Consecrated life in the Eparchy of Saint Maron marks a historic milestone this month as the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light, the first-ever U.S. congregation of Maronite religious women, receive their first postulants.
Tresa Van Heusen of Atlanta and Therese Touma of Sydney, Australia, entered the Maronite Servants February 2, 2010 the Feast of the Presentation, at the congregation’s home, Mother of the Light Monastery in Weymouth, Mass., following Bishop Gregory Mansour’s celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Founded by Sister Marla Marie Lucas in June 2008 at the request of Bishop Gregory, the Maronite Servants are “a real blessing for our Church,” Bishop Gregory told theMaronite Voice, adding that he is “amazed at how quickly the congregation has begun to take shape.”
“My first and deepest thought” on the occasion of the postulants’ entrance “is gratitude to God and to the Virgin Mary,” Bishop Gregory said. “I could not imagined two better candidates than Therese and Tresa.
“My second thought is gratitude to Sister Marla Marie and all those who have supported and assisted her in this effort.”
Sister Marla Marie was a Parish Visitor of Mary Immaculate when Bishop Gregory approached her in July 2007 with the request to found a community of consecrated religious for the eparchy. “At that time, I was discerning a possible foundation for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which began at the invitation of Cardinal McCarrick during his tenure as archbishop,” she said. “After requesting a one year leave of absence from my former congregation, I had moved to D.C. the previous month, in a greater effort to discern this possible ‘call within a call.’
“Overwhelmed by all these events, I begged the Lord to know his will for me. With consultation and prayer it became clear that my call within a call was in the Maronite Church. The inspiration and charism for the Maronite Servants came to me as a gift of grace that spoke deeply to my maternal heart. By December that year, I shared this with Bishop Gregory.”
His response was, “Welcome home.”
“I am blessed to undertake this mission with Bishop Gregory,” Sister Marla Marie continued. “He is an outstanding shepherd and priest, solicitous of the spiritual well-being of his brother priests and the members of our Church.”
Upon their entrance into the Maronite Servants, Theresa and Tresa began a postulancy period that may last up to a year, during which they will make the transition into monastery life. Following the postulancy is the novitiate, at which time the Maronite Servant is given the title of “Sister” and receives the habit. Then begins a two-year formation, which is a foundational period for the deepening of the spiritual life in preparation for vows.
Although the postulants grew up in different parts of the world and in different rites, each of them in adulthood became deeply involved in their Maronite parish.
Therese was raised in the Maronite Church and cherishes her early memories of family members’ teaching her the faith. “When I was a child in the month of May,” she said, “we would pray the Rosary at my grandparents’ house and sing ‘Ya Oum Allah’ (‘Mother of God’) in her honor.” She also has a strong devotion to the Maronite saints, and says St. Rafka in particular has been “a great role model” as she strives to live out her faith.
In 2005, after receiving an undergraduate degree in accounting from Sydney’s University of Technology, Therese began instructing young children in the Maronite faith at her home parish. She also became an active member of Australia’s Maronite Diocesan Vocation Committee, assisting the vocations director and helping to organize and run the monthly discernment nights and Adoration evenings.
In 2008, just after completing a graduate diploma in secondary education, she served as a coordinator for World Youth Day. At about the same time, on the recommendation of a friend, she visited the Maronite Servants home page (www.maroniteservants.org) and their blog (radiatehislight.blogspot.com). Attracted by the congregation’s charism, she began corresponding with Sister Marla Marie by e-mail.
Therese cites Pope Benedict’s address at the World Youth Day Mass as a pivotal moment in her discernment: “His profound and encouraging words spoke to me personally: ‘Do not be afraid to say “yes” to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others.’”
Tresa was born in upstate New York and grew up in the Latin Rite. A West Point graduate and Captain who spent nine years as a military police officer, she learned of the Maronite Church as an adult—but through her parents, who became parishioners of the St. Michael the Archangel Maronite Church when they moved to Fayetteville, N.C., in 2001.
Living in Atlanta as assigned by the military in 2006, Tresa attended the St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church, where she became active in the parish’s young-adult ministry. In September 2008, she met Sister Marla Marie on a Friday night at a Theology on Tap event hosted by the St. Joseph young adult group. “After listening to Sister Marla Marie speak about the mission of the Maronite Servants, I felt convinced it was exactly what our Maronite Church in America needs,” Tresa said.
Tresa and a friend spent the rest of the weekend with Sister Marla Marie, driving her to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Huntsville, Ala., and to Divine Liturgy at St. Elias in Birmingham on Saturday, then attending the Sunday Liturgies at St. Joseph’s in Atlanta. “The funny part was that everyone was trying to get my good friend, Cecilia, to join Sister,” Tresa said. “So, as Cecilia and I went places with Sister that weekend, everyone looked to Cecilia and said, ‘Are you going to join Sister,’ but no one looked at me and asked that same question.”
About a month later, the question finally did come—via a phone call from Sister Marla Marie. “After talking for a couple of hours, I told her I would pray about it,” Tresa recalled. Soon after, she called Sister Marla Marie back and gave her “yes” to a vocation with the Maronite Servants.
Bishop Gregory finds significance in the fact that each of the postulants was active in her local Maronite parish, yet discovered the Maronite Servants through outreach efforts beyond their parishes. “That combination marks a great beginning for the Maronite Servants who will serve in parishes and beyond, in communion with our priests,” he said.
Sister Marla Marie agrees. “Therese and Tresa radiate the light of Christ,” she said. “They are both women of prayer and generosity and are well suited for the Maronite Servants’ life of self-offering. They bring great talent and potential to offer in service to our charism as spiritual mothers in apostolic works of mercy.”
In addition to spiritual motherhood, Bishop Gregory notes that the postulants have another quality that will enable them to be fruitful in their vocation. “The vocation of a priest is not just a spiritual fatherhood, but also a shared brotherhood,” he observed. “So too a woman’s religious vocation is both a spiritual motherhood and a shared sisterhood. I have noticed that both Tresa and Therese are willing to invest in their Church as spiritual mothers and as sisters to all of us. This is very important in relationship with our priests and with the entire Church.”
This healthy and complementary relationship with our priests is already present in the fruitful work that Sister Marla Marie has done during her visits to Maronite parishes over the past year and a half, Bishop Gregory said. “I have observed that Sister Marla Marie is steady, tried and true. The Prophet Elijah did not find God in fire, earthquake or strong winds but in a gentle breeze. That is how Sister works.
“Steadfast and devoted, she has gained the support and trust of our priests and people. It is a team effort, beautiful to behold.”
Young women of our parishes who are interested in learning more about the Maronite Servants are invited to “come and see” who a Maronite Servant is, Sister Marla Marie said. “I am happy to host discernment retreats and visits here at the monastery,” she added. “We need many vocations to serve as consecrated women in our Church, and I know they are out there. Please come and visit us.”
Sister Marla Marie asks Maronite Voice readers to pray for the Maronite Servants—for the current members and for vocations—and to donate as much as they are able. “Our goal is to purchase a property and home for a monastery, and to pay our regular operating expenses,” she said. “I know God will provide through the goodness and generosity of our people.”
At the Divine Liturgy preceding the ceremony marking the entrance of Tresa and Therese into the Maronite Servants, Bishop Gregory’s homily will reflected upon Mary’s Magnificat and how the Lord has done great things for all of us. “God works through grateful hearts; much that is good takes place when we are grateful,” Bishop Gregory told the Maronite Voice. “Mary’s spiritual gratitude is contagious!”