Eltopia native makes perpetual vows with T.O.R. Franciscan Sisters
Sister Teresa (Malbri) Reyes, Sister Anna Rose Ciarrone and Sister Mary Gemma (Katherine) Harris professed perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience as members of the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother on July 6. Bishop Jeffrey Monforton said the Mass at Father of Mercy Chapel at the community’s Motherhouse in Toronto, Ohio.
Maria Reyes, Sister Teresa’s mother, aptly described the ceremony: “It was a moment when heaven and earth came together!” The Mass began with a procession including the sisters and their parents. The sisters entered in their gray habits covered by white capes. Their heads were crowned with a circlet of white and red roses. Red symbolizes the sisters’ charism of “crucified love” – loving in imitation of Jesus, who laid down His life for His friends, while white roses represent the call to “white martyrdom,” the self-sacrifice of daily life. The white cape is like a wedding dress that also hearkens to the baptismal garment as a reminder that religious consecration is founded on baptismal consecration.
All three sisters entered the community in August of 2011. Sister Teresa, from Passaic, N.J., is the daughter of Pedro and Maria Reyes, who still reside in Passaic. As a student at Rutgers University, Sister Teresa felt drawn to religious life. She said of that time, “I realized that [Christ] alone can love me perfectly and that in Him alone can I place my hope for true, lasting happiness. He alone can satisfy the desires of my heart.”
Sister Anna Rose is from Parma, Ohio; her parents, Rich and Linda Ciarrone, still live there. Though she knew wonderful religious sisters growing up, only after college, while doing a year of service, did she begin to seriously contemplate religious life. As she discerned her vocation, the Franciscan Sisters is where her “heart finally rested.”
Sister Mary Gemma hails from Eltopia, Wash., where her parents, Todd and Mary Harris, still reside. Drawn to the Lord from a young age, a homily during Mass at Franciscan University of Steubenville prompted her to visit the Franciscan Sisters. She said about her final vows, “The only true reason for my commitment is love – not necessity, not urgency, not productivity, not even evangelization. Love is the only thing that remains when the dust settles.” Sister Mary Gemma is wrapping up three years in campus ministry at Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria campus, where she coordinated liturgical music groups, mentored students and advised mission trips to Romania.
The Franciscan Sisters, Third Order Regular of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother was founded in 1988 to renew the contemplative dimension of the early Franciscans. Their most important ministry is prayer. The sisters have daily eucharistic adoration, Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, as well as extended times for solitude and additional prayer. They also pray for the Church and the world through praise and worship several times a week and engage in corporal and spiritual works of mercy, primarily through service to and life among the materially poor, college campus ministry and retreat ministry.
Excerpts from Sister Mary Gemma’s vocation story
“St. Therese once wrote, ‘I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire.’” Since I first read that a few years ago, I have discovered that the Lord has an amazing way of fulfilling the desires of our hearts, however imperfect they may be, in His perfect plan. He can change our hearts if we are willing, and we just need the courage to say “yes” without hesitation. I often look back and smile at how God has led me to Him since then, transporting me from a small town in Eastern Washington to Toronto, Ohio!
I had always felt secure in the love that my own wonderful father had for me and the love that the Heavenly Father had for me, but I still wanted something more — to be caught up in a love story.
Any hesitation I still had about religious life just dissolved when I was with the TORs – there was no place more natural for me to be, no place more joyful and genuine that I had ever been. ... I could not help but fall in love with their examples of joyful submission to the will of God. I began to think that I would not be able to resist saying “yes” if the Lord did ask me to be His bride.
About a year later, I went bridesmaid dress shopping with some friends. In one of the stores, while we were waiting for the bride-to-be to try on a dress, I went through one of the racks filled with beautiful white dresses, some with silver beads, some with pearls, some with long trains. I can still remember moving my hands through the dresses, and hearing distinctly in my mind the words: “This is not for me.” I knew that I would not be that kind of bride. At first, I felt sadness, but then a supernatural joy. I knew that was the Lord, speaking in His own quiet way, telling me His plan was so much greater.
On Aug. 14, 2011, I entered the Franciscan Sisters, TOR and I am so happy to be where He wants me! As Psalm 20:4 says, “May He grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.”
Read Sister Mary Gemma Harris’ vocation story at