The Globe magazine section this weekend has a feature about contemporary consecrated virgins, women who promise "perpetual virginity" and dedicate themselves to Jesus and prayer. An excerpt:
"Consecrated virgins have existed in the Catholic Church longer than nuns. The tradition died out around the ninth century but has made a comeback after the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, in the 1960s emphasized the idea that everyone is called to holiness. Women who join the Order of Virgins feel called to Christ, much like a priest or a nun does. And, as with priests and nuns, the Catholic Church recognizes consecrated virginity as a distinct vocation. Unlike nuns, however, consecrated virgins don't take a vow of poverty. Instead, they live in their own homes and support themselves by working in jobs outside the church. Like (Kathy) Reda (the consecrated virgin featured in this story), they are women who are inspired to make a public commitment to Jesus. They dedicate much of their free time to prayer, including reciting the thrice-daily Liturgy of the Hours, and volunteer work.
There are about 250 consecrated virgins in the United States and about 3,000 worldwide -- the Boston Archdiocese is home to 13 of them. The vocation even has its own membership organization, the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, which holds conferences and provides information to members and prospective members. But the church does not actively recruit women to consecrated virginity -- in fact, many Catholics say they have never heard of the Order of Virgins. But the church says interest may be on the rise. "The number of women inquiring about it is increasing," says Sister Marian Batho, O'Malley's liaison for the religious communities of the archdiocese. Batho says the membership organization has helped build awareness, and that bishops have also played a role. "As bishops come to understand it, they can encourage women to listen carefully to see if God is calling them to this vocation," she says. Those who wish to join the order "are women who have never been married or lived in open violation of chastity," says Batho. The church doesn't require any proof of virginity -- a woman's character determines her eligibility. She can be admitted into the vocation by her local bishop and must work with a spiritual director before and after her consecration."
As it happens, the Archdiocese of Boston last week held a Mass for the local consecrated virgins, prompting Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley to blog about consecrated virgins yesterday:
"Last Thursday, we celebrated Mass with the consecrated virgins in the archdiocese. The Mass was offered for Jane Claire Forte, a consecrated virgin who passed away recently.
Boston has one of the larger groups of consecrated virgins in the United States. This ancient order in the Church was restored after the Second Vatican Council and sought women who consecrate themselves in celibacy to a deeper life of prayer and service in the Church.
Certainly, in today’s world, the witness of the consecrated virgins is more needed than ever. We are very grateful for the women who have come forward and discerned this specific vocation in their lives. Sister Marian Batho, our delegate for consecrated life in the archdiocese, has been very good at helping us to prepare women for this vocation."