Consecrated virgin Loretta Matulich, 78, delivers a reading at St. John the Apostle Church in Oregon City last month. Matulich was the first woman consecrated in the Archdiocese of Portland after the rite was restored. There currently are four consecrated virgins in the archdiocese, with two additional women set to be consecrated in May. (Courtesy Loretta Matulich)
Consecrated virgin Loretta Matulich, 78, delivers a reading at St. John the Apostle Church in Oregon City last month. Matulich was the first woman consecrated in the Archdiocese of Portland after the rite was restored. There currently are four consecrated virgins in the archdiocese, with two additional women set to be consecrated in May. (Courtesy Loretta Matulich)

“I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his glory.” So sings a consecrated virgin during the solemn, elaborate rite of consecration.

Referred to in the New Testament and by early Christian writers, consecrated virginity likely was common in the first centuries. “Its roots … are ancient,” said Pope Benedict XVI in a 2008 address. “They date back to the dawn of apostolic times when, with unheard of daring, certain women began to open their hearts to the desire for consecrated virginity, in other words, to the desire to give the whole of their being to God.”

Among the consecrated virgins in the early church were Sts. Cecilia, Agnes and Lucy.

Yet as women began forming and entering religious orders, the practice of consecrated virgins living in the world declined, falling into disuse by the year 1,000. Nevertheless, the rite was preserved in some monastic orders.

The Second Vatican Council ensured consecrated virginity’s renewal in the modern world when it called for a revision of the rite. The revised rite was promulgated in 1970.

According to canon law, women seeking this vocation must be consecrated through the diocesan bishop, who approves the conditions under which a woman will live her vocation. Candidates must have never been married or lived in open violation of chastity, and the consecration is irrevocable.

Upon consecration, a woman becomes a “bride of Christ” and dedicates herself to the service of the church while living in the midst of the world.

Consecrated virginity is related to but distinct from other forms of consecrated life. In a religious profession, a woman actively dedicates herself to God through her vows. A consecration means a woman is on the receiving end — dedicated by the bishop to God and surrendering to God’s action.

A consecrated virgin typically does not live within a community and she does not wear distinctive attire. Women provide for their material needs and are not restricted to a particular apostolate. Each chooses her service to the church according to her natural and spiritual gifts and time available.

Women are encouraged to discern for one to two years, and formal formation lasts two to three years. Formation requirements are determined within each diocese.

More than 45 years ago, Loretta Matulich became the first woman consecrated in the Archdiocese of Portland. She was the third woman in the United States to be consecrated after the rite was restored.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything; it’s the best vocation God could have given me,” said the 78-year-old Matulich, a retired community college teacher.

The Vatican congregation responsible for consecrated life estimates there are around 5,000 consecrated virgins worldwide. As of 2018, there were 254 consecrated virgins in the United States, with four in the Portland Archdiocese. Two women — Skyla Chamard and Miriam Marston — will be consecrated in the archdiocese this spring.

Chamard, 59, works as a bus aide for children with special needs attending Eugene public schools. Like other consecrated virgins, she serves the church in a variety of ways.

“When you are searching for your vocation and then you find what God’s calling you to, it is something special,” said Chamard. “You’ll never be happier and more fulfilled than in that vocation.”

The growing number of consecrated virgins in the archdiocese “adds a lot of variety and diversity and richness to witness for consecration,” said Franciscan Sister Veronica Schueler, chancellor of the archdiocese and delegate for consecrated life. The vocation is deeply needed today, “when every aspect of human sexuality is under attack,” she said, adding that it takes “a lot of courage to enter into something that’s not well understood by people, even Catholics.”

Last year, the Vatican published a new set of instructions regarding consecrated virginity, which were met with some criticism. Concerns include that it lacks clarity about prerequisites for the rite. Matulich, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Oregon City, believes it has defects but said she’s hopeful they will be resolved eventually.

The consecrated virgin is a striking sign of the life that is possible in heaven, of a “life belonging completely to Christ,” said Marston.

To soon have six women consecrated in the state “is a great gift from God,” Matulich said. “We hope we are drawing down grace upon Oregon.”

Learn more

For additional information about consecrated virginity, visit the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins website, consecratedvirgins.org. Loretta Matulich of the Portland Archdiocese was founding president of the association.