A group of 20 friends and parishioners gathered on the grounds of St. Anthony Church in Long Beach during the early evening hours of April 23 to share a meaningful and long-awaited moment: the blessing ceremony for a new convent for the local community of Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity religious sisters, who have faithfully — and tirelessly — served the parish for the last decade.
For this beloved and mighty trio of Verbum Dei sisters — Rosalia Meza, Su Fern Khoo and Julia Prinz — the blessing event was an affirmation of parish and community support for “the ministries that we offer.”
For Sister Fern, one of the highlights of the blessing ceremony occurred at the beginning, when the participants were asked to share their wishes for the sisters.
“How each person responded was very moving. They were happy and very grateful for our presence here at St. Anthony’s,” she told The Tidings. “It was just beautiful. To hear people appreciate what we do with our lives was a blessing.”
Sister Rosalia agreed, noting that the small, modest blessing ceremony was overflowing with an atmosphere of “such joy and acceptance and support.”
“As religious sisters it’s very important to know that people are supporting our ministry, supporting the life that we lead,” explained Sister Rosalia. “And it really means a lot to know that people are still believing in consecrated life.”
The Verbum Dei sisters first began serving at St. Anthony’s in 2005, when they ran a women’s prayer group. At the time, they resided at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Reseda and commuted to Long Beach weekly. Over the next year they became increasingly involved in the parish, primarily in religious education.
To help meet the demands of their growing duties at St. Anthony’s, they relocated to Long Beach in 2006, moving into a residential area of the parish buildings.
Today the sisters handle all religious education for St. Anthony, including baptisms, communions and confirmations for children and adults, totaling about 1,000 candidates each year. They also continue to lead prayer groups and parish retreats, and are also involved in Chinese young adult ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Monterey Park, and migrant worker ministry in Watsonville.
Busy, it would seem, is an understatement. But they approach each day with joy.
According to Sister Fern, the Verbum Dei charism focuses on “contemplative prayer, with scripture, retreats, meditation, art, music and living testimony to encourage the faithful to engage in a life-giving, transformative journey of faith.”
“It’s so nice to be able to minister together in the name of the Lord in this community,” said Sister Fern. “And it’s such a gift to have this new convent.”
The new convent houses both public and private spaces, including areas for community prayer, retreats and other gatherings, as well as private living quarters for the three sisters. It is located on the site of former parish offices, the same space that housed a convent 25 years ago.
Father José Maga√±a, pastor, worked closely with the parish community and the sisters to help make the convent a reality.
“We are so full of gratitude, but it’s not just about having a place to live, do ministry and be creative,” said Sister Rosalia. “It’s about more than that; it’s about feeling valued as religious sisters, especially during the Year of Consecrated Life.”
In 2013, Pope Francis declared the Year of Consecrated Life, to be observed from Nov. 30, 2014, through Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. In celebration, the sisters are helping organize a one-day conference on consecrated life intended for local religious men and women.
The Oct. 10 event will feature a keynote address and a closing Mass with Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“It will be a beautiful day to talk [and rejoice] about our consecrated life,” said Sister Rosalia. “It’s such a blessing … to be able to consecrate our lives to God.”
The Verbum Dei religious order was originally founded in Mallorca, Spain. There are currently 36 communities around the world, including three in the U.S. — the motherhouse in San Francisco, which houses 27 sisters; Chicago, Illinois, which has four sisters in residence; and at St. Anthony’s in Long Beach.