REGIS: Lay consecrated women giving their lives to God

May 24, 2022

(File photo by James Ramos/Herald)

When I told my parents that I wanted to go to a formation house in preparation to consecrate myself to God, my father said: “Would you at least enter a normal convent?”

“Dad, it seems like God is not calling me to that ‘normal,’” I said.

Over 25 years have passed, and I still get similar reactions from Catholics when I say that I am a lay consecrated woman. Catholics often look confused, and they tend to treat me differently from other sisters and clergy.

So, what is a lay consecrated woman? Our life is similar to other religious sisters: living in community, living the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, etc. I am a consecrated woman within the community of the Work of Mary/Focolare Movement. As a “focolarina” (Italian for “bearer of the flame”), I try to keep alive the fire of the love of God from which the name “focolare” (“hearth” in Italian) derives.

A friend asked me, “Why did you choose not to be a sister?” It was not a matter of choosing or not choosing it; it was a matter of God calling me to be a “focolarina.” I felt drawn by God and gave my life to Him, leaving my family, my boyfriend and everything else behind to build a “supernatural” family, where people can experience the presence of Jesus in our midst (Mt 18:20) and to contribute to the fulfillment of Jesus’s prayer: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). Our charism is Unity.

People ask: “But if your life is pretty much like the life of other sisters, why don’t you wear a habit?”

I try to imitate the life of Mary, our mother. She did not wear a habit but wore clothes that women of her culture, time and age wore. She was a Jewish woman, so she wore a veil and a long dress or tunic. If she lived in this century, what would she wear? I believe that she would wear similar clothes to the women of this time and culture but with good taste, dignity, modesty and simplicity.

If she went to a gala dinner or was invited to a fancy place, she would put on her best dress and accessories to be in harmony with the people in that environment — she is a queen! But she referred to herself also as a servant so she would be in harmony also with poorer environments.

As a consecrated woman, my vocation is not to work only with good Catholics who are well-formed in the faith but to bring Jesus to everyone out there in the secular world.

Over the years, I have experienced that I was able to “evangelize” so many young people because they felt comfortable talking with me where they live. I’ve noticed how today so many people are allergic to anything that has to do with the Catholic Church, some because of past wounds or bad experiences with people in a parish, so when they see a priest or nun they try to avoid eye contact and pass them by quickly.

In the early years of the Focolare, Chiara Lubich (our foundress) was touched by a sister who was wearing her habit while riding a bicycle to go visit the poor — she was a witness of her faith. As she passed by, Chiara wondered if we, too, should wear a habit or uniform to give witness like the sisters.

She prayed and opened the Gospel to search for an answer and found in John 13:35 “This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” She thought: When we love, we experience joy, and we bring joy to others, so she decided that joy would serve as our uniform. 

Joelma Regis, a consecrated woman in the Focolare Movement, is an associate director with the Office of Vocations.