A unique calling: Consecrated virginity

November 22, 2011

HOUSTON — The consecration of a virgin is one of the oldest rites in the Catholic Church, in which a woman dedicates herself to the service of the Church. She remains in perpetual virginity, serving as a “mother” to her parish community and living and serving Christ in the world as a lay person.

It is a rare and special calling. But on Nov. 5, Nhung Thi Pham, a member of Our Lady of Lavang Church in northwest Houston, walked down the aisle and joyfully made this unique promise, becoming the fourth consecrated virgin in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo celebrated the Mass and performed the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World, as it is formally called. 

Think of what good will be accomplished in the Church because Nhung is there in her public witness to pray, to give comfort, to teach, Cardinal DiNardo said in his homily. He noted the consecration of a virgin was a public action by both Nhung and the Church in which she becomes a sign.
Before family and her parish community, Pham publically expressed her resolve to remain in the state of virginity in the service of God and Church, to follow the Gospel and witness God’s love, and accept the solemn consecration as a bride of Christ.

As part of the rite, she received a veil, a wedding ring — the only external sign of her consecration — and the Liturgy of the Hours, which she promised to pray daily with the Church.

“I am espoused to Him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his glory,” a choir of Dominican Vietnamese sisters sang following the consecration.

“I feel very happy,” Pham said after the Mass. She was born and raised in Vietnam and speaks limited English.

As a consecrated virgin, Pham joins an estimated 215 consecrated women in the U.S., according to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins. These lay women are set apart as sacred persons, though they do not wear habits, nor live in community or take the title of “sister.” They work in various professions and support themselves financially. 

Alice Claire Mansfield, who was the first women in the Archdiocese consecrated under the rite, said vocations to perpetual virginity are growing as more women discover it is an option.

Though the consecration of virgins is one of the oldest forms of consecrated life in the Church, the tradition fell out of popularity over the centuries as women joined religious orders. Following the Second Vatican Council, the rite for virgins living in the world was restored in 1971.

Consecrated virgins are known well in their parish communities, Mansfield said, offering their gifts in ministry. They also pray for parishioners, the Pope, the bishop and local clergy.

Pham said she learned about the vocation about four years ago after learning about it from a Dominican sister. She was born in Gia Dinh, Vietnam, the seventh of nine children. She graduated from high school in 1979 and took work as a tax review clerk.

After coming to the U.S. in 1990, Pham settled in Houston, learning English and enrolling in classes to become a manicurist. She began working in 1991, and currently helps with the family business. 

Pham said she began to think seriously about life and death after the passing of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana in 1997. Struck by the stark contrasts of their lives, she developed a keen sense the imminence of death and the imperative to serve God while one had the chance. 
It was then she began to spend more time in prayer and feel a deeper call to religious life. Pham became a member of the Dominican laity and in 2009, began her preparation and formation for consecration as a virgin. †

Women interested in learning more about the vocation to consecrated virginity can call Sister Heloise Cruzat, Vicar for Religious in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, at 713-741-8733.