On Sunday October 1, 2017, the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the sun was shining brightly in Vilvoorde, Belgium. The Carmelite monastery church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Consolation, was beautifully decorated with white flowers and filled with more than the usual Sunday attendance. The atmosphere was festive as Sr. Marie Paul Thérèse of Jesus the Good Shepherd, our youngest Sister, pronounced her perpetual vows in the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel during the Solemn Mass that began at 3pm.
The eldest of four siblings, Sr. Marie Paul Thérèse, née Jurechille Catalan, was a member of the Redemptorist Youth Ministy in her birthplace, Iligan City. She came to know Vilvoorde Carmel in 2007 upon reading The Touches of God in MISYON, then a printed magazine, by one of the Filipina Sisters, Sr. Carmela, about her first home visit. She was intrigued by the term "contemplative-missionary Carmelite", something new to her and asked how it was possible to be one. She searched in earlier issues of MISYON and found earlier articles written by the first group of Filipina Sisters who came to Vilvoorde in 2003, their first impressions, celebrations and so on. These were Sr. Carmela from the Carmel in Cebu, Sr. Bernadette Marie from Zamboanga Carmel and Sister Rose Ann Dominique from Gilmore Carmel, Manila.
After about a year of correspondence, convinced that God called her to be a part of this contemplative-missionary journey in Belgium, she applied to Vilvoorde Carmel, which in turn referred her to the Carmels in Cagayan de Oro and Cebu for interview and a discernment process. Her visa was approved on the day that the oldest sister of Vilvoorde, Sr. Theresia of the Child Jesus, went home to God. We thought it must have been the very first thing she asked from Jesus upon entering the gates of heaven because she had been praying and kept asking for the arrival of the two postulants from the Philippines.
Sr. Paul Thérèse arrived in Vilvoorde on February 24, 2009, and was clothed with the brown habit and received her religious name on October 1 that same year and pronounced her first profession on October 1, 2011.
Dialogue with Fr. Paul De Bois, OCD, Carmelite Provincial
Six years later Sr. Paul Thérèse made her perpetual profession in a ceremony that, from the entrance procession, made a deep impression on all. The main celebrant was Fr. Paul De Bois OCD, the Carmelite Provincial in Belgium. Eight other priests concelebrated. The Carmelite nuns all wore white mantles and Sr. Paul Thérèse, carrying a white lighted candle and a bridal bouquet of white roses with Rev. Mother Prioress beside her, came last in the entrance procession.
Sr. Paul Thérèse during the Litany of the Saints
The profession rites took place after the Gospel and homily. They began with a brief dialogue with Fr. Provincial wherein the bride's firm intention to belong fully to God for the rest of her life was manifested. Then the Litany of the Saints was sung by our permanent deacon Rev. Jan Goyvaerts, the names of San Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod being added, while the bride prostrated herself on the ground in the form of a cross as a sign of her total surrender to God. Then we heard her pronounce her vows in Flemish in a voice full of conviction: “I, Sr. Marie Paul Thérèse of Jesus the Good Shepherd, desiring to live faithfully a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ, with my Sisters as witnesses, into your hands, Rev. Mother Lutgardis of Mary, vow to Almighty God perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience according to the Rule and Constitutions of the Discalced Nuns of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel . . . To give eternal glory to the Most Holy Trinity."
Sr. Paul Thérèse sings O Mijn Welbeminde, "O My Beloved"
For love of Jesus and His Church, Sr. Paul Thérèse committed herself to God and the community of Vilvoorde to live as a Carmelite, praying and labouring for the many needs of the Church and of the world. She sang her bridal song O Mijn Welbeminde, Flemish for "O My Beloved", with joy-filled gratitude to Jesus for gifting her with His love and grace. The beautiful accompaniment of our organist added much color to the solemn and profoundly moving celebration – breath-taking, endearing. Tears of joy and gratitude overcame the guests for most of whom it was the first time to witness such an extraordinary event! It was 26 years ago since a Sister – Reverend Mother Lutgardis of Mary - had made her perpetual profession here, a visible testimony to the reality that God still continues to call people who are willing to answer His invitation to follow Him!
Sr. Paul Thérèse making her Solemn Profession to Reverend Mother Lutgardis of Mary
At the end of the Mass, everybody turned to the image of Our Lady of Consolation to sing the Magnificat while Sr. Paul Thérèse offered her bridal bouquet and candle to Our Blessed Mother. The congregation gave her a long, warm round of applause. We went out again in procession to the sacristiepand where the people could greet the bride and where they were offered a simple reception.
Singing the Magnificat
The Carmelite community is deeply grateful to Fr. Provincial, the concelebrating priests and Reverend Jan Goyvaerts, a permanent deacon, to all those who came, our acquaintances, friends and benefactors, the members of The Friends of the Troost, the Filipino community, the Flemish Federation of Carmels in Belgium and the Association of Carmels in the Philippines and to MISYON, all a part of the spiritual journey of Sr. Paul Thérèse, for all the prayers, support and solidarity.
Sr. Marie Thérèse is the very first Filipina Sister to receive her initial formation and to make her perpetual profession in Vilvoorde Carmel, the oldest continually-existing community of Carmelite nuns in the world, now journeying towards the 550th year of its foundation in 2019. She tells the story of her vocation in From Iligan to Vilvoorde in MISYONonline.com.
Please, do keep us in your prayers as we do pray for you, thank you!
Sr. Marie Paul Thérèse with her community
You will find more photos of the celebration on the blog of the Vilvoorde Carmel here. [Link ‘here’ to http://fotos.dentroost.be/#!album-19 ]
Silver Jubilee Celebration
Sr. Carmela OCD on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee
Sr. Mary Carmela, the author of the article above, celebrated the Silver Jubilee of her Profession on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 6, 2017. You will find photographs on the blog of Vilvoorde Carmel here. [Link ‘here’ to http://carmeltroostvilvoorde.blogspot.ie/2017/07/silver-jubilee-of-profession-of-sr.html ]
Previous Articles from Vilvoorde
From the Philippines to Belgium, May-June 2004.
‘Magellan’ Was a Belgian, September-October 2005
Vilvoorde Filipino Festival ’04, September-October 2005.
New Beginnings in the Carmel of Vilvoorde, May-June 2009.
From Iligan to Vilvoorde, January-February 2011.
And a response to From Iligan to Vilvoorde in Your Turn, September-October 2011.