FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Hundreds of people attended a wedding at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Fort Wayne Saturday morning. It may sound like a standard on a summer Saturday, but this marriage is one most people have likely never seen or heard of before.
The bride’s name is Jessica Hayes, the groom is Jesus Christ. Saturday morning, she became the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese’s first consecrated virgin in 25 years.
It’s not the wedding day Hayes envisioned for herself as a little girl. Sure it came with the same struggles any bride-to-be would have, like finding the perfect dress.
“I’ve seen so many wedding dresses over the years that I think I’ve probably changed my mind very many times. I had to really consider the appropriateness of the occasion for my dress. I wanted my shoulders to be covered, and I would have to lie prostrate before the altar, so I really wanted to make sure that I was well-covered in a way that still shows the beauty of a bride,” Hayes said.
Of course, she also wanted to make sure her guests had a good time.
“I’m so happy to have had so many witnesses today because there may be others that the Lord is calling in this way that have now heard of this life and can consider it in their prayer,” Hayes said.
For the 38-year-old theology teacher from Bishop Dwenger High School, this commitment represents years of prayer and soul-searching.
“I had been praying about it for years, trying to seek God’s will for my life and not really finding it in any of the paths that I sought before. It was really a consideration of which things brought me the most joy and where my greatest happiness was. It seemed that all of those loves converged on this one thing where I could still be living in the world and be a part of the lives of my students and be studying and teaching and involved in a parish life, but I could also give myself more completely by making this total commitment of my life to serve the church in whatever capacity is needed and whatever capacity my own gifts are available for,” Hayes said.
A consecrated virgin is a fairly rare occurrence in the Catholic church. Saturday’s ceremony makes Hayes the only one in the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese. There are approximately 3,000 around the world and more than 200 in the United States.
“I think that in some sense, we’re all called to be married. It’s just a matter of discerning how. So, my marriage is to Christ and someone else’s marriage is to their spouse. A priest’s marriage is to the church. That’s a good desire that’s planted in us by God. The real question is how, how is this lived most joyfully in me,” Hayes said. “I do think that not everybody has the same path. To be able to look at all of these different ways of life and to see people living them out joyfully is an invitation to consider a little bit more deeply what those things mean. As Catholics and as Christians, we’re all called to that loving relationship with our God. So, I’m called to live it out in this way. Married couples are called to live that out in their married vocation and their love of their family. It’s a way of life that really anticipates what all of us will live in heaven, that union with ourselves and Christ and a real knowing and loving of him. My path is choosing that closer following now because that’s where my greatest joys lie.”
A consecrated virgin is different from a nun in that Hayes will still live her life as a lay person.
“This is a vocation for women that feel that deeper call to spend their life more in knowing Jesus and making that a public commitment in serving his church, but are also called to live in the world,” Hayes said.
As one might expect, the vocation comes with some confusion.
“My students asked if they should call me Mrs. Hayes when I come back to school next week, and no, I’m still Ms. But, I am married to Jesus,” Hayes said.
Hayes said she wants to use her experience to help increase vocations among women.
“I think, especially with the young women I’ve worked with in my teaching so far, the religious life isn’t something that many of them consider because we don’t have women religious teaching with us in our schools like we used to years ago. So, many of them don’t consider that as an option anymore because they don’t see young women their own age considering it and joining it. That’s really something I try to expose my female students a little bit more to,” Hayes said.
It’s a spiritual journey Hayes can’t wait to begin.
“Even more so than looking forward to this day is a looking forward to the rest of my life just because it’s a deepening of that commitment. Now that I’ve made a public commitment, that’s really an encouragement to me to live up to that because people know that this is who I am and my life needs to be lived in conformity with that . So, it’s one more step in that direction that others expect this way of life from me and I need to live consistently in my words and actions that love for Jesus,” Hayes said.