“If you leave, I leave; if you stay, I stay.”
Fifty years later, the two 1973 alumnae of Newman University celebrated their 50th jubilee as ASC sisters with a special Mass on Saturday, Sept. 4, at the Wichita ASC Center. Sister Susan and Sister Sara were joined by fellow ASC sisters, family members and friends in the Woman of the New Covenant Chapel, followed by a celebratory meal.
To honor 50 full years as Adorers, each sister renewed her perpetual vows during the holy sacrament of the Mass.
“Loving God, look kindly on Sara and Susan whom you have called in your goodness to follow in the footsteps of your son,” Sister Vicki Bergkamp, ASC, said. “Empower them with your love so that they may continue the journey toward you with ever-increasing joy and peace.”
Sister Vicki invited Sister Susan and Sister Sara to set their faces “ever more steadily toward the Lord,” through their continued vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
Concluding the vow renewal, the sisters gave thanks to God, to the people and ministries who helped empower them, to family and friends as well as the ASC community.
“To all who shared in this celebration, near and far, and assisted in various roles to make this day special including the staff of the Wichita Center, we thank you,” Sister Susan said.
Sister Sara added, “May our generous God continue to bless you abundantly and open your heart to receive all the good graces you desire.”
Lives dedicated to Christ
Ever since she was a young girl, Sister Susan knew she wanted to enter a field where she could help others.
There wasn’t one “aha” moment that led Sister Susan to pursue religious life but rather many small moments, she said.
“Growing up in Catholic school where many of the teachers and principals were sisters, every year we’d get asked, ‘If you want to be a sister, raise your hand,’” Sister Susan explained. “All the girls seemed to raise their hand for that. But I knew when I was a fifth-grader there was just a moment when I felt, ‘yes, that’s what I’d like to do.’”
Sister Susan was exposed to two different religious congregations growing up. ASC sisters taught her while she attended St. Margaret Mary’s parish through sixth grade, and when her family moved to Schulte, Kansas, she was taught by Dominican sisters.
She went on to enter the aspirancy program designed for young women in high school who were interested in examining life in a religious congregation.
“I lived there, then got transported with the rest of the aspirants over to Madonna High School.”
That’s where Sister Susan met Sister Sara.
For Sister Sara, it was a progression of having “a good family, good Catholic education and good friends” that led her to the sisterhood, she said. However, she recalled one key moment that led to her ultimate decision.
At the end of her novice stage, Sister Sara was in Colorado when she received a call that Sister Antoinette, one of the older ASC sisters in the congregation, had died.
“I remember sitting there after the phone call, just thinking I should’ve said something to her,” Sister Sara said.
Sister Sara reached over to the bedside table and picked up the New Testament Jerusalem Bible. She opened it to a verse in Saint John, which read “You didn’t choose me. I chose you.”
“To me, that was just one of those markers that just said, okay, now you can move forward with this decision to be a sister,” she said. “I made first and final vows on Pentecost because I felt the spirit was alive and active in my life.”
Inspired by the saints
Looking back, Sister Sara said she couldn’t believe the positive impact that being part of an international congregation would have on her life.
“I remember praying upstairs in our oratory, thinking that because we’re international, somebody someplace is always praying for us,” she said. “And it’s my job to also pray during my hours, which is really cool.”
Of all the Catholic saints, Saint Maria De Mattias — the foundress of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ — is one of Sister Sara’s all-time favorites.
“When I read ‘Girl in a Hurry’ and ‘Obedient Rebel,’ both of those foundational books, I thought to myself, ‘I can be an obedient rebel and I am a girl in a hurry,’” Sister Sara said. “I can identify with that.”
Sister Susan also shares a special connection with Saint Maria De Mattias.
When Sister Susan was on her assignment in Rome, she regularly visited the Chapel of the Precious Blood in the congregation’s ASC Generalate, where the blessed body of Saint Maria De Mattias is laid to rest. There, Sister Susan talked to Saint Maria De Mattias about any difficulties she faced.
“To have Saint Maria there across the hall where I could go and talk to her, that was one of those earth-shattering kinds of moments,” Sister Susan said. “Being in this room with the saint that founded us — it’s powerful. To be in that close environment with her and to pray, in some respects, was an experience that you can’t recreate.”
Both Sister Susan and Sister Sara have cherished their years together as Adorers of the Blood of Christ.
Sister Susan considered herself to be a wallflower, she said, but her experience at Newman helped bring out abilities she didn’t think she could do, including teaching.
“I found out that I really do like sharing things in an educated way. I think Newman is a rich institution and brings opportunities for students and faculty that you wouldn’t get at large universities.”
Ever since her college days, being a sign of God’s love has been at the heart of Sister Sara’s work, she said.
“For me, I believe it was the love that Jesus had in his heart that gave him the energy to carry the cross,” she said. “And that’s how it should be for us — it should be the love we have for one another that gives us the strength to carry any cross.”
Sister Sara continued, “It’s the falling in love with God’s love for us that is the charism of what it means to be an Adorer. We’re not screwed up so much that God can’t love us. And that’s the grace that keeps you going.”