By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer
Benedictine Sister Christopher (OSB), the former Jen McLarin, took a major step in walking the path of her religious vocation Dec. 8, 2016, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as she celebrated her Entrance into the Novitiate and Reception of the Habit at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, Bethlehem, Connecticut.
The day began with a Mass celebrated by Msgr. Andrew Baker, Sister Christopher’s former pastor and spiritual director at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown. He is now rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.
The Abbey of Regina Laudis is an enclosed Benedictine monastery and working farm. The former prioress is Mother Dolores Hart, the former actress who co-starred with actors including Elvis Presley, but decided God would be her one leading man when she entered the abbey in 1963.
Start of her vocation
Sister Christopher had been searching for a way to make a deeper commitment to the Lord when she heard Bishop John Barres – then bishop of Allentown and now bishop of Rockville Centre, New York – give a homily at the cathedral that discussed Dolores Hart and her documentary “God is the Bigger Elvis.”
When Sister Christopher got home, she saw there was an HBO showing of the documentary on TV. Since she didn’t subscribe to HBO, she was surprised and glad to see she somehow suddenly had it and she taped the film.
She watched the film the next day, Holy Saturday. “It’s a great story and I thought the abbey looked really interesting,” she said in a January 2013 interview with The A.D. Times.
Sister Christopher, whose parents were Unitarian, joined the Catholic Church through the RCIA program in 2006, and was baptized and confirmed by then Bishop of Allentown (now Bishop Emeritus) Edward Cullen at the Easter Vigil at the cathedral.
Sister Christopher is the daughter of Ed and Margaret McLarin and has two siblings, her sister Melissa and late brother Malcom Best. Born in Dallas, Texas, she considers Princeton, New Jersey her hometown as her family moved there when she was 7 years old.
A 1986 graduate of Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Sister Christopher was serving as director of alumni relations for her alma mater, having left the corporate world in Chicago to take the position of associate director of admission in 2002
Sister Christopher first visited the abbey in June 2012; that and subsequent visits made her feel she was home, and she entered the community as a postulant Aug. 18, 2013.
The Monastic Investiture (Clothing Day) was a milestone in her vocational journey.
The day began with Msgr. Baker as the main celebrant and homilist of the Mass, which included the blessing of her new habit, belt and veil.
Sister Christopher was very grateful Msgr. Baker made the trip to be there for her special day. “What a blessing. His homily was incredible.”
Msgr. Baker shared profound insights into the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in his homily, during which he invited Sister Christopher to be, like Mary, completely clothed in Christ.
“Jen, today is not about you. It’s not about the Blessed Mother either. It is about the power of God, what he has done for us in the savior,” he said.
He reminded Sister Christopher another quality of Mary in opposition to the serpent is her faithfulness, and encouraged her and everyone in the call to holiness to look to Mary’s example as she persevered and faithfully lived her vocation.
After the Mass Sister Christopher attended a reception with Msgr. Baker, three friends from Muhlenberg College, and one other local friend and her daughter. “It was very small and intimate, just as I hoped it would be. We had rolls from the abbey bakery, our own butter, our jam and our milk. Who could ask for more?”
The actual clothing ceremony was held later that day, at 3 p.m., with just Sister Christopher and the community. “Until that point, I had been wearing lay person clothes. I had chosen a white outfit, perfect for Our Lady, which was a long white skirt and white sweater,” Sister Christopher said.
“My sister had given me a special gift of a pair of black riding boots for that day, and I absolutely loved them. My family is from Florida and we had mutually decided that they should visit before my clothing day rather than trying to be here in December. I am so glad they did. We had a great time and the weather was not bad at all.”
“I wore the riding boots to represent the importance of horses and riding in my life. This was a huge part of my past – I owned two horses and frequently showed – and still consider myself a horsewoman,” said Sister Christopher, who has a genuine love of nature and frequently liked to walk the paths of Trexler Memorial Park, Allentown, just down the road from Muhlenberg.
“I am praying that we will someday get a horse at the abbey. Mocha is the world’s best donkey,” Sister Christopher said, though it’s not the same as having a horse.
“The clothing ceremony was held in our chapter house. It was beautiful and moving, and I shed a few happy tears,” Sister Christopher said. “However, to my surprise, I was not the slightest bit nervous. In fact, I have rarely felt so completely present to a ceremony in my life. It was clearly a gift of the Holy Spirit that I was able to take it all in so vividly and joyfully.
“As part of the ceremony, my long hair – which had been growing for three years – was cut off by Mother Abbess Lucia Kuppens.”
Sister Christopher said after dressing in her new habit, the time came for Mother Abbess to announce Sister Christopher’s new name. “Your name is decided on by the abbess, and no one knows it until the moment she reads it aloud during your clothing ceremony.”
“There had been quite a bit of speculation that my name might by Francis, due to my love of creatures and how I feed the birds from my hand, but not one person guessed what it would be. When she said ‘Sister Christopher,’ a collective gasp went up. We were all surprised and delighted,” Sister Christopher said.
“Mother Abbess had many reasons for choosing this name, but the main one is that Christopher means ‘Christ-bearer’ – and she feels that during my long and serious illnesses, including a two-year cancer battle from 2007 to 2009, I had been bearing Christ in my body and sharing his suffering.
“I have always seen this as a gift, and the name made total sense to me. I absolutely love it.
The next steps
“After vespers I was able to see Msgr. Baker and my friends in the parlor and give them my clothing card. They then left and I started my canonical year – no visitors or phone calls for a year, but I can write.”
In 2015, Sister Christopher became quite ill with a sudden autoimmune disorder. She spent a week in Yale-New Haven Hospital in October 2015, followed by many months of recuperation. “The average recovery time from this illness is 12 to 18 months and I was doing well after nine months, thank you Lord,” Sister Christopher said.
“Right before I was struck by this illness I was close to moving forward in my process, the next step of which was becoming a novice. My recuperation delayed the timing by a year, but it turned out to be a time that was valuable in many ways.
“Suffice it to say that the Lord’s timing is always right. As hard as it is to accept that sometimes, it’s true every time. I would not change a thing.”
Sister Christopher loves singing the Divine Office and sings with Arsis, the newly formed schola of novices at the abbey. During her postulancy, Sister Christopher discovered a gift for cooking. She spends much time in the kitchen, and works in the garden, sacristy, laundry and guest department. Her work at the abbey has also included milking cows, working in the bakery and working with the sheep.
“Six years ago, I would never have imagined I would be discerning a vocation to be a Benedictine nun,” said Sister Christopher. “I thought I would spend the rest of my career at Muhlenberg College, a place I loved working and will always love as my alma mater.
“The Lord had a different plan for me, and I am so blessed and grateful that the plan involved the Abbey of Regina Laudis. Every day is an adventure, and I look forward to getting up each day to see what will happen next