Iraqi sister founding religious order to serve Boston's spiritually poor

SrOlga CNA US Catholic News 6 22 11 Sr. Olga Yaqob

Iraqi Sister Olga Yaqob is beginning a women's religious order in the Boston archdiocese this year, to carry out the Church's mission to evangelize.

“Our main spirituality will focus on Jesus, and then carry His presence out into the world,” Sr. Olga of the Eucharist told CNA on June 21.

“I have seen a lot of spiritual poverty in our country – people who are spiritually hungry,” she said. “They don't know what kind of loving Father we have, what kind of beautiful faith our Catholic Church has.”

The 44 year-old sister – known for her tireless energy and beloved by her students – responded to an invitation from Cardinal Sean O'Malley to start the new order and is leaving her current post as chaplain at Boston University.

Sr. Olga explained in a June 21 interview that the process of founding the Daughters of Mary, Our Lady of Nazareth has been three years in the making.

She said that Cardinal O'Malley was familiar with her personal story, including her conversion to the Roman Catholic Church six years ago after being a member of the Assyrian Church in Iraq and starting a women's order there in 1995.

“He knew a lot about the history of my vocation and ministry in Iraq and also here in the United States before he received me into his diocese,” she said.

After observing her work with young people at Boston University, as well as her service to parishes throughout the archdiocese, the cardinal asked Sr. Olga in 2008 if she would consider founding a new women's religious community.

“To be honest I was really sort of surprised – I never thought I would do something like this again,” she said, “and humanly speaking I was a little bit afraid as well because it takes a lot of suffering to start a new order.”

However, she said that ultimately, “it wasn't really so much questioning cardinal's discernment, it was more just to discern the timing.”

Sr. Olga noted that the decision to launch the effort this year was perfect, and that “it's really amazing to see the response since the announcement has been made.”

She said that a group of young women from Boston University have been discerning joining the community with her and she's been receiving phone calls from parishes and adult Catholic communities in the area as well as from people out of state. 

“It's been really a tremendous response,” she said.

Right now, however, the main tasks at hand are drafting the order's constitutions and looking for possible locations for a convent.

“I've told everyone that until the constitutions are signed by His Eminence I won't be able to officially welcome anyone,” she said. Meanwhile, the Iraqi sister has already started the official steps “in terms of writing the constitution and other canonical steps.”

Sr. Olga said that “if everything comes together” the community will open by fall or the end of this year.

She noted that the chosen name of the order – the Daughters of Mary, Our Lady of Nazareth –  has “a lot to do with the ministry that we will be doing.”

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“We will be a very Eucharistic and Marian order – Eucharistic communion, daily adoration, and Marian devotion,” she said. “These will be the two lungs we will be breathing out of as religious women.”

“I personally chose the words 'daughters' instead of 'sisters' of Mary because it keeps us focused on that element of humility,” Sr. Olga said. “We always look up to our mother to teach us and guide us and lead us as we try to bring the good news of Jesus' love and mercy to the world.”

She said that the group “will be a contemplative and apostolic community,” meaning that they will base their spirituality off of contemplative prayer but still go out into the community to perform “corporal and spiritual works of mercy.”

Sr. Olga also said the order's habits will consist of a simple blue gown and veil along with a draped rosary.

She emphasized how the “presence of a religious sister wearing a habit, bringing a smile and that motherly face of the Church” serves as profound witness to the surrounding culture.

“To have that spiritual presence of a religious sister and bringing that motherhood of the Church – it's very much needed in our country,” she said. 

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