As a youngster growing up in Trenton, N.J., Sister Marcia Hall, O.S.P., was so awed by the Oblate Sisters of Providence who taught in her parish elementary school that she thought she should become one.
The African-American Sisters carried themselves in a graceful, confident way that reflected their love of God, Sister Marcia remembered. And they ruled the school with strict discipline and genuine compassion.
“They made sure the students learned,” said Sister Marcia, principal of St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore. “We knew we were cared about.”
It took more than four decades, but Sister Marcia fulfilled her childhood dream, professing her final vows as an Oblate during a jubilant Aug. 14 liturgy at Our Lady of Mount Providence Convent in Baltimore.
Wearing the black veil of her religious order, Sister Marcia stood in front of the altar and pledged to live the rest of her life in poverty, chastity and obedience. She promised to “zealously” follow the Gospel and the constitutions of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, accepting a ring that symbolized her commitment to Jesus Christ.
Applause thundered throughout the chapel as Sister Mary Annette Beecham, O.S.P., superior general of the Oblates, affirmed that Sister Marcia was a full member of the religious community, “sharing all things in common for the future.”
“In this time of individualism, Sister Marcia is more about saying yes to the king than the blingbling,” said Father Anthony Bozeman, S.S.J., pastor of St. Joan of Arc in New Orleans and a close friend who celebrated the Mass and delivered the homily.
“For this woman, it is more important to serve Christ and the church than all the trappings of this world,” said Father Bozeman, as members of the congregation shouted, “Amen!” and nodded their heads in approval.
“With her radical yes to God, the Oblates continue to move on,” he said. “We find another worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”
It took a long time for Sister Marcia to discern her call to religious life. The initial childhood inclination to pursue the convent wasn’t seriously considered by a young woman focused on other forms of service.
Sister Marcia earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology and spent several years as a college professor. She later taught English at St. Frances Academy and St. Katharine School, part of the Queen of Peace cluster in Baltimore, and was the assistant principal at Seton Keough High School in Baltimore.
But in her early 30s, the idea of becoming a Sister returned, and after 11 more years of prayer and discernment, it firmly took hold. She entered the Baltimore-based order in 2001 after having a vision of herself in the habit of the Oblates.
“I have a deeper prayer life and understanding of God’s love for me,” said Sister Marcia, 49.
Sister Marcia’s profession of final vows was a moment of great joy for the Oblates, an order of Sisters founded in Baltimore by Mother Mary Lange in 1828 with a special outreach to African Americans.
Two Sisters from Costa Rica entered the religious order within the last few years, but it has been years since someone from the United States has professed final vows.
“It is like a shot in the arm to have her in our community,” said Sister Rita Michele Proctor, O.S.P., principal of Mother Lange Catholic School in Baltimore.
“As long as we have one, the legacy of Mother Lange continues,” she said. “It’s not about numbers, it’s about quality.”
Sister Stephen Beaufort, O.S.P., formation and vocation director for the Oblates, said her religious order has received vocations from Africa, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Belize. But like other religious communities, it has been a challenge attracting Americans. There are currently approximately 90 Oblates and the average age of the Sisters is 70, she said.
“Vocations are slow because people are wrapped up in their activities and their lifestyles, and are not taking the time to look at what God is saying to them,” said Sister Stephen. “Many find it hard to give up their home, their job and their possessions.”
Yet Sister Stephen said there are women with a strong desire to serve God. They just need encouragement.
“We can always encourage people to look at their lives and ask, ‘What am I here for?’” she said. “You’ve got to pray daily, and let them know we are praying for them.”
The Oblates host discernment weekends for women considering religious life. Formation consists of a pre-candidacy year, a canonical novice year, and an apostolic novice year before a Sister professes first vows. Those promises are renewed in the next three consecutive years before final vows are professed, Sister Stephen said.
In an effort to promote vocations, Sister Stephen visits girls in elementary schools and Sister Marcia visits teens in high school.
During the liturgical celebration of Sister Marcia’s profession of final vows, Father Bozeman intoned the Litany of the Saints. A choir from her family’s home parish of Church of the Blessed Sacrament/ Our Lady of Divine Shepherd, Trenton, N.J., sang songs of praise accompanied by shouts of joy from the congregation.
Just after the last strains of a Zulu folk song, “We are Marching in the Light of God,” echoed in the chapel at the end of the liturgy, Sister Marcia’s parents told The Catholic Review they were proud their daughter had committed her life to God.
“I have to say, it’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her,” said Henry Hall, Sister Marcia’s father. “We feel very blessed. I guess the Oblates rubbed off on her in the way only they can.” (text written By George Matysek, Jr. - taken from the website: http://
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