At a ceremony that mirrored the grandeur of a wedding at the St. Agnes Home chapel in Kirkwood, only one of the spouses was visible to the congregation.
Sister M. John Paul Svejkosky made her first profession of vows at Mass on July 2, marking her completion of the novitiate for the Carmelites of the Divine Heart of Jesus (DCJ). In the homily, Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso spoke of the “spousal intimacy” with Christ that vows bring a sister.
Originally from St. Paul Parish in Fenton, Sister John Paul entered the Carmelites in 2015 after a year at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. She first met the sisters through the archdiocese’s former Camp Mater Dei.
After her vows, Sister John Paul knelt before Major Superior Sister Angela Therese Kim as Bishop Rivituso presented her with a crucifix and the order’s white mantle and black veil.
“Religious life is showing what heaven will look like here on earth,” Sister John Paul said afterward. “I give myself totally to God, and that’s the type of communion we’re all called to have in heaven.”
She also received her title, “of the Fount of Mercy.” Sisters receive titles after a discernment process between themselves and their superiors. Sister John Paul felt drawn to “Fount of Mercy” because she “loved the life-giving image” of water and blood flowing from Jesus’ side.
After Sister John Paul’s profession, several already professed sisters renewed vows. Sisters still in formation who have yet to make perpetual vows went first, and in their ranks was Sister Maria Josefa Kreienkamp, another St. Louis native. Following these sisters were Sister M. Bernadette Niehaus and Sister M. Longina Caouette, who were celebrating the 70th and 50th jubilees of their first professions respectively.
A reception followed Mass to celebrate Sister John Paul and the jubilarians. In keeping with Carmelite tradition, fellow sisters performed a skit in the newly professed’s honor. They told the stories of some of Sister John Paul’s patron saints, including St. John Paul II and St. John of the Cross.
Skits concluded as Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish For You” played. During the song Sister John Paul’s father, Michael Svejkosky, slow-danced with her under the dim lighting of the reception hall.
“As a parent, you want your children to be happy and you want your children to be faith-filled,” Svejkosky said. “And she’s definitely both.”
The sisters honored the jubiliarians with a slide show that included pictures from their childhoods and professed lives as well as landmark historical events.
Sister Bernadette, who had come that morning from the sisters’ convent in Owensboro, Ky., said she was “upbeat” about her jubilee.
“I’m full of thanksgiving to God,” she said.
Sister Longina highlighted the continuity between her entering the Carmelites and now.
“When you look at it through the eyes of Christ, it’s the same life,” she said. That life has held quite a bit of adventure: Sister Longina spent 19 years in Africa starting in 1995, founding the congregation’s first convents there.
The night before the vows ceremony, the sisters of the Central Province welcomed three new novices. The clothing ceremony, as it is known, finishes their first year of formation as the new sisters formally received their religious names.
Among the novices are two women from near the St. Louis area, Sister Mary Teresita Otto, originally from Kirkwood, and Sister M. Joan Beabout, from Belleville, Ill. Their fellow novice Sister Mary Margaret O’Malley hails from Ethiopia.
“There’s a lot of joy in recognizing that I have such beautiful saints in heaven praying for me,” Sister Mary Teresita said of her new name.
“It’s just such a beautiful grace to be clothed in (Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s) garment,” Sister Joan said. “It’s all a gift. It’s just saying yes.”