Sister Mary Sacrifice Vows to Transform Culture
“One Sister Can Change the World” was the t-shirt Diane Marie Whitehead wore at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where she graduated in 2014.
Now, on Sept. 14, 2021, she made her final vows as Sr. Mary Altar of Sacrifice and is ready to prove that shirt right.
Sister Sacrifice is now a fully professed member of the congregation the Sisters of the Lord of the Virgin of Matará, the female branch of the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word, whose goal is the evangelize culture in the United States and all over the world.
“Merry Christmas from all of us SSVM Sisters here in Papua New Guinea!” she said in announcing the news to Benedictine College, and including pictures of the nativity play she put on with children there.
“Thanks be to God, I decided to go to Benedictine College, where I fell even more in love with Jesus and my Catholic faith, discovered my religious vocation, and finished my degrees in Elementary and Special Education,” she wrote in a blog post for her religious congregation.
Sister Sacrifice was very involved in Benedictine College’s mission of community, faith and scholarship while a student at Benedictine.
To build community, she was a ROC Leader, helping orient new students to the campus, and was involved in Oktoberfest and the Spring Color Run two years in a row. To promote faith, she helped with a “Nun Run” of students who wore “One Sister Can Change the World” T-Shirts. In scholarship, she was a star in the elementary education program, including time at the college’s campus in Florence, Italy.
She has brought that same enthusiasm to the Sisters, for instance when this year she organized an American Thanksgiving dinner in Papua New Guinea. “There aren’t any turkeys in Vanimo — we used two small ducks instead,” she said, and “we were able to find many colorful fall decorations to brighten the house and set the holiday mood. God bless America!”
Sister Sacrifice visited the United States for a mission weekend and expressed her thanks afterward for the generosity of Nativity Parish in Leawood, Kansas, saying “You are re-membered in our prayers in a special way. Also, be assured that God is never outdone in generosity, so may he bless you in the ways that only he can!”
The work Sister Sacrifice is doing at an elementary school is important to her, because her own childhood made a big impact on her life.
“I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and went to Catholic school my whole life, from kindergarten through Benedictine College,” she said. “Thanks be to God, I was given a Catholic upbringing not only at school but also at home.”
“Although I have a truly bad memory, I distinctly remember the different moments of the sacraments in my life,” she said.
“Preparing for First Communion, I remember arguing with my mom about not wanting to wear the fancy white dress. I really disliked dresses because I was a tomboy who grew up with three older brothers,” she said. “However, I understood the importance of the sacrament and was so excited to receive Jesus that I knew that I had to look my very best.”
Her religious imagination was captivated by the missions.
“When I was in seventh grade, about the age of 12, I decided to plan my life,” she said. “I decided that I would be a missionary. I wanted to go to Africa and care for the children, especially those in most need. However, the missing piece of my life puzzle was that I didn’t even know what ‘being a missionary’ really meant, and I had never thought about how my vocation would fit into my life either.”
Confirmation was a turning point, she said. “Our religion teacher told us ‘this is the moment that you become an adult in the Church and have to take your faith as your own, so you must decide what you will do with it!’ After that, I continually got more involved in the Church throughout high school by joining the youth group, aiding with junior high youth group, lectoring, being a Eucharistic Minister, leading retreats, frequenting the sacraments of confession and communion, etc.”
A two-week mission trip to Peru made her fall in love with mission work and that love returned when she graduated from Benedictine College.
That is when she discovered the SSVM sisters. “When I visited them for the first time during college, there was a moment of actual grace that I understood this is where God was calling me to fulfill my vocation, and here, He would fulfill all the desires of my heart. I could see the puzzle pieces all fit perfectly together.”
She found her home in the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word, which began as the priestly Institute of the Incarnate Word, founded in Argentina in 1984. The Institute of the Incarnate Word considers its work to be the evangelization of the culture. The congregation has made headlines recently by ministering to Catholics in Iraq and Syrian refugees in the Middle East.
“As Catholics, we are all called to be missionaries,” Sister Sacrifice said. “As St. Catherine of Siena said, ‘If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire!’ We must look at our life and ask, ‘am I truly living the Gospel in my daily life and following Jesus in everything I think, say, and do?’ Then, we must complete Christ’s mandate to love our neighbors and bring the Gospel to those closest to us.”