Four vocations in a family of nine

First slide
First slide
Previous Next

Deacon Jim Van de Voorde, 57, known by his children as, “Deacon Dad,” serves the pastoral needs of All Saints Church in Manassas. But before that, he has and continues to serve his wife, Frances, and their seven children. 

The couple, married for 33 years, say they are “blessed with (the) gifts of vocations” as three of their daughters have taken religious vows as a sister, a lay consecrated woman and a nun.

“I think sometimes when people see my family they think my parents told us we should be religious. I don’t remember them ever saying that. I remember them saying — we want you to do whatever God wants you to do because you’ll be happiest.” Sister Mary Grace of Jesus

“It’s a mysterious thing,” said Frances. “The way it was nurtured was from us trying to live a sacramental life.”

The “sacramental life” that the Van de Voordes prepared for their children was through different “opportunities.” Of course regularly receiving the Eucharist and confession were important, but also instilling the availability for community service and quiet meditation in front of the Blessed Sacrament “to cultivate listening to God for whatever His call might be,” said Deacon Jim.

Deacon Jim

Jim was ordained by Bishop Paul S. Loverde Jan. 17, 2015. When he inquired about the permanent diaconate program in 2001, it had been suspended. Bishop Loverde re-established it in 2005. Jim applied and was accepted in 2010. 

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to serve at the parish and the diocese,” he said. 

Since his ordination, he has assisted at All Saints through baptisms, homilies, catechism, administrative work and jail ministry while keeping a flexible schedule with his consulting business.

“The bishop told us your first responsibility is to your marriage, second to support your family and third to the diaconate,” he said.

Sister Allison

Sister Allison Van de Voorde, 29, the third eldest child, is with the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother in Spain. The religious vocations of her sisters Beth and Grace were expected by their family, while Allison’s was a surprise. 

“We were almost like twins,” said Beth, who is a year younger than Allison. “I would talk about being a nun and she would talk about being a mom.” 

During her junior year of college at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla., she took a short mission trip to Ecuador in 2008. There she worked with the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother. 

“All that time (she) didn’t want to give up being a mother,” said Beth. “But in that mission trip she realized how these sisters are mothers.” 

After graduating from Ave Maria in 2009, Allison entered the novitiate of the Servant Sisters’ community in Madrid. She made her final vows in August and is serving in Valencia, Spain. 

Beth 

Beth Van de Voorde, 28, is a lay consecrated woman with Regnum Christi. She works with the Campus Ministry at Holy Spirit Prep in Atlanta and is a member of the local committee of RC members.

At a young age, she felt “drawn to the consecrated life,” “met several nuns” and even went on a “nun-run” — a tour of different convents. The orders didn’t offer what she was seeking.

In 2004, Beth planned to have a party the night before her sister Allison’s prom. Some of her classmates declined the invitation because they were going on a three-day silent retreat. Beth abandoned the party planning to join them. 

“I really treasure the memories of that retreat,” said Beth.

There she encountered lay consecrated women from Regnum Christi and was inspired by their relationship with Christ. 

After graduating from Seton School in Manassas in 2006, she attended Mater Ecclesia College in Greenville, R.I. She made her final vows as a lay consecrated woman with Regnum Christi in 2008, following two years of temporal vows.  

Though she doesn’t wear a habit as her sisters do, Beth defines her vocation as having the same essence, “total belonging to God, while being in the world but not of it.” 

Sister Mary Grace of Jesus

Grace, 22, now known as Dominican Sister Mary Grace of Jesus, is the fifth child and remembers thinking about religious vocations at the age of 5.

“For sure seeing my sisters’ response to God was an encouragement for me to do the same,” she said. “And seeing them respond so generously reinforced the fact that God will make me happy.”

By the time she was a senior at Seton, she visited each of her sisters in their religious communities, yet each one didn’t feel “monastic enough.” Meanwhile, she had entered into a deep internal prayer life, which helped her determine what she wanted — the contemplative life.

As others students in Sister Mary Grace’s class were preparing for college, she was writing letters to convents. The first convent to respond was the cloistered nuns at St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden. In September 2012, she graduated from high school and entered the monastery as an aspirant. She started her postulancy in March 2013. Last February, she made her temporal vows and is expected to make her final vows in 2021.

Though Dominicans are known for their preaching, Sister Mary Grace recalled how when she pointed out the irony of a Dominican monastery being cloistered to her superior, she was told, “We preach by our silence.”

“Even if nobody knows about me or sees me, I hope that my life says that God is worthy to be praised,” said Sister Mary Grace.

With the family scattered across the world — the eldest, Luke, 32, in Japan, and Sister Allison is in Spain — it’s difficult for all nine to gather. Their love, support and humor is still present as the second eldest son, Peter, 31, who is married, is quick to comment that marriage is also a sacrament. The religious sisters nudge at their youngest brother, Jude, 20, to become a priest, but their parents want him and the youngest, Marcie, 14, to finish school while they “discover what God has for them,” said Frances. 

“I think sometimes when people see my family they think my parents told us we should be religious. I don’t remember them ever saying that,” said Sister Mary Grace. “I remember them saying — we want you to do whatever God wants you to do because you’ll be happiest.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016

@cbergeronACH