On a sun-bright Saturday last August, Jessica Hayes, a 38-year-old Bishop Dwenger High School theology teacher, said her wedding vows in front of hundreds in Fort Wayne’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
They came—out of curiosity and wonder—to witness an extraordinarily beautiful and unusual profession of vows by a spirit-filled woman and her bridegroom, Jesus Christ. On that holy morning Hayes, as a bride of the Son of God, became a part of an exclusive group of almost 3,500 worldwide and 200-plus consecrated virgins in the United States and the only living consecrated virgin in the Fort Wayne South Bend Diocese.
Consecrated virgins are a rarity for the Catholic Church; they are not nuns but chaste women who vow a lifetime of celibacy. They choose to not have sexual relations nor to get married to anyone else for the remainder of their lives. Widows or women who have lived with a sexual partner cannot become consecrated virgins.
According to Matthew 22:30, consecrated virgins “neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels.”
They do not reside in convents nor are they required to take vows of poverty and obedience during their ceremony. They can dress as usual, come and go as they please and live an otherwise normal life.
Her wedding was the result of years of abundant prayer to find her purpose in life, to use her gifts to praise Him in the best way possible, said Hayes, whose wedding was conducted by local Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes (a priest cannot perform this function).
“I had been taught since childhood to pray about my vocation so that I would simply seek what I wanted to do with my life, but live up to the Christian vocation given to me in my Baptism,” said Hayes, who treasures her time with friends and family.
Hayes, a member of St. Vincent de Paul parish, when she first told her family about her vocation to consecrated life, said her five siblings were interested and had, “lots of questions, because it is a vocation that few people have heard of, even lifelong Catholics.
“Their main concern was for my happiness. I had wanted to get married and I love children. These good desires took a different form in my vocation, with a marriage to Christ and spiritual motherhood to my students, the youth of my parish, my Godchildren and my nephews. As the event drew nearer, my family understood more about consecrated virginity and saw the great joy that this was bringing to me.
“I was pleased that so many attended my consecration to witness this unique form of life. The invitation was extended to the whole diocese, and I especially wanted young women to know that they have this option too in discernment. One of my frustrations has been that people focus so much on what I give up, rather than what I embrace instead.”
How does Hayes feel knowing she is “sharing the same groom” with 3,500 other consecrated virgins worldwide?
“Because Jesus is divine, and therefore eternal, He can give Himself completely to every soul without being diminished,” said Hayes. “Every person is invited to a personal relationship with our Lord; brides of Christ receive this call in an exclusive way—without sharing themselves with a human spouse. It is a great joy knowing that there are other women striving for this intimacy with Christ as the defining feature of their lives.
A graduate of Bishop Dwenger High School and Franciscan University, Hayes possesses B.A.s in theology and psychology, and an M.A. in theology. In her spare time she enjoys reading, running, singing, gardening and cooking.
“Since my wedding, my interior life of prayer is richer and I feel a greater responsibility to witness the special grace of my vocation,” reflected Hayes. “My prayer life thrives in solitude, and I am able to balance busy days at school with quiet time to work and pray.”