March 25, 2015 Sermon given on the Occasion of the Golden Anniversary of the Profession of Sr. Felicitas, OSA At St. Ann’s, Arlington By Br. Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE Today is a day of great joy and thanksgiving. We gather together to give thanks for our dear Sister Felicitas – to celebrate with her this Golden Jubilee of her religious profession. Fifty years ago – on this glorious Feast of the Annunciation, Sister, you said ‘yes’ to God, and dedicated your life to serving God and serving God’s people. It is a privilege and a joy for each of us to be here today, to be able to share with you this very special Eucharist. Family and friends have gathered from far and wide, traveling a long way – from around this country, and from the Bahamas, and from England. Your sister Elease, your nieces Tameka and Sheena, your cousin Dolly, and from London, Fr. Paul Williamson. And we are so pleased to welcome Mr. George Kingsley Knowles, representing the Diocese of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and we are so grateful for the gracious words from the Bishop. Dear Sr. Felicitas, when you think back over all the years to that young woman called Sheila – you were just 18 years old – who first heard that clear call from God – could you ever have imagined where God would lead you? From the Bahamas, to England, and then here to the United States. Eighteen years old, you walked up the steps of St. Peter’s Convent in Nassau, with your mother, to begin your life as a postulant. It was Holy Cross Day. A priest was coming out of the convent, having brought Holy Communion to an elderly sister. He saw both of you, and something prompted him, there and then, to give you both Communion. Perhaps it was the Lord greeting you and welcoming you. “Thank you for answering my call. Thank you for saying ‘yes.’” During the years that followed that day, you worked diligently at St. Barnabas Church, serving under Canon John Colman. You visited homes in the parish and taught in the kindergarten. The mother house of the St. Peter’s sisters was in England, at Staines in West London, and you were sent there for two years. And it was there, in England, that you made the Life Profession which we celebrate today – on March 25th, 1965. The 1960s were a turbulent time for the church and for religious communities. The Second Vatican Council created changes which were a real challenge for many traditional communities. You returned to Nassau after profession, but some time later the house in Nassau was closed. But then, something very remarkable happened. You made a visit to the United States, and stayed with the Sisters of St. Anne. And eventually, by the grace of God, you transferred to OSA, in 1967. And you have been here ever since. It was quite a culture shock, coming to live in this country, but you have shared with me how the sisters took you under their wing – and how good they were to you. I remember how difficult it was for me when I first came to this country – and you’ll remember how we used to talk about that, when I was a novice. And I will always be grateful to you – whenever you went back on a visit to the Bahamas, you’d bring me back some Chivers jam and other English goodies – to cheer me up, and remind me of home! You were very kind – and this kindness is something I think we’ve all experienced here at St. Anne’s, from you, Sister, but also from all of you Sisters. This community has such a heart of kindness and hospitality. Bless you Sr. Olga, Sr. Maria Agnes, Sr. Maria Teresa, and bless you Sr. Ana Clara for your faithful leadership for many years. Every week at SSJE, the novices have classes. Sometimes the class meets at St. Anne’s. The novices invariably look forward to coming here for their class. Sometimes at the end of the day, I ask them, “O, how was the novice class?” “O, fine…. But lunch was great. Sr. Felicitas cooked one of her fantastic meals!” Not only does she cook great meals for the young men, but with motherly concern that they’ve had enough to eat, she urges them not to be bashful – “Come on, have another helping!” Hospitality is really the Gospel in action. But it is also hard work. And I know that when you were all at Lincoln, that you, Sister, devoted many years to caring for the elderly sisters there. It was very hard work, and often very sad when sisters died. And you have experienced, I know, a lot of sad losses in your own family – especially losing your two sisters to cancer – Teresa at the age of 39, and Emmeline at 46. Such experiences of loss are often particularly hard for religious because we are living away from our families, and often in other countries. But I also know that through all the challenges of living this life, Sister, you have found enormous inspiration and courage in the person of Mary. And the Feast of the Annunciation is a wonderful day to make a Profession. Here was a young woman who experienced God’s call, and was at first confused and frightened. But ultimately she was obedient to that call, and said ‘yes.’ “Here am I, the servant of the Lord: Let it be unto me according to your word.” I know that you meditate often on this moment of annunciation, and your feeling that she must have been a holy young woman, and that her mother Anne, brought her up to be holy, humble and obedient. She prepared her soul to be able to say ‘yes’ to be the mother of our Lord. Underlying the whole story, there is this deep trust and dependence that Mary has on Gd. And I think it is pretty nigh impossible to live the vowed life as religious, to persevere in this life, without a similar trust and dependence on God. This life is only possible, if each new morning we say ‘yes’ to this life which God has given to us – each new morning say with the Psalmist, “Here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” (Psalm 132:14) There are some words from the Rule of our Society of Saint John the Evangelist which are very pertinent to this day. From Chapter 39: “Life Profession inspires us with awe as well as joy. We wonder at the risk of such a decisive choice. Only by depending on God for the grace of perseverance, fixing ourselves by faith in God’s unwavering commitment to us, can we risk taking vows which bind us forever.” Sr. Felicitas, we are so grateful to God for calling you to this life. We are so grateful to you for having the courage and faith, like Mary, to say ‘yes’ – “Here am I the servant of the Lord.” We are so grateful to be here today, your family and friends, surrounding you now with our love and our prayers. May God bless you as you go forward in the religious life – this beautiful life – full of mystery and joy. May you always trust in the One who is always faithful, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.