Maronite Sister to profess perpetual vows December 8

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

DARTMOUTH, Mass. — The joy and excitement in Sister Therese Maria Touma’s voice is apparent as she talks about preparing to make her final vows next week.

“I’m definitely very excited,” she recently told The Anchor. “I was telling my confessor this morning before Mass that I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the blessings and the good things that the Lord has done in our community, in my heart, and in our mission. I’ve just been giving thanks to God for all I’ve received.”

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On Friday, December 8 at 6:30 p.m., Sister Therese will profess her perpetual vows as a Maronite Servant of Christ the Light during a Liturgy celebrated by Bishop Gregory J. Mansour, Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron, at St. Anthony of the Desert Church in Fall River.

As a Maronite nun and member of the newly-formed religious order, Sister Therese hopes to set an example for others to follow.

“I think consecrated life in the Maronite Church for so long has been non-existent here within America,” she said. “We’ve had the Antonine Sisters in Ohio, who were originally from Lebanon, come here to staff a nursing home. But for us to be within the parish setting, evangelizing and sharing the faith has been inspiring.”

In order to foster vocations, Sister Therese believes it is important to maintain a visible and active presence within the community.

“I think the fact that young people can see us in our habits, and see that we are young and relatable and ‘normal,’ so-to-speak, they get a sense that nuns are not from an alien world,” Sister Therese said. “To be able to laugh with them and to share Jesus with them is important. As Maronite Servants of Christ the Light, we’re called as Spiritual mothers to radiate His love, His warmth and His mercy. Just by us listening and being present and attending these events in the diocese, we really get that opportunity to share His love and His light — especially when so many young people don’t see Sisters or consecrated Brothers in habits.

“I think that’s really a missing element. I feel like we need a revival of authentic religious life so that young people have that sense of ‘Wow, we’re not so distant from these nuns and priests, and we can really aspire to holiness and see it lived joyfully.’”

“Sister Therese Maria is one of those extraordinary blessings,” Bishop Mansour told The Anchor. “She prays, works, and offers her life in witness to the radiant joy of the Gospel. She coordinates all youth and young adult ministries in the eparchy, and we are very well served. I look forward to witnessing her perpetual vows.”

Sister Therese first discerned her calling back in 2005 in her native Sydney, Australia. Her vocation was well-timed, as a new religious congregation was about to be formed here in the United States.

“My friend was telling me about this new community and she encouraged me to check it out,” she said. “So back home in Australia, I got onto the computer and read about the mission, the Spirituality and the charism of the Maronite Servant community and that is what drew me in.”

Established in 2008, the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light was seeking young women “to be Spiritual mothers within the Maronite tradition,” she said.

“It really spoke to my heart, because I felt that was what was missing back home in Sydney, because we really didn’t have that consecrated presence within the parish setting, serving alongside priests, cultivating faith and Spirituality, especially among young people,” Sister Therese said. “I felt the Lord drawing my heart and saying: ‘Yes, this is where I want you to come and lay down your life and be a missionary within our beautiful tradition.’”

Although she did look into existing Roman Catholic religious communities, Sister Therese felt compelled to remain within the Eastern tradition of the Maronite rite in which she was raised.

“We have such treasures that I have come to really appreciate — especially our theology, our Liturgy, and our saints,” she said. “They are all very unique. We just have something that is very mystical and very deep and poetic. I’m not saying we’re better, but there’s something we have to share and cultivate to help our own Maronite people appreciate that beauty.”

Founded by Bishop Mansour and Mother Marla Marie Lucas, the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light was initially established in the Boston area, where the congregation rented a temporary formation house in Weymouth from Immaculate Conception Parish. When property that was a former novitiate house for the Dominican Sisters on Tucker Road in Dartmouth became available in 2011, the Maronite order relocated to the Fall River Diocese.

“Our motherhouse is called the Mother of Light Convent,” Sister Therese said. “It’s on about five acres of land, so it’s very conducive for retreats and prayer days. We have groups come and this year we’ll be having a discernment retreat from April 6-8, which will be a weekend for women who are discerning their vocation. 

“I’m really praying that young women can be open and generous to see the beauty of this call to be a Maronite Servant of Christ the Light. I know that young women have so many options for careers and different things that attract their hearts. But I feel it’s really a blessing if a young woman can have that courage to say ‘yes.’ That they can really listen with their hearts, because I feel like today’s world is so noisy and we go from one thing to the next.”

In addition to Sister Therese and Mother Marla Marie, the convent is also home to Sister Natalie Sayde Salameh, who assists at St. Anthony of the Desert Parish in Fall River and will be professing her first vows next year.

“It’s really been God’s providence, one step at a time,” Sister Therese said. “We’ve been in Dartmouth for nearly six years now and, bit-by-bit, we’ve been doing things to expand it. Right now we’re working on a study/library/recreation center where we can have more space for prayer groups and where people can study and have classes. We have a youth group called the Maronite Youth Organization of the South Coast, and we have monthly gatherings with them.”

Centrally located in an area near several schools, Sister Therese said she hopes the nuns’ presence will encourage more youth participation in the Church.

“Very simply, a lot of the things coming out from young people is they want this sense of belonging, they want a sense of being welcomed and taking ownership of (their faith),” she said. “That’s something we really need to work on — not looking down on our young people, but really embracing their ideas, their creativity, their energy and helping to channel them. That’s where I’m going to be expending a lot of my effort, in helping our young people to connect with each other and their parishes and really grow in a deeper understanding of their faith.”

While the congregation serves the greater Eparchy of Brooklyn, N.Y., Sister Therese said they are also happy to assist with parishes and ministries here in the Fall River Diocese as needed. In fact, the three nuns, wearing their signature dark blue and grey habits, have become a common sight at recent diocesan events.

“We have seven Maronite parishes here in Massachusetts, but we have 40-plus parishes across the country,” she said. “We really are missionary — we’re on the go and obviously we combine our contemplative life with an active apostolate. We’re very fortunate each day we have time for morning prayer and meditation, daily Liturgy, daily adoration, we also have Spiritual readings and evening prayer in common, so we get about three to four hours of prayer every day. That refuels and gives us the impetus to go out and serve not only within the Fall River Diocese, but within our own Maronite Eparchy.”

“The Maronite Servants of Christ the Light have been an extraordinary blessing for the Maronite Church,” Bishop Mansour said. “Their healthy balance of prayer and pastoral care for others is well-received by both priests and parishioners alike.”

Sister Therese admitted she is “super excited” that family members will be traveling from Australia to witness her profession of final vows next week, as will friends from around the country.

“My mom and dad will be coming, my brother and sister, my two nieces, and my uncle and his family are coming,” she said. “I’m very happy to be seeing them all next (week), God willing.

“The fact that I have friends and family traveling from other states to be here with me to celebrate my perpetual profession of vows is really another sign of God’s grace and goodness in my life. Just to have great friends who want to continue to support me in my journey — because it really is a journey that we’re all walking together in our desire to live out holiness, to give God glory.”

And Sister Therese is eager to continue working with young people in the hopes that some might likewise answer the call to serve the Church.

“We just never know if a young person might be inspired by reading about my journey,” she said. “We just don’t know how we can be that voice or that instrument that God uses to encourage others to look into a particular community or a particular calling in life.”

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