GREEN BAY — On Saturday, May 30, Jenny Johns was consecrated as “a virgin living in the world” by Bishop David L. Ricken at a 10 a.m. Mass at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. This is only the second time this rite has been celebrated in the Diocese of Green Bay. Consecrated virgins have an ancient history, dating back to the third and fourth centuries.
“It is probably the most misunderstood vocation in the church,” said Johns. To many, the term consecrated virgin may be unfamiliar. “First and foremost she is a bride of Christ. God gives the gift of virginity and that gift of virginity is given back,” Johns explained. Pledging her perpetual virginity, she is “consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the church” (Canon 604). She lives a life of deep prayer, particularly for the intentions of her bishop and clergy and the needs of her diocese.
Because she is consecrated as “living in the world,” Johns will not change her name, and aside from a ring she received during the Rite of Consecration, will not wear an outward sign of her vocation. Consecrated virgins work in a diverse range of jobs – from doctor and firefighter to housekeeper. “It’s a very hidden vocation, and it mirrors the life of Our Lady,” said Johns. “She lives mysteriously in the world, but Our Lady wasn’t removed. She was right in the midst of them.”
Even though Johns felt God calling her in a unique way, discerning her vocation was not so clear-cut. “I really had to combat those temptations to think that there wasn’t a place for me in the church. But there is; there’s a place for everybody,” she said.
Johns discerned at a Carmelite monastery and while certain aspects of religious life fit, there was still something missing. Some may have found the experience discouraging, but she is certain that it was “a necessary step in God revealing the fullness of my vocation.”
Discovering this particular vocation and the Rite of Consecration of Virgins Living in the World was when everything clicked. “I didn’t know this existed in the church. Reading through (the rite) was such a sigh of relief because … this was me. It’s deeper than something that I do. It’s something that I am. And what that means, it’s going to take a lifetime to unfold,” said Johns.
As a consecrated virgin, Johns is free to serve the church according to her individual gifts and talents. “It’s such a joy because that’s who I am, and that’s the freedom of being who I am.” For her, this includes serving as sacristan and liturgist at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, preparing children for the sacraments, and sharing her spiritual gifts of availability and hospitality.
“I love preparing children for sacraments and I’ve been doing that for four years at the cathedral,” she said. “To be able to share the rich beauty and treasure of our faith — this isn’t lame stuff. This isn’t boring. It’s the most incredible gift. I just love these kids and to be able to journey with their families.” And the children love her back, as the Rite of Consecration was punctuated with children praying the rosary before Mass and singing after Communion. Her vocation and role as spiritual mother is already bearing fruit.
“It’s a complete mystery what God can do with and through a simple yes. … When you find your fit, it’s the most incredible thing ever. It far surpasses any thought or desire you thought you could have for yourself. And this is just the beginning.”