Photo taken at the Rite of Consecration of Holly Garnett that took place on Oct. 1, 2022. Linda

Consecrated virgins commit to the ultimate groom

  • November 2, 2023

A woman standing in a church wearing a white dress and veil is an instantly recognizable image, but for a small yet growing number of Catholic women, the groom that awaits them at the altar is not a nervous young man but Jesus Himself.

These women are members of the Order of Virgins and on Nov. 18, Manitoba native Talitha Lemoine will become the latest Canadian woman to be consecrated.

For Lemoine, there is a sense of delighted surprise that the various strands of her life have been brought together in such a seamless way.

“I can’t believe that this is actually a real thing, that it’s not just made up in my mind, that I can be the spouse of Jesus in the world and have this life,” Lemoine told The Catholic Register.

The Order of Virgins is the very oldest form of consecrated life, dating back to the earliest days of the Church before religious life became institutionalized in the monasteries and convents of the Middle Ages.

Sts. Agatha and Lucy, third- entury women of the Roman Empire, are recognized as consecrated virgins by the Church.

Interest in this most unique of vocations was renewed after the Second Vatican Council. In 1970, a Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World was made available.

Since 2006, Lemoine has been a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), a campus ministry organization active on universities across the country.

Lemoine spent several years discerning with the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. Though she ultimately decided against staying with the community, she still felt a strong call to the consecrated life.

It was through a friend and a fellow CCO missionary that Lemoine was introduced to the idea of consecrated virginity.

Lemoine was intrigued and joined a group of women to read through the 2018 Vatican document Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago (ESI) that explicates and formalizes the Ordo virginum. Of approximately eight women who gathered to discuss and pray on Zoom, three are now consecrated virgins and the rest are in formation.

One of those women is Holly Garnett. A political science professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Garnett was consecrated in 2022.

Garnett explains the consecrated life, a life espoused to Jesus, as being a foretaste of Heaven.

“I like to say that consecrated virgins are just impatient. They want to live the eternal wedding banquet now. Our vocation is the same one that everyone gets to live in Heaven.”

As a CCO missionary, Lemoine can describe her day job as one actively engaged in prayer and evangelization, but she notes the Order has women who are engaged in many different forms of life.

Three women were consecrated for the Archdiocese of Ottawa in 2019.

“They were in three different places in life,” said Lemoine. “One was in her early 30s and a psychiatrist. Another one works for the government. She’s probably in her 50s. And then another one is in her late 60s and retired.”

Garnett sees herself as exemplifying that great diversity.

“I am a university professor, taking a pay cheque and will receive a government pension,” said Garnett. “The form of life for consecrated virgins is really unique to each individual.”

Consecrated virgins are committed to a particular diocese and under the jurisdiction of the local ordinary. The ESI notes that the women are to “bring to prayer the needs of the diocese and, in particular, the intentions of the Bishop.”

Lemoine, despite having begun the discernment process in Montreal and working in Halifax, will be received in the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall. The bilingual diocese suits the Manitoba native, and CCO’s headquarters are in Ottawa. Lemoine is often there for meetings and expects that at some point her role at CCO will bring her to the city full-time. 

“I thought that my consecration was going to have to wait until I was living there, but the bishop is open to me being consecrated there (and) being sent somewhere else for a few years, like missionary.”

When asked what will be different for her after Nov. 18, Lemoine said, “I think there’s a freedom that comes from knowing that this is definitive. If in a few years I’m going through something hard or if I fall in love or whatever, I can say ‘no,’ this commitment is what I’ve been called to.”

Garnett, after a year as a consecrated virgin, says, “I don’t think you can get any better than being married to Christ.”

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