FLUSHING — Sanctity now.
That could be the slogan of a worldwide organization of laywomen, called the “Pro Sanctity Movement,” which has had a presence in the Diocese of Brooklyn for over 50 years.
On Oct. 20, it will hold a benefit dinner at Msgr. Finnerty Hall at St. Kevin’s Church, Flushing, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of Italian Bishop Guglielmo Giaquinta, who founded the Pro Sanctity Movement in 1947 to promote a life of holiness and sainthood for all people.
The gala will also honor four clergy members who have had a big impact on the group’s work in the Diocese of Brooklyn — Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto, episcopal moderator for the group’s chapter in the diocese; Msgr. Steven J. Aguggia, judicial vicar in the diocese; Msgr. Andrew Vaccari, pastor of St. Mary Mother of Jesus, Bensonhurst; and Father John Costello, diocesan associate vicar for clergy.
“We are secular, consecrated laypeople, with regular jobs and responsibilities … but we also dedicate all our life to God,” said Angela DiPaola, one of the original members of the Brooklyn chapter.
DiPaola and other laywomen from around the world are known as “apostolic oblates” in the Catholic Church. There are around 300 oblates in Europe, India and the United States who take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, dedicating their lives to God.
“Our founder always said that we are the female agents of God in the world,” DiPaola said. “It’s a call. There are many roads in front of us, but we chose this one.”
The apostolic oblates and Pro Sanctity Movement came to the Diocese of Brooklyn in the 1960s, when they established roots by serving in several parishes, including St. Barbara, Bushwick; St. Fidelis, College Point; Our Lady of Fatima, East Elmhurst; and Our Lady of Miracles, Canarsie. They are recognized by the diocese as the Secular Institute of Apostolic Oblates, which is different from a religious order of nuns.
They end and begin each day with prayers as a community, and during the day, they recite the Liturgy of the Hours. While they do take first and final vows, consecrated laywomen don’t wear habits or have any distinguishable external attire.
“From a young age, Jesus was calling me, telling me [He needed me] to be His feet, legs and word in the world. That’s the reason I chose the Secular Institute of Apostolic Oblates and not a religious order,” said Agnes Rus, an oblate from Slovenia who now serves at St. Kevin’s and who joined the community when she was 17 years old.
“I wanted to be a voice of Jesus in the world, to repay Him for the unconditional love he has paid for me,” Rus said.
DiPaola — who joined the community of oblates at the age of 20 while she was living in Rome — said she previously served the diocese’s Office of Migration for 14 years as an immigration counselor.
“It was the most active office,” she said.
“I was the liaison between the people and immigration services — it was challenging work. But little by little, the Holy Spirit leads you — you have to allow time to listen.”
Working as the “hands and feet of Christ,” the apostolic oblates have served in religious education, cultural outreach ministry, pastoral care and local hospitals in the diocese.
In 2011, with permission from Bishop Chappetto, the chapter transferred its diocesan headquarters to St. Kevin’s, where the five oblates who are from Italy, India, Latvia, Russia, the Philippines and Slovenia now live and host events, retreats and prayer services.
Local Catholics said they have benefited greatly from the apostolic oblates’ work in the parishes and are inspired by the overall message of Pro Sanctity.
Carol Polanish, who has worked closely with the oblates since she met them at a prayer event at Our Lady of Miracles, said that the women helped her when she was experiencing great loneliness.
“They go out into the workplace to bring the call of holiness to everyone they meet, from people in the parish to the hospitals, and they have a wonderful network and support system,” Polanish said.
“What inspires me is the friendship they give … They always have the time to listen, pray with and check in on me to see how I’m doing.”