Lancaster resident professes vows with Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia
A Western New York native stood along seven others as they professed final vows with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. Sister Maria Grace Thielman promised poverty, chastity and obedience as part of the teaching order.
Growing up in Lancaster, Sister Maria Grace attended St. Mary of the Assumption Parish and Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore. She said her parents, Dan and Kathy Thielman, made sure she had a foundation in her faith.
“All growing up they were so attentive to making God’s love present to me and helping me to learn my faith by providing for me to be able to go to Catholic school that whole time,” Sister Maria Grace said. “We never prayed the rosary, but I prayed it at school. I think they took delight in hearing what I learned in religion class at school.”
In high school, she started to get more involved in her faith. She joined the youth group at the neighboring parish, Our Lady of Pompeii and attended Steubenville youth conferences.
Although she doesn’t recall attending any vocation talks as a teen, she did feel somewhat drawn to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. As a junior in high school, she was preparing for her confirmation. Being involved in music and jazz ensemble in high school, St. Cecilia seemed like a logical choice.
While researching her chosen saint, she found the website for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia.
“I remember as a high school student, I was flipping through the pages on the website. I was captivated by the beauty of the life that I saw. I had encountered sisters, but I had never really seen their life of prayer and their life of community,” the 31-year-old said.
Still, a religious vocation never crossed her mind growing up.
Shortly after starting as an environmental science major at the University of Notre Dame, she realized that wasn’t the path for her.
“Within my first semester of classes it was pretty clear that wasn’t what I was meant to study. Something about it just didn’t quite click. So, I was exploring different possibilities of things to study,” she said.
A joy for high school Latin, a love of history, and interest in theology led some friends to suggest Medieval Studies.
“I thought, whoever thought of majoring in Medieval Studies? But Notre Dame had a really good Medieval Studies program that would allow me to study all those different things that I enjoyed.” So, she switched majors, which pointed her in the direction of the Dominicans again. “I really think that was in the Lord’s providence, because early on in that program I was able to take a class about religious orders and the Dominicans were founded in the Middle Ages, in the 1200s by St. Dominic. So, I had the opportunity to really study the life of St. Dominic and the spirituality of the early Dominicans.”
She liked the way St. Dominic tried to share the faith with those who hadn’t encountered it before or turned away from it.
“He wanted to bring them to the beauty of the truth. And I thought, in the Church today, we need that. We should have people who do that now,” Sister Maria Grace said.
Friends encouraged her to go to daily Mass and adoration. Through those friends and studies, she came to consider the possibility that she was being called to more than learn about the Dominicans, but live this way of life. So, she spoke with some of the sisters and took it to prayer.
“More than anything else, a religious vocation is a gift from the Lord and an invitation to closeness with him above and beyond anything that we do. Each day is meant to bring us closer to Jesus, so we can bring Jesus to each of the people we meet in the apostolate. In that life of prayer, I felt this was what the Lord was calling me to.”
Her friends were not surprised when she shared her thoughts on her vocation. Her family was a different story.
“Since I am an only child, I think it was difficult for them at first,” she said. “Also, because their experience with religious life was somewhat limited, and I was looking at a community that was national – in another state. For those reasons it was difficult for them at first. But it was beautiful to see the Lord open my heart to receiving the vocation and open their hearts to receiving the Vocation.”
The sisters all receive assignments one year at a time. Sister Maria Grace currently teaches freshman English at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, Indiana, Whatever the future holds, she is sure she is on the right path.
“The Lord promises one hundredfold to those who follow Him. We know ultimately that will be fulfilled in eternity, that we will have that grace of being with Him for all of eternity, we hope. But He does also promise us one hundredfold in this life. I’ve really had the gift of receiving that both in prayer and especially in community life,” she said.
The order always has at least three sisters, often more, living together at a mission. Sister Maria Grace currently lives with six sisters.
“I think that’s part of our experience of the hundredfold, being able to share our journey of faith with those sisters, to support one another. Through my sisters I have received the gift of great friendship.”