Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Bride of Christ'

Consecrated virginity a growing trend

among Catholics

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When other little girls were dreaming of their weddings, Jennifer Waroway already felt pulled in another direction.

"Even at a very young age, I felt called to dedicate my life to God," explains the soft-spoken elementary school teacher in the Catholic school system.

She fulfilled that call recently by becoming a consecrated virgin at a special celebration at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church, her parish church.

"I will be the bride of Christ. My community is the church. I will not be getting married and I'm to continue to pray and live a life of simplicity," she says of what it means for her to be consecrated. "It really is a vocation of faith because through the eyes of the world I don't exactly stand out."

The first woman to receive this solemn blessing in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg in the last two decades, Waroway, 32, is part of a small but growing number of Catholic woman who are turning to this rite, says Archbishop James Weisgerber, who presided over the consecration service held in late October. Three other women in the province's largest diocese are consecrated.

"It's something that's always been part of the (Roman Catholic) church, but it hasn't (always) been practised," Weisgerber says of the blessing, which was reinstated in 1970 after Vatican II. "This is the only one I've ever done and the only one I've ever seen."

Worldwide, about 3,000 women are consecrated virgins, with 200 or so in the United States and several dozen in Canada, says Judith Stegman, the president of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins.

Often confused with nuns, consecrated virgins are differentiated by the fact they've never been married, are self-supporting, and serve in the diocese instead of living in community or a convent, says Stegman, an accountant from Lansing, Mich., who was consecrated in 1993.

Consecrated virginity can be a difficult concept to understand, even for Catholics, and Stegman says popular culture's use of the word virginity makes it seem only a physical state and not one of faith.

"If we look at the rich history (of consecrated virginity) there could be no more beautiful expression of someone who is giving up everything," she says. "Jesus was a virgin, Mary was a virgin, it was through a virgin Jesus came into the world. He opened up a new way of living."

Preferring to use the word single instead of virgin, Waroway says most of her family and friends were unfamiliar with consecration, but they've offered their encouragement and well wishes when she decided this was the right path for her.

"The entire vocation was fairly new to everyone and after everyone had time to get their head around it, they were very supportive," says Waroway, who had family members attend from Edmonton, Calgary, Thompson and her hometown of Dauphin.

People in the parish were also unfamiliar with this sort of consecration, but many have been moved and inspired by her commitment to her faith, says Judy Albiani, facilitator of the parish council at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

"It makes people think more of their own (lives) and how we can use our gifts for the Lord and however we can help out. It makes you stop and think about the gifts we have and how they can be used."

That's a sentiment echoed by Weisgerber, who says Waroway set an example for others to consider how they could be more committed to a life of faith.

"In a very particular way she consecrated herself to God and the community as a witness to everyone else."

Already involved in her parish as a communion minister, lay reader, and visiting elderly members, Waroway says she'll continue as a Grade 5 teacher and find service opportunities as her time permits.

And most of all she'll pray, the main role of these sacred brides of Christ, as these women are called.

"For myself, feeling fulfilled, feeling the joy I feel, feeling so much at peace with this choice helps me to be confident in God's promises," says Waroway, who now wears a wide gold band on her left hand to symbolize her consecration.

"I really believe God will sustain me and nourish my commitment and help me be a sign of hope to others."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2008 b8

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