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PALM LATITUDES

Rites Of Passage

June 16, 1991|Steven Adamson | Editied by Mary McNamara

She has spent 30 days in silence, immersed in prayer and spiritual exercises, in preparation for this occasion. His Excellency Most Rev. William J. Levada, Archbishop of Portland, Ore., has flown in expressly to preside over the ceremony; and a flock of more than 600 has filled Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Santa Barbara, all waiting to hear Sister Anna Tom utter the word, "Forever." Today, this slight and soft-spoken woman from Los Angeles, one of 47 sisters belonging to the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, will profess her Final Vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. Fewer than 50 women in Southern California make such a commitment each year.

"Our Lord has called me to the religious life," Sister Anna tells me, "and this is the final commitment by me in responding to His call. After 8 1/2 years--six months as a postulant, two years as a novitiate and having professed temporary vows over the past six years--I am ready, through His grace, to make my last and final vow: to say openly that I'd like to live totally in union with God, through the vow of chastity; and in poverty, that my greatest treasure is God, and in the vow of obedience, that I see God's will for me through His community and through my superiors, for the rest of my life."

Sister Anna approaches the altar and kneels before Archbishop Levada. Holding the crucifix that she held three times before, while taking her temporary vows, she recites the very same words that have bound her to her faith for so long now--but this time her promise is not for one year, or two years, or even five years; this time, she says, "Forever." Sister Jane Stafford, the superior general, places the Final Vows band, the symbol of eternal devotion, on her right ring finger, and the two embrace. Sister Anna turns toward this assembly of friends, family and parishioners and is greeted with a standing ovation. This is her moment, and she basks in it, smiling and blushing.

"This is what I've been waiting to say for so long," she explains soon afterward, "and now I was finally able to say it. I feel wonderful, filled with joy. To see all their faces, their eyes and their smiles, just brought me immense happiness. And I just feel very free."

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