By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
The Thursday after her consecration, the joy set in for Suzanne Lott: “I’m espoused to Jesus, and that’s forever!”
|Suzanne Lott, the first consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Duluth, stands with Bishop Daniel Felton at the conclusion of her consecration Mass. (Photo courtesy of Mary Rasch)|
Lott became the first consecrated virgin in the history of the Diocese of Duluth Friday, Oct. 29, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth, in a Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel Felton.
What is a consecrated virgin?
Consecrated virginity is an ancient vocation in the church, but one that was uncommon for centuries until being renewed in 1970. According to the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, there are about 250 in the United States and only 4,000 in the world.
“A consecrated virgin is a woman who, after renewing her resolve to remain a virgin is dedicated to Jesus forever,” Bishop Felton said in his homily. “The consecration of virgins goes back to the early days of the church, when some women felt called by God to give themselves entirely to him, to be concerned only about the things of the Lord, as the Apostle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7. Through a rite of consecration, you will be betrothed to Jesus this day as your divine spouse. As a bride, you will serve to be a sign of Christ’s presence in the world, his bride the church.”
“Consecrated virgins are committed to seeking intimacy with the divine spouse in all things,” he continued. “Your life is lived in prayer and penance for clergy, the church, and the world. Using the gifts God has given to you, you will serve Christ in and through the church, with a particular connection to the home of the Diocese of Duluth. Consecrated virgins do not wear a habit or take a new name as religious sisters or nuns do, but today Suzanne will receive a ring, as a symbol of her spousal union with Jesus Christ.”
Lott said that while women religious make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and live in community, consecrated virgins live in the world and are financially responsible for themselves. Their virginity is permanent, but it comes in the form of a resolve that is consecrated.
Bishop Felton, in his homily, told Lott, “You have renounced marriage for the sake of your love relationship with Christ. Your motherhood will be a motherhood of the spirit, as you do the will of Jesus and work with others in a spirit of charity so that a great family of children may be born or reborn to the life of grace in Jesus Christ, in and through you as a consecrated virgin.”
|At her consecration Mass, Suzanne Lott hugs Stephanie Winter, one of her attendants, with her other attendant, Sara Scheunemann, a consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Green Bay, standing by. (Photo courtesy of Mary Rasch)|
Receiving the call
Lott, 38, said she grew up in Duluth and was raised Catholic but fell away from faith in the tenth or 11th grade, when she dropped out of religious education. She returned to the faith and was confirmed as an adult in 2008, and she said it was then that she began learning more about her faith and about who God is.
“In 2009, at Ash Wednesday Mass, I went to Mass and there heard God say that he loves me,” she said. “And that was a big kind of conversion moment. That was the first time I saw God as a person and having a relationship with him. And that just continued to grow, just started to look for ways to learn about my faith.”
She also came to understand that while her faith is personal, it is not private.
“That was hard for me to just kind of open up and share my faith,” she said. “But then after that moment of hearing that God loves me and seeing it more as a relationship, I started to have relationships with other people, like faith relationships, sharing faith and hearing their stories.”
That year she began meeting with a spiritual director and discerning the more common call of religious life. She visited a few religious orders and joined one in 2012, staying for a year but discerning that was not where she was called.
It was a confusing time, she said, still feeling called to give her life to Jesus but also being at peace that she wasn’t called to the order she had joined. Consecrated life came up a few times, but she didn’t know much about it.
In 2014, she spent several weeks with another order, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. “That was really good, really healing,” she said. “But I left that kind of at peace that I wasn’t called to religious life.”
Later that summer she went to an informational conference on consecrated virginity, and her desire to be espoused to Jesus grew stronger. On March 25, 2015, she made a private vow of virginity to God.
“A priest friend of mine had been meeting with Bishop [Paul] Sirba that day and mentioned the vow to him, and he said if she’s interested in a public rite, she should talk to me,” Lott said.
They started meeting that summer, the beginning of a formation process that continued until the bishop’s death in 2019.
There is no standard formation process — and certainly none in the Diocese of Duluth, where there had never been a consecrated virgin — so Lott met with Bishop Sirba monthly. The U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins has a book with information, and reading and discussing it with the bishop was part of it. The process also included elements similar to what clergy in formation go through — an application, references, and a psychological exam.
Lott said the process took longer than she expected, but when Bishop Felton arrived, things moved quickly. She said she introduced herself to him at the deanery Mass, he had already heard about her, he gave her his cell phone number and made it a priority. After two meetings the date was set.
In his homily, Bishop Felton said that things were already ready to be done when Bishop Sirba was here. “And so Bishop Sirba is here today, and I truly do believe that I have a co-consecrator of you this very day as we call you forth in prayer as a consecrated virgin,” he said.
Life as a consecrated virgin
The life of a consecrated virgin is one of prayer and penance while living in the world. It also involves service to the church.
|Suzanne Lott receives a veil from Bishop Daniel Felton as one of the symbols of her consecrated virginity in the Diocese of Duluth Oct. 29. (Photo courtesy of Mary Rasch)|
“Preserve the fullness of your faith, the steadfastness of you call, the single-heartedness of your love,” Bishop Felton counseled in his homily. “Be prudent and watch. Keep the glory of your virginity uncorrupted by pride. Nourish your love of God by feeding the one body of Christ. Let your thoughts be on the things of Jesus. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God. Make it your concern to pray fervently for the spread of the Christian faith and for the unity of all Christians. Pray earnestly to God for the welfare of the married. Remember also those who have forgotten that God’s forgiveness always extends to them in the fullness of charity.”
He noted her service, volunteering at her parish of St. Benedict in Duluth, her employment at St. Raphael in Duluth and St. Rose in Proctor, and also her work at Calvary Cemetery.
Lott said first and foremost the vocation is prayer and penance for the diocese, clergy, and the community. That includes praying the Liturgy of the Hours and participating in daily Mass.
The service can vary, she said, depending on the consecrated virgin. In addition to volunteering at St. Benedict, she has also assisted with things at the diocese, such as preparing for the Chrism Mass, and she likes working with children. But she’s still learning how things will look going forward.
Lott said she hopes her history-making consecration will help more women become aware of the possibility of this vocation or religious life.
“I’m excited about that,” she said.