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Fifty years of grace

Main celebrant Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, crowns Sr Petronilla during her jubilee Mass at St Charles RC Church, Tunapuna.

By Kaelanne Jordan,

“If I had to choose again, I will not choose any other life but religious life.”

Sr Petronilla Joseph O Carm, Prioress General of the Congregation of Corpus Christi Carmelites, celebrated her 50th anniversary of religious profession with Holy Mass at St Charles Borromeo RC Church, Tunapuna, last December.

The chief celebrant was Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica.

Reflecting on her jubilee milestone, Sr Petronilla pondered, “Lord, what did I do over these last 50 years? What have I really accomplished? Having celebrated 50 years of religious life has given me the opportunity to look back and analyse the gift that I am returning to God in light of the blessings that I continue to receive.”

In an interview with Catholic News in January, Sr Petronilla recalled some pleasant and funny stories of her past. She acknowledged with profound gratitude, the significant contribution of many persons who had touched her life and whose lives in turn, she had touched during her 50 years of dedicated and faithful service to the Church and to the people of God.

Important on this list, Sr Petronilla thanked her deceased parents George and Octavia Joseph whose commitment and dedication to their duty as parents and her first educators, established the firm foundation on which she was able, by God’s grace, to respond willingly to the call to religious life.

Sr Petronilla shared that her journey began when she entered the Carmelites convent on January 6, 1967, the Feast of Epiphany. The third to last of 11 siblings, Sr Petronilla recalled that from the early age of seven, she was impressed by the Corpus Christi Carmelites at the St John Evangelist parish in Diego Martin.

She said that she enjoyed hearing the sisters praying and would visit the parish church during break time when they would be heard chanting certain prayers. It was listening to the prayers and admiring the activities in which the sisters were engaged which prompted her desire to follow in their footsteps.

“As I grew older, I became more convinced that I was being called to Religious Life and particularly to the Corpus Christi Carmelites because of the variety of works in which they were involved.”

The end of Sr Petronilla’s novitiate year, took her to St Jude School for Girls where she spent one year before being assigned to the Corpus Christi High School in Diego Martin.

Service of love

Sr Petronilla’s early years at Corpus Christi High School were challenging.

She explained that parents were not easy especially if they felt that you were too young to be in charge. But she obtained the courage to remain faithful through prayer.

With her degree in Business Education, Sr Petronilla introduced vocational skills including job-entry training which the school pioneered in 1976.  “I really feel proud of Corpus Christi College and its accomplishments in spite of the challenges we currently face.”

She revealed with a sense of pride that the College will celebrate 60 years September 8, 2019, adding, “so it means that we must have been doing something good”. However, Sr Petronilla was persistent that there needs to be a revamping of the education system towards a more holistic approach.

Some of the challenges she faced as a principal in these times included understanding the young person in today’s world, a concern for the lack of prayer, the breakdown in family life and the abuse of social media. Her solution is simply, “prayer and more prayer”.

And this is exactly what Sr Petronilla attempts to do at Corpus Christi College where prayer has become the axis around which everything turns. Sr Petronilla’s aim is to ensure that students are helped to recognise God’s presence at all times and to utilise their God-given talents to the best of their ability.

Ultimately, Sr Petronilla expressed that she wants to leave behind a legacy of a life committed to God and the desire to remain faithful to her motto: ‘To Love is to Serve’.