By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Valerie Wilson believes she’s as prepared as any bride could be and is excitedly and nervously awaiting the moment when she walks down the aisle.
Waiting at the altar, however, will not be a groom made of flesh and blood, but the opportunity to be espoused to Jesus Christ.
During a ceremony, where she’ll wear a wedding gown and will receive a veil and a ring, Wilson, 44, will receive the Rite of Consecration of a Virgin Living in the World.
The service, at which Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will preside, will take place June 4 at 1 p.m. at St. Martin of Tours Church, 639 S. Shelby St.
“I’m looking forward to fulfilling my call,” said Wilson. “I’m looking forward to being the bride of Christ. That’s beautiful.”
The consecration of a virgin is an ancient rite in the Catholic Church in which a woman commits to living a life of “perpetual virginity,” and is “set aside as a sacred person who belongs only to Christ,” according to the church’s code of canon law.
The diocesan bishop makes the decision whether to accept an individual for consecration. In Wilson’s case, she sent a letter to Archbishop Kurtz about four years ago expressing her desire to be consecrated.
Unlike a religious sister, a consecrated virgin does not make vows or belong to a religious order. She lives independently and is responsible for providing financially for herself. One of the major pillars of this vocation is prayer.
The consecrated virgin is to recite daily the Liturgy of the Hours (an edition of the Liturgy of the Hours will be presented to her during the service June 4), dedicate herself to morning and evening prayers and live her life in service to her church community, according to the website of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, a national organization that acts as a support system for women called to this vocation.
Wilson, one of six siblings, grew up in La Grange, Ky., where the family attended Immaculate Conception Church. She also attended Immaculate Conception School. Growing up, she said, her grandfather, Bertram Lancaster Smith Sr., influenced her significantly. She recalls fondly his Sunday visits when he brought a statue of Mother Mary and prayed the rosary with her.
“He was very steeped in his faith,” she said.
After elementary school, Wilson said, she fell away from the Catholic faith, but her grandfather’s strong influence made a lasting impression on her.
Working downtown during her 20s, she said, helped her cut a path back to the church. She started attending daily Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption. She did this for five years, but what really “stoked” her “conversion,” she said, was the decision to return to the sacrament of reconciliation.
“I was able to experience the beauty, glory and peace of God in a way I hadn’t before,” she said. “I felt like the prodigal daughter.”
About nine years ago, Wilson said she had an epiphany.
“I realized my greatest joy in life is serving the Lord,” she said, the memory bringing a bright smile to her face. That’s when she realized her vocation may be consecrated life, she explained.
She spent the next several years discerning how best to answer that call. Doing so, she noted, proved to be more challenging than she’d thought. And disappointment led her to quit discerning for a time. Yet, she said, “I knew I wanted to serve the Lord.”
A near car accident on a trip to the mountains made it clear that God didn’t want her to give up, Wilson said. “It was like God shaking me and saying ‘I want you to do something.’ ”
From that moment on Wilson said she’s not looked back. She has beaten all the odds that threatened to derail her, including a recent bout with cancer, she said.
“The mercy he’s (God) shown me has been infinite,” she said. “His mercy never stops.”
Though consecrated virgins live independently, this is an ecclesial vocation which should be “lived out in the greater church,” said Father Michael Wimsatt, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville Vocation Office. Father Wimsatt worked with Wilson during her discernment.
“Her witness is not just personal, but it’s a witness to the church and faith,” said Father Wimsatt. Consecrated virginity, he noted “is a gift from God to be shared with the church and the world.”
The rite is rare and it’s estimated that there are only about 200 consecrated virgins in the United States, Father Wimsatt added.
Wilson said that since returning to the church, her life has been one of prayer and service. She teaches religion to second-graders at Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky., and teaches children going through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program at Holy Trinity Church.
She attends St. Martin of Tours for eucharistic adoration and monthly devotions and St. Louis Bertrand Church for daily and weekend Masses.
“I’m looking forward to accompanying others and doing whatever God calls me to do,” said Wilson.
The public is invited to attend the rite at St. Martin and priests in the Archdiocese of Louisville are invited to concelebrate with Archbishop Kurtz.
Helen Groudis, who formerly belonged to the Sisters of Jesus Crucified and the Sorrowful Mother, left religious life and was consecrated as a virgin by Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly in 1998 on the campus of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. She later moved to Missouri.
This story was updated June 22.