Our own Aussie Bride of Christ

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Sr Mariam Assaf O.P. makes her perpetual profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Photo: Sister Mary Justin Haltom, O.P.
Sr Mariam Assaf O.P. makes her perpetual profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Photo: Sister Mary Justin Haltom, O.P.

Mariam Assaf O.P., says she has “the best spouse ever”.

The former parishioner of Holy Name of Mary Parish, Hunters Hill, has just professed Final Vows along with five others as Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, in Nashville, Tennessee.

She represents the increasingly international flavour of the community of more than 300 Sisters worldwide, including Australia, after being invited to help with the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney.

For the girl from Gladesville, the day represented the “deep joy that comes with doing God’s will daily”.

“I am totally given to Christ and his church, and this has given way to an even greater freedom in my heart. I am all his, forever, and He is all mine, forever!”

Coming from a close Lebanese family, her vows were recited in English first and then in Arabic.

“There are no words to truly describe the day,” Sr Mariam told The Catholic Weekly from her new mission in Indiana.

“I am totally given to Christ and his church, and this has given way to an even greater freedom in my heart. I am all his, forever, and He is all mine, forever!

“The day of perpetual profession was also a very joyful day because due to COVID-19 our community had not been able to come together in a very long time!

Mariam Assaf O.P., the former parishioner of Holy Name of Mary Parish, Hunters Hill, with five others as Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, who made their profession in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Sister Mary Justin Haltom, O.P.
Mariam Assaf O.P., the former parishioner of Holy Name of Mary Parish, Hunters Hill, with five others as Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, who made their profession in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Sister Mary Justin Haltom, O.P.

“I very much felt the support and prayers of our sisters, my family and friends who were livestreaming in Australia, Lebanon and France, and the prayers of everyone in heaven!”

The 27-year-old attended Tangara School for Girls in Cherrybrook before completing a Bachelor of Commerce at Macquarie University with majors in human resources and French.

She first encountered the Nashville Dominicans when they visited her high school and then again at Theology on Tap events, but it wasn’t until she attended a “Nun Run” for young women considering religious life that her vocation really started to stir.

After spending much of the weekend with them, she visited their Regents Park convent and was struck by a sense of familiarity.

“She knew she was being called to religious life and that joining the Dominican Sisters would not be easy for her large family, so once she started to really discern, she only shared it with a few select people.”

“I witnessed true and real women, really down to earth, and they loved playing sport and they were all so different,” she said. “I just really felt like I fitted in.”

It was an important lesson for a girl who loves “spending time with family, friends, drinking caffeine, beer, basketball, starry night skies, trying to sing, languages and cuddling chubby baby nieces”.

She knew she was being called to religious life and that joining the Dominican Sisters would not be easy for her large family, so once she started to really discern, she only shared it with a few select people.

She felt the expectation of getting married and having children, however could not have dreamed her decision could give her such freedom.

Sr Mariam Assaf O.P. Photo: Sister Mary Justin Haltom, O.P.
Sr Mariam Assaf O.P. Photo: Sister Mary Justin Haltom, O.P.

And while they struggled initially with “letting go of their daughter”, parents George and Nehmat slowly felt great joy for the third of their four children.

They both agreed that while it was “heart-breaking” having their daughter so far away, her happiness was far more important.

Since leaving Australia in 2014, the devoted parents have twice yearly spent over 24 hours travelling each way just to spend 14 hours with her and once borders open plan to continue their twice-yearly pilgrimage.

“The Sisters are entitled to six visits a year but we are not allowed to spend any more than two consecutive days together so being so far away does make it very hard,” proud mum Nehmat said.

“… it is so difficult being so far away but to be honest she is just so happy and at the end of the day that’s all you want for your kids.”

“It’s a long way for us to go just for two days but it’s so worth it, just so she knows we are always here.

“If it’s this hard for us being apart, we can only imagine how hard it is for her being over there without us and we need to put our own feelings aside and support her, although I must be honest we always have a return ticket for her just in case which makes her upset but deep down we know she won’t use it.

“We all still struggle with not being able to just pick the phone up and speak to her. She sends letters which can take months to arrive and a couple of times a year she rings us but that’s about it, it is so difficult being so far away but to be honest she is just so happy and at the end of the day that’s all you want for your kids,” she said.

“Due to COVID we had to livestream her vows and honestly it was like her wedding day.

The six Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia lay prostrate during the profession of their final vows in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Sister Mary Justin Haltom, O.P.
The six Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia lay prostrate during the profession of their final vows in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Sister Mary Justin Haltom, O.P.

“She was just so happy, she said ‘Mum it’s my wedding’, the joy on her face was incredible.

“She told me ‘I have the best spouse in the world, and I really can’t imagine who could make her any happier.

“All I hope is that after starting in Nashville and then being sent on mission to Memphis and now Indiana, she doesn’t end up in Alaska,” she laughed.

With a number of Dominican Sisters now in Australia, Sr Mariam is hoping she will one day return to her home city on mission as a primary school teacher

She advises anyone considering religious life “to live it as if it is a relationship”.

“Their joy lies in none of the things that I imagined would make me happy, clothes, cars, my own home and a man. Their treasure is Jesus.”

“Growing up I always thought I would get married and have lots of kids,” she said.

“I believed that a husband would be the reason for my happiness but when I met the Sisters, I saw a joy I couldn’t describe.

“Their joy lies in none of the things that I imagined would make me happy, clothes, cars, my own home and a man. Their treasure is Jesus.

“I guess when I was out with a guy, I just couldn’t help but compare him to Jesus and think “this guy is great but he just doesn’t match up.”

To find out more about the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia go to www.nashvilledominicans and click on the vocations tab