By Barb Arland-Fye
CLINTON — Watching Sarah Martz profess first vows with the Sisters of St. Francis evoked happy memories for Sister William McCue, OSF, who renewed vows she first made 60 years ago. The two celebrated their milestones July 24 during Mass in Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Catholic Church before dozens of members of their religious community, families, friends and Bishop Martin Amos.
The “Celebration of Jubilee and Profession of Vows” also honored Sister Teresa Ann Ellegood, OSF, celebrating 80 years of religious life but unable to attend the Mass, and deceased Sisters who were classmates of the jubilarians.
“Today we are celebrating what has been, what is, and what is to come,” said Sister Janice Cebula, president of the Clinton Franciscans, during the renewal of vows ritual. Sr. McCue, in turn, pledged to “renew with all the ardor of my heart, the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, according to the spirit and the way of life of the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa.”
Bishop Amos’ homily reflected on that way of life — centered on peace. “To be a sower of God’s peace is not an option; it is fundamental to who we all are, but especially for those of you who are Franciscans.” Peace, he said, is a gift from God. “We must be receptive and open to that gift; we need to nurture a peace-filled spirit.” Peace is “the harmony a person experiences when relationships with God, with community and with self and creation are properly ordered.”
Renewing, professing vows
Sr. McCue said it was a joy to celebrate her renewal of vows, along with Martz’s first profession of vows during the Mass. “It brought back all the recollections of my first vows, when my parents were with me and my sister (now deceased).” The jubilarian wonders “where the time has gone. I have been blessed in so many ways by God and in my ministry.”
After Sr. McCue renewed her vows, the Clinton Franciscans testified on behalf of Sr. Martz as she prepared to profess first vows: “Sister Sarah has joined us in community prayer, shared in our company and participated in our mission of active nonviolence and peacemaking. She has demonstrated her desire to live a life of love and service to and with others.”
During the blessing of her ring — passed on to Sr. Martz by another Sister — Bishop Amos prayed: “May the Lord bless this ring as a sign of a life freely vowed to God and the Gospel way of life.”
“Sarah, wear this ring as a sign of your commitment to follow in the footsteps of our founders, Francis and Clare, as a member of the Sisters of St. Francis,” Sr. Cebula said.
The profession of first vows is the continuation of a discernment process that began when Martz, 30, was a child. “I was talking with my formation director and we decided that it’s been 20 years in the making. I was about 10 when I started considering religious life,” Martz said after Mass.
Her mother, Kathryn Brenneman of St. Mary Parish in Riverside, said she’s very happy for the second-oldest of her four children. “It’s kind of what I expected,” she said of her daughter’s decision to enter religious life. “She’s seeking more for her life, and I think she’s going to have it this way.”
Preparing for the future
While Sr. Martz is the youngest member of the Clinton Franciscans, the age disparity isn’t a concern. “I think it’s the support of the community that is so vital, that’s what I appreciate,” added Sr. Martz, who in three years, will have an opportunity to make permanent vows. “We’re all working for a common goal, with the Gospel as our guide.” Hers is the second profession of first vows in two years. Sister Janet Ryan professed first vows last year, said Sallyann McCarthy, the Clinton Franciscans’ communications director.
Sr. Martz, formerly of Iowa City, graduated from the former Mount St. Clare College in Clinton, which the Sisters founded, and expressed interest in joining the community. “The Sisters said, ‘We’d love to have you, but investigate other communities,’” Sr. Martz said. She did. “The Clinton Franciscans are the ones who felt like home.”
While continuing her discernment, Sr. Martz also is working with Port Ministries in Chicago, which serves families and children in economic need.
Well-wishers congratulated Sr. Martz after Mass, and the three female altar servers — Rebecca Lyons, Madeline Chasey and Kim Kaster, all age 13 — asked to meet her. They said it was a unique experience to watch Sr. Martz profess vows with the Clinton Franciscans. The Mass was especially moving for Rebecca’s mom, Marlys Lyons, who had considered entering religious life before choosing the vocation of marriage.
“The feelings are indescribable,” she said. “To see Sarah up there; I wanted to say, ‘Go girl!’”