
How does your order deal with issues of life and marriage?
Prayer and lovingly teaching the truths of the faith — holding fast to the beauty and truth of the biblical teaching of marriage. In our order, we promote the Church’s venerable teachings about life. We lead our youth in active pro-life ministry, like the 40 Days for Life, the Life Chain in Napa, West Coast Walk for Life, but, mainly, by prayer and sacrifice for the conversion of those who are opposed to the culture of life.
What has surprised you about the religious life?
The greatest surprise is that I thought it would entail sacrifice and be unhappy. What surprised me was happiness. If you follow your vocation, you will be the best version of yourself.
Anna Abbott writes
from Napa, California.