By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Sister Mary Gemma Stump made her first profession of vows as a Dominican Sister of the Congregation of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn., July 28, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. The Kansas City native grew up in St. Charles Borromeo Parish.
Her parents, Bill and Margie Stump, and other relatives attended the ceremony. Margie recounted her daughter’s growing up and becoming interested in a religious vocation.
“We always wanted our kids to be open to the option of the priesthood or the religious life,” she said. Natalie was homeschooled. When she was in the fifth grade, she heard about Fifth Grade Vocation Days from some friends after it was over and was disappointed that she hadn’t attended. Margie arranged for her daughter to go as a sixth grader.
The rest of grade school and high school passed and Natalie enrolled at Benedictine College intending to major in English and Education. Halfway through college, Margie said, she switched her major to Education and Theology. She made a practice of attending retreats, Mass, prayer services. A month before graduation, Natalie took a one-hour class from Dr. Edward Sri, speaker, author, faculty member of the Augustine Institute and a visiting professor at Benedictine College. Natalie decided to seek a Master Degree in Theology from the Augustine Institute near Denver after taking the class, her mother said.
During her first year of study at the Institute, she met a Dominican nun, Sister Mary David. A latent spark was ignited.
“She first told us she was in the process of discerning if she was called to the religious life around the beginning of her second year,” Margie recalled. “In fact, she visited several communities, including the Dominicans, and said, ‘I came, I saw, I said no.’ She still felt called to the Dominicans but the order is a teaching order and she didn’t have a teaching degree. She graduated from the Augustine Institute with her M.A. in Theology, came home and found a job with the sports authority.”
Then things started to fall into place. She saw and answered an ad for a religion teacher at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph. Despite the fact that her credentials and experience weren’t in education, she was hired to teach religion to juniors and seniors. She started just after Thanksgiving break and taught until the end of May. Her decision was made to enter the community of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Nashville.
The weeks before her entry were hectic, Margie remembered. Her daughter was talking with the Mother General, having required physical, dental and psychological exams, finding a spiritual advisor, committing to daily Mass, and oh, she needed eight aprons, 4 white and 4 blue. She and her aunt made the aprons. She had to have certain shoes, socks and other things, and send all her measurements to the community for her pre-postulant uniform, her habits and veils. Bill and I took her to Nashville and on Aug. 15, 2012, she became a postulant.”
The first two years are busy ones. A young woman is a pre-postulant for one year, and a postulant of one year, as part of the novitiate. At the end of two years, she becomes a novice, receives a name in religion and the white habit and black veil.
During the ceremony at the Cathedral, Natalie was given the name Sister Mary Gemma, one of the three names she had offered. Mary has several connotations for Sister Mary Gemma. Mary is of course the name of the Mother of Our Blessed Lord, Margie said, and the Dominicans have a great reverence for and devotion to Mary. Also, both her grandmothers are named Mary. “Gemma Galgani was an Italian mystic and saint, a modern saint, whose story inspired our daughter. And my mother’s roots were Italian,” Margie said. (Saint Gemma Galgani was a mystic and stigmatic who died of tuberculosis in 1903 at the age of 25. She was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1933 and canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1940. She is the patroness of students and pharmacists.)
From now on, Sister Mary Gemma will celebrate her namesake’s feast day, April 11, instead of her own birthday. She will be able to receive mail on her birthday however, Margie said.
Sister Mary Gemma was one of a class of 21 postulants. Of the class, 11 young women made their first profession of vows of chastity, obedience and poverty for three years that morning. The new novices are called “First Year Black Veils.”
Sister Mary Gemma and her sister novices will remain in the novitiate for two more years. The period of time in the novitiate, from pre-postulancy to the close of two years as a novice, they cannot return home except in case of an emergency, such as a death in the family. The formation period is seven years. She is attending classes to finish her education degree, and plans on a Master’s in Education also. She has been told she will be teaching English to middle and high school students, grades 7 – 12.
Margie said, “What we’re giving up is grandchildren from her, and closer contact. But, what she has is so much joy! It’s impossible to not be happy for her, with all that joy. And the other sisters feel like family to us now.
“The convent community and campus is just permeated with joy. You can really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
Margie suggests to young women to “just consider the idea of a religious life. God finds ways to make us happy no matter what vocational choice we make, whether it’s to the priesthood, religious brother or sister, or layperson and parent. But oh, the joy in the eyes of the Sisters of St. Cecilia community. It’s in the air!” o