As the first-ever U.S congregation of Maronite religious women celebrate its first anniversary on June 1, 2009, Bishop Gregory Mansour said he “could not be more pleased.” Sister Marla Marie has carried out her work with the Maronite Servants “with dignity and integrity,” Bishop Gregory said. “She moves carefully and intently on Christ’s Mission.”
Maronite Servants Marking First Year
As the first-ever U.S. congregation of Maronite religious women prepared to celebrate its first anniversary on June 1, Bishop Gregory Mansour said he “could not be more pleased.”
Sister Marla Marie has carried out her work with the Maronite Servants “with dignity and integrity,” Bishop Gregory said. “She moves carefully and intently on Christ’s mission.”
That mission, as embodied in the Maronite Servants’ charism, is, in the words of Sister Marla Marie, “to pray for our people and to guide them, as a good spiritual mother, to a deeper relationship with Christ and his Church. “
“In my mission visits and pastoral service, I have been able to give talks, retreats, and person-to-person spiritual guidance,” she said. “My parish visits have put me in touch with many great people who strive earnestly to live out their faith.”
Those visits took Sister Marla Marie to over 20 Maronite parishes during the past year throughout the United States as well as Lebanon and Australia. Thousands of faithful were touched by this witness, and two women responded to join her in the new congregation. They are Therese Touma of Sydney, Australia, who has been accepted, and Tresa Van Heusen of Atlanta, who is in the application process. They are slated to begin the novitiate next February 2, on the Feast of the Presentation.
The applicants are “two excellent young women,” Bishop Gregory said. Vocations for the Maronite Servants “have not come easy,” he added, “but whatever is beautiful is worth the effort.”
The bishop praised Sister Marla Marie’s “personal attachment to the Maronite Church. She feels one with this church and her mission.”
“For me, for Monsignor Michael Thomas, as well for all our priests she is easy to work with; she is already our sister in Christ,” he added. “This gives me and all our priests great personal joy, encouragement and confidence in the future.”
For her part, Sister Marla Marie is grateful to Bishop Gregory for supporting and inspiring her in her mission, and thankful for the opportunities she has had to meet and talk with many Maronite clergy.
“Our parishes are blessed to have these dedicated Abounas,” she said. “I look forward to the day when we can send out many sisters to serve alongside our priests, offering our spiritual motherhood to nurture our people.”
It was that emphasis on spiritual motherhood that attracted Therese Touma.
“The charism and spirituality of this mission spoke to me personally,” Touma said in a post on the Maronite Servants’ blog (RadiateHisLight.blogspot.com). “In imitating the humble and faithful response of Our Lady, the sisters are called to offer their spiritual motherhood, talents and service to the Maronite people. What a beautiful and challenging call to service!”
Bishop Gregory likewise sees spiritual motherhood as key to the mission that the new congregation will carry out as it grows and its sisters are placed in local parishes.
“My hopes for the Maronite Servants are that they prosper and grow and make themselves available for mission in whatever parish calls upon them,” he said. “A mother’s touch, a woman’s touch is life-giving for our families. How can the spiritual family that is the Maronite Church do without it?”
Sister Marla Marie said that Maronite parishes have warmly welcomed her and are enthusiastic as she tells them of the congregation’s mission. “I think the priests and the faithful are grateful that efforts are being made to have Maronite sisters to serve in our parishes,” she said.
“Many of our young people in the States have never met a nun,” she added, “so I always take the opportunity to teach on the beautiful vocation of religious life.”
Among those touched by Sister Marla Marie’s witness to the religious vocation was Rebecca El Khoury, Our Lady of Mt. Lebanon, Los Angeles. She wrote on the Maronite Servants’ blog, “In my 19 years, I have not had the opportunity to speak with a nun before.”
Since Sister Marla Marie’s visit, El Khoury wrote, “I find myself praying more so that I can listen to God and truly hear what He wants me to do with my life. I realized that unless I open my heart to Him, I may not hear God’s call. I must open my eyes and my heart to listen and see what God truly has planned for me and follow the path that He has written and set before me, whatever it may be.”
Laymen and women as well as clergy and religious have a role in the Maronite Servants’ mission, Sister Marla Marie said. During the coming year, she plans “to deepen this connection by establishing a Maronite Servants lay organization to support and nourish the spirituality of our people in our Maronite tradition.”
The Maronite Servants’ blog and its main Web site, www.maroniteservants.org, have attracted thousands of visitors and led to many inquiries from women wanting to know more about the congregation, as well as questions from people around the world who are interested in learning about Maronite Catholic spirituality.
The sites also enable the congregation to communicate its needs. “I always ask people to pray for the intentions of the Maronite Servants, especially for holy vocations,” Sister Marla Marie said. Also needed is financial support so that the congregation may find and operate a monastery to house the women who are being called to it.
Bishop Gregory said he hopes “that some people will step forward and gather around Sister as spiritual and financial supporters in this effort.”
“My hope is set on God, and the graces he bestows on generous hearts,” he said. “I hope Sister’s dream and our dream as well will find blessings and spiritual fulfillment in Christ.”
To that end, he prays “for more generous responses from young women discerning a total gift of self to God and the Church.”
The model of that gift of self and the inspiration for the new community is Mary, he said. “If one looks at the first two chapters of Acts, the same author who penned the story of the Annunciation and the Visitation also notes that Mary and other women disciples were present at the Ascension and later Pentecost, the early Church’s first prayer gatherings and missionary efforts.
“We need such women today. Although we have them in our married women and generous single laywomen, we also need them in women consecrated to God alone in the service of His people. Mary, Mother of the Light, pray for us.”