Sister Winfred Kilatya OSF professes first vows

Just before she professed her first vows, Sr. Winfred was given a lighted candle by the Provincial, Sr. Christine Martin, OSF. She also received a TAU cross from the General Vicar, St. Teresa Hametner OSF. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

SAVANNAH, Mo. — The town about 20 minutes north of St. Joseph was shrouded in fog the morning of Feb. 2, but for the Sisters of St. Francis of Savannah, friends and family in the Provincial House chapel it was a beautiful day. Franciscan Sister Winfred Kilatya was making First Profession of Vows!

Sr. Winfred came to Savannah in December 2015 to discern her vocation with the Sisters of St. Francis. The youngest of a large devout Catholic family, living in Kyelendu (a small village in Kenya), as a child she often thought about becoming a religious Sister. Her path took her first to a community of Poor Clares in Spain, but after a few years she realized that she wanted a more active ministry among the people. She learned of the community of Franciscan Sisters in Savannah from a relative who had experienced a retreat at the convent. Connections were made, and Sr. Winfred joined the community.

After completing her novitiate, she professed first vows.  Several sisters from Austria, Sr. Christiane Heinz, OSF and Sr. Martina Litzlbauer, OSF, came with Sr. Teresa Hametner OSF, representing General Superior Mother Angelika who had had knee surgery shortly before and was unable to travel. As her parents were unable to be there, Magdalene and Simon Nzioka represented her family and friends in Africa.

The Savannah monastery is the U.S. province of the Sisters of St. Francis of Voecklabruck, Austria. Twelve sisters arrived in northern Missouri in 1922 at the request of the Benedictine monks of Conception Abbey to serve in schools in the area and as housekeepers at the abbey. By 1957, when at the request of Bishop Cody of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the congregation relocated to Savannah, they were serving not only in schools and parishes, but operating St. Francis Hospital in Marceline, Mo., now an arm of Pershing Regional Hospital of Brookfield. The sisters opened LaVerna Heights Retirement Center and LaVerna Village Nursing Home, continuing the ministry to the aged and infirm.

Sister Christine Martin OSF, Provincial, and Sister Kathleen Reichert OSF, Formation Director, welcomed guests to the monastery chapel. Celebrating Sr. Winfred’s African heritage, the St. Francis African Catholics Choir sang the service music and the Communion Hymn.

Father Leonard Gicheru, pastor of St. Monica Parish in Kansas City, who is also from Kenya, celebrated the Mass with Benedictine Fr. Donald Gibbs, chaplain to the Sisters, and Fr. Felix Onuora, a retired priest of the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, concelebrating. 

In his homily, Fr. Gicheru acknowledged all those who accompanied and encouraged Sr. Winfred in her vocation journey. He particularly thanked her parents, drawing parallels to the day’s Feast of the Presentation.

“It’s not easy for parents to let go of their beautiful daughter to serve in the church, especially in Africa where daughters are expected to get married, bring dowry to the family and gift them with grandchildren.  But I know because of their love for God they graciously allowed you to serve Him as a religious sister,” he said.

He continued explaining that the religious life “is given but also nurtured right in the context of a family. For a family is a nest; that conducive environment, where a child learns the ways of God through prayer and sacrifice in order to respond appropriately to the call that God is calling them into.”

He then expanded on what a vocation and consecration to religious life looks like.

“First, God makes a choice,” he said. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: ‘God who created man out of love also calls him to love— the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.’ And what the nature of this universal call? –To be holy and blameless before Him.  Every vocation is meant to make us holy.”

“Once God has called the person He usually makes his choice known,” Fr. Gicheru continued, explaining how each vocation is unique to the individual and must be responded to.

“Today we are gathered here to witness Sr. Winfred making her First Vows as a Franciscan Sister. The vows she will be professing is an act of responding to the call God has given her. … Taking vows is act of trust that whatever God has begun in the life of a religious He himself will eventually accomplish.”

Fr. Gicheru said that once someone responds to their vocation, God consecrates that person for Himself and sends them to fulfill a concrete mission.

“What is the mission of a religious life? I think the answer is in the gospel today. ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’  The cross is at the heart of every vocation and more so in religious life.” 

But “God does not ask us to do something without give us the grace to do it. Sr. Winfred, remember the journey ahead of you is mostly joyous but also steep and demanding at times.  Your superiors will ask you something you would … not choose for yourself but you will do it anyway in the name of obedience, and for the sake of Christ. … Remember that God who chose and called you will always give you the grace.”

“Before St. Francis of Assisi died, he asked God for two things; that he might experience the pain that Jesus experienced on the Cross and that he might experience the love with which Jesus gave His life for the world,” Fr. Gicheru said. “Finally, near the end of his life, Francis himself was imprinted with the marks of the Cross, the stigmata, on his hands, feet and side.”

He said it was something St. Francis never ceased contemplating. “He had one desire: in everything, to be conformed to the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

“Sr. Winfred, our prayer for you today is that you will find joy in the vocation and the cross you are undertaking today. We pray through the intercession of our Blessed Mother and St. Francis of Assisi that you will find fulfillment and meaning in your vocation. And when the cross gets heavy always remember … ‘Cast yourself in confidence into the arms of God and be very sure of this, if God wants anything you, God will fit you for your work and give you the strength to do it.’”

When Sr. Winfred approached the altar to profess her vows, Sr. Kathleen Reichert asked the three profession questions and Sr. Winifred answered in the affirmative. Sr. Kathleen then asked the Sisters present and the assembly if they would support and encourage Sr. Winfred to which all answered, “We will.”

Sr. Winfred was presented with a lighted candle by Sister Christine and the Tau Cross (designed by St. Francis of Assisi to represent the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross) by Sr. Teresa.

Sr. Winfred then professed her first vows: to follow Christ for two years in consecrated chastity and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God, in poverty and simplicity in obedience and availability. She also promised to live according to the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis and the order’s constitutions. The vows were accepted by Sr. Teresa.

The official vow document was signed by Sisters Winfred, Kathleen, Christine and Teresa.  The newly professed sister then stood in the chapel’s center to receive the blessing of the community and the assembly. The Austrian sisters, accompanied by Sr. Teresa on guitar, sang the Blessing Song in German and English. The Mass continued.

Sr. Christine said later that much like the sisters who arrived in Northern Missouri in 1922, Sr. Winfred set out to minister to the people of God in a foreign country.

A celebratory meal followed in the monastery’s Ministry Center.

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March 23, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph