Maronite Sister to profess first vows March 19


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

DARTMOUTH, Mass. — The joy and excitement in Sister Natalie Sayde Salameh’s voice is apparent as she prepares to take the next step in her road to religious life by professing her first vows as a member of the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light.

“This has been a long time in the making and it’s been a two-year postulancy and a then two-year novitiate,” Sister Natalie recently told The Anchor. “This is a very beautiful occasion for me. I hope I’m not going to be an emotional wreck. As soon as I found out the news of the day, I was in tears — but they were tears of joy, of course.”

Having completed her initial four years of formation, Sister Natalie will profess her first vows on Monday, March 19 during a Liturgy at St. Anthony of the Desert Church in Fall River beginning at 6:30 p.m.

It certainly will be a departure for the native of Sydney, Australia who previously was a government employee.

sister_natalie

“I joined the Maronite Servants (of Christ the Light) when I was 28 years old after a six-year career in the New South Wales local government,” Sister Natalie said. “I was a government employee, or a government bureaucrat, you could say.”

Even though she had a respectable job with decent pay, Sister Natalie said she felt “very dissatisfied” with her career choice.

“There was a hole in my heart and an annoying feeling of emptiness,” she said. “I wanted for nothing materially, but it just wasn’t satisfying the deepest inclinations of my heart. That’s when I finally said, you know what, Lord, I’m sick of doing this my way. This is not getting me anywhere. So I just said a very simple prayer and I wasn’t really praying very much to be honest with you. I wasn’t somebody that was mega-close to God.”

Sister Natalie said she discerned her vocation after asking God what He wanted for her.

“I’ll never forget it — I just said: I’m sick of telling You what I want. Why don’t You tell me what You want, because I know that You want what’s best for me,” she said. “Really, that was it.”

After praying for guidance, Sister Natalie said a girl who admittedly never used to think about Jesus during the day suddenly found she “couldn’t stop thinking about the Lord.”

“It was such a powerful experience,” she said. “It was like this mosquito that kept putting Jesus into my head. It really was amazing. And I said to myself: ‘you know what, I need to follow this voice.’ It was not going away. It’s weird because I knew I loved Jesus, but I didn’t quite know what to make of this.”

In answer to her prayer, Sister Natalie said she soon found herself drawn to a Roman Catholic church located just minutes from where she was working which she never really noticed before.

“I’ll never forget it was St. Patrick’s Church and I remember walking in and Jesus was exposed in the Blessed Sacrament and Confessions were going on in the back,” she said. “A great deal of people were in there. But, oh my gosh, did I feel a sense of calm and peace just rush over me and a voice within say, ‘Come draw close to Me and I will give you all you need.’ That is the voice that I followed.”

Sister Natalie began to make daily pilgrimages to St. Patrick’s Church during her lunch hour to go to Confession and attend Mass.

“It was literally about two minutes on foot from where my office was and I would go there at 12:15 every single day and attend Mass during my lunch hour and then stay a little bit behind as they exposed Jesus in a very beautiful monstrance and just speak with Him a little bit,” she said. “And then I would come back to work where, of course, they were totally oblivious to what was happening.”

Knowing nothing about her calling, Sister Natalie remembers that her manager suspected she had a new boyfriend.

“When I sat down in his office and said I am tendering my resignation because I want to be a nun, he almost fell off his chair,” she said. “This is the corporate world, the secular world. They don’t give a lot of mind to religion and Jesus. He said: ‘I thought you had a new boyfriend.’ And I said: ‘Well, I did — I fell in love with Jesus.’ I said something has radically altered my perspective on life and I have to follow this voice, I have to.”

Having been baptized and raised in the Maronite Church, Sister Natalie said she felt compelled to find an order in that same tradition. 

“From the very beginning, it was always a very big part of my life,” she said. “I always had this strong sense of my Maronite identity. And it helped having such a strong parish nearby — St. Charbel’s, which is made up of 10,000 families and they’re very active and very involved with the youth and they have a lot of programs. So I was being fed Spiritually.”

After briefly considering another Lebanese order based in Australia — the Holy Family Sisters — Sister Natalie found herself drawn to the newly-formed Maronite Servants of Christ the Light.

“I first met the Maronite Servants in February of 2013, when they came to give a vocation talk to a ladies youth group that I used to attend in Sydney,” she said. “I remember walking in that night — I’ll never forget it was Feb. 14, 2013, Valentine’s Day — and I asked: ‘What the heck are these nuns doing here?’

“But the funny thing is, the joke was on me. Each of them spoke about how they discerned the call of God in their life; and it was really Mother Marla Marie’s story that captivated me the most because the similarities were unbelievable. Like me, she had studied, went to a good university, she was very into her career and wasn’t interested in a vocation, but God touched her heart. And it is amazing because I was sitting there listening to them both speak and I’ve got to say alarm bells were ringing in my head and I remember thinking: ‘Could this be it, Lord?’”

After dashing off an email to Mother Marla Marie and Sister Therese that weekend, she met with the two nuns the following Monday and was soon making plans to come to the U.S. for a “come and see” trip in April.

“I just knew it was a fit,” Sister Natalie said. “I know it seems crazy and you’re thinking: ‘Oh my gosh, Sister, you made this decision within a few months. But that voice was unmistakable, really. And I knew that feeling of emptiness was dissipating. I just knew that was His doing. And I can honestly say, as I look back and think, I know what it’s like to live without You, Lord. And I know what it’s like to live with You, and it just doesn’t compare.”

Established in 2008, the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light was initially established in the Boston area, where the congregation rented a temporary formation house in Weymouth from Immaculate Conception Parish. But when property that was a former novitiate house for the Dominican Sisters on Tucker Road in Dartmouth became available in 2011, the Maronite order relocated to the Fall River Diocese.

The motherhouse here is called the Mother of Light Convent, which is currently home to Sister Natalie, Sister Therese Maria Touma and Mother Marla Marie, the order’s superior.

Sister Natalie said she was immediately drawn to the order’s charism, which is greatly inspired by St. Teresa of Calcutta.

“It’s a beautiful and much-needed mission,” she said. “We’re not in the schools, so nobody can see us there, we’re not in nursing homes, we’re not attached to an institution — we’re attached to that beautiful nucleus called the parish where so much goes on, where so much happens behind the scenes. We don’t always get to see the fruits of our ministry, of our prayers, or our sacrifices, but on certain occasions, God has allowed me to see the amazing impact that our mission has on people’s lives.”

Since July, Sister Natalie has been serving St. Anthony of the Desert Parish in Fall River, and she anticipates spending the next three to five years in continued formation doing a combination of parish ministry work and academic studies and taking a more “hands-on approach” to her apostolate.

“I’ll just be very happy to be considered a consecrated woman after (March 19),” Sister Natalie said. “I expect to continue serving the parish by visiting the homebound and sick. It’s something I love doing. And it puts a smile on their face when they know that somebody from the Church is giving them some attention. It just makes them feel special and they are special.”



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