Rev. Thomas Klue, parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Parish, Fremont, with Verbum Dei Sisters Bella Rodas, Jeanette Kong and Rosalia Meza.
When the last Sister moved out of the convent at Holy Spirit Parish in Fremont a year ago the pastor, Rev. Mathew Vellankal, wanted to put the vacant residence to good use. He immediately thought about the possibility of asking another group of Sisters to live in the parish. But with the shrinking numbers of religious women in the U.S., that idea seemed unlikely.
Unknown to Father Vellankal, a relatively new community of religious women, with a provincial house in San Francisco, was looking for a residence in the East Bay for some of their members. Fortunately, or they would probably say, providentially, the Verbum Dei Sisters learned that the Fremont pastor was searching for a religious community to live in the vacant building, a former house remodeled to serve as a convent.
After obtaining permission from the Oakland diocese, the Sisters began moving into the convent in August. They have been a "big blessing" for the parish, said Father Vellankal. Since their arrival the Sisters have been "helping a lot," supporting various ministries and coordinating different groups and events in the parish from visiting the sick to organizing retreats.
During Lent, the Sisters helped parishioners develop 15 different small Christian groups that came together every week to pray, examine the Sunday readings and share personal reflections. "It was a little like Lectio Divina," said the pastor, adding that about 100 parishioners participated in the small groups. "That was a big success."
In another program, one of the Sisters has been helping prepare six couples who are co-validating their marriage.
These religious women are members of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity. Much of their work focuses on evangelization and the ministry of the Word. "We help put people in contact with the Living God," said Sister Karla Felix-Rivera, who leads the Fremont house. "We help people grow in faith."
The Verbum Dei (Word of God) Community was founded in Majorca, Spain in 1963. According to the community's website (www.verbumdeiusa.org), it is a "pontifically approved International Institute of Consecrated Life." VDFM members, who are in over 30 countries, consist of consecrated religious women (Sisters), consecrated religious men (Brothers and priests) and associated married couples. The religious women make consecrated vows and the religious men make public vows. Married couples make temporal or perpetual vows.
The community has been serving in the San Francisco Archdiocese since 1978 and in northern California, in dioceses from Sacramento to San Jose. The VDMF community would like to also extend its work in the South and East Bay, Sister Felix-Rivera said.
Over the past 50 years VDMF has professed around 500-600 members, many of them women. There are about 150 men and fewer than 100 married couples.
The Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity is a very young community, said Sister Felix-Rivera. "We have a lot of energy and enthusiasm." In addition to its work in parishes, VDMF also runs the campus ministry program at San Francisco State University.
"We help wherever we are asked," said Sister Felix-Rivera who noted that she is available for retreats, workshops and leadership training. All of the Sisters are offering spiritual direction.
As an international group many in the community are bilingual and they "are better able to live in different cultures."
At Holy Spirit Parish, which has about 5,000 members and is ethnically diverse, the Verbum Dei Sisters are still adapting to the parish community. Much of their work so far has been with youth and married couples. One of the Sisters is planning to help lead a group of young people in the parish to World Youth Day, which will take place July 23-28 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During World Youth Day, young people from dioceses around the world gather for prayer, catechesis and faith-sharing.
"Father Mat believes in a spiritually vibrant parish," said Sister Felix-Rivera. "We love being at Holy Spirit Parish."
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