September 21, 2013

‘This is the Way My Heart is Made’: Kristen Lopez ’05 becomes Sister Sophia, O.P.; 4 young alumnae following her example

Kristen Lopez ’05, aka Sister Sophia, O.P., says “something changed in my soul” the day she became a Dominican sister.
Kristen Lopez ’05, aka Sister Sophia, O.P., says “something changed in my soul” the day she became a Dominican Sister. 

By Vicki-Ann Downing

Kristen Lopez ’05 — known today as Sister Sophia, O.P. — was the first Providence College graduate to join the thriving Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn.

In July 2012, she made her perpetual profession of the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville surrounded by PC supporters — Rev. James Cuddy, O.P. ’98, the College’s chaplain; Rev. John Dickinson ’06, a priest in the Diocese of Portland, Maine; Friar Emanuel Vasconcelos ’06 & ’08G of the Conventual Franciscan Friars in Silver Spring, Md.; Elise Italiano ’06; Theodore Deeb ’05; and John Clarke ’15 (Tacoma, Wash.), whose sister also professed final vows.

Sister Sophia joined the Nashville Dominicans three months after her PC graduation and completed seven years of religious formation. At the moment she professed her final vows, “something changed in my soul, and I am forever the spouse of Christ,” Sister Sophia said.

The Nashville Dominicans are a traditional order. They wear habits, live in community, and engage in contemplative prayer. In addition to Aquinas College in Nashville, they staff 40 schools in the District of Columbia and 15 states — including St. Pius V School near the PC campus — and Australia, British Columbia, and Scotland.

During graduate studies at PC, they can be spotted playing Frisbee or ice skating, their long white robes flowing behind them. They seem always to be smiling, and their joy is contagious.

Maybe that’s why, while the average age of religious sisters in the United States is increasing and their numbers declining, the Nashville Dominicans are thriving. The community has grown by 46 percent in the past 14 years. Their median age is 35. Sixty percent are under age 40.

“I thought that religious life was a life of suffering and sacrifice, but it’s a life of joy.”

– Sister Sophia

On August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, the Nashville Dominicans welcomed 27 more women to begin the process of religious formation, including three from PC — Jennifer Draeger ’10, Beatriz Forster ’13, and Emilie Stehly ’13. In July, Allison Evans ’11 completed her first year in Nashville, received her habit, and was given the name Sister Cecilia Marie.

For Sister Sophia, her final profession began a busy year. She first taught religion at St. Croix Catholic School in Stillwater, Minn. She spent the summer at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., then traveled to Brazil for World Youth Day. After a retreat in Nashville, she went to Ohio to spend the academic year teaching English and religion to fourth- and fifth-graders at St. Gertrude School in Cincinnati.

Sister Sophia was surprised to be called to religious life. It happened when she was a public high school student in Oakland, N.J., on a church retreat — “the same retreat I had been on the year before, and I wasn’t even going to go,” she said.

The idea “popped into my head” and she was “overwhelmed by the reality of God’s love.”

Sister Sophia said she knew God was calling her to be a religious sister, “though I had never met a sister. Then I realized I didn’t have a clue about what it meant to be a sister, and what I thought it meant frightened me, based on what I knew from the secular media. So I just dismissed it.”

Sister Sophia, an ice hockey fan who planned to study secondary education, entered PC a few months later and tried to forget the calling.

“I wanted to get rid of it. I just wanted to be normal,” said Sister Sophia. “By the end of freshman year, I came to a crossroads, and I knew I had to actively discern religious life.”

Sister Sophia at the altar during her perpetual profession as a Dominican Sister of Saint Cecilia.
Sister Sophia at the altar during her perpetual profession as a Dominican Sister of Saint Cecilia.

Her Development of Western Civilization professor, Rev. Elias Henritzy, O.P., brought her to visit religious communities, but none seemed the right fit. Because she would be on campus during the summer as an orientation leader, the then-dean of residence life, Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, O.P. ’78 & ’82G, now PC’s executive vice president and treasurer, suggested she meet the Nashville Dominicans studying at the College.

Friends who spotted Sister Sophia dining with the sisters told her she seemed “glowing” and “radiant.”

The next step was a visit to the Motherhouse in Nashville.

“It’s almost more shocking that God would call me to Nashville than to religious life,” said Sister Sophia. “A girl from Jersey going to Nashville — it’s ridiculous!”

But the trip was reassuring. Sister Sophia found that the sisters “were going to help me to discern God’s will, no matter what it was” because “God wants us to be happy.”

“That was transformative to me,” she said. “That’s why I was afraid in the beginning. I thought that religious life was a life of suffering and sacrifice, but it’s a life of joy.”

To fellow PC students, she explained that it wasn’t a career choice.

“This is the way my heart is made,” said Sister Sophia. “This is the way that God is calling me to love, just as he might be calling them through the married state.”

In her second year of religious formation, she received the name “Sophia,” meaning wisdom.

Her feast day is Christmas, the day God became man.

“I took the name Sophia for the Incarnation, the idea that God would love us so much He would pursue us to the point of becoming one of us so we might know Him,” Sister Sophia said. “The person of Christ — He’s real, He’s not an idea, and He pursues us all the days of our lives. He’s a relentless lover for each of us, no matter our vocation. He is worth everything.”

 Read about other PC alumni also pursuing Dominican vocations: