Virgin territory

Posted: August 01, 2014

RETIRED cardiologist Linda Ann Long doesn't have a single regret about her decision to become a consecrated virgin.

"I can tell you that I've seen all sorts of conditions of men in my 44 years of medical practice," Long said. "And surveying their bodies . . . God has been most gracious to me."

Long, 70, of St. Paul, Minn., is one of 42 consecrated virgins from across the country attending the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins' annual convocation, being held for the first time at the Malvern Retreat House in Chester County.

Yesterday, association president Judith Stegman, 58, of Lansing, Mich., and the convocation attendees hosted an informational session at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's pastoral center on 17th Street near Race, in Center City.

Consecrated virgins are considered "brides of Christ" who give "the gift" of virginity they believe God has given them back to Jesus. They are consecrated at the hands of a bishop during a ceremony that resembles a wedding.

No tests are given to determine whether a candidate is actually a virgin, Stegman said.

"It hasn't been necessary," she said. "It could be, it's feasible that the church might ask for that, but it hasn't been necessary."

Unlike nuns, consecrated virgins "live a life in the world" and not as part of a religious community. They wear regular clothes and a wedding ring, and most have secular jobs. Yesterday's session included doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants and psychologists.

Consecrated virgins are "at once ancient and new," according to Stegman, who said it wasn't until the revelation of Jesus Christ that committing to a life of virginity was seen as virtuous.

"Prior to that, virginity was seen as something to get over," Stegman said.

Even as the vocation started to take off in the second and third centuries, it still was not completely understood or accepted.

"Their lives were countercultural then, as our lives are countercultural now," Stegman said.

By the 11th century, consecrated virgins were a rarity, and in 1927 the pope denied permission for the rite to be used, Stegman said. It was reinstated by the church in 1970.

Carolyn Blaszczyk, 65, a Port Richmond native residing in Harrisburg, said she was living the life of a consecrated virgin before reading about consecrated virgins in an article when she was 51.

"This was a real eye-opener for me. . . . I realized this was my life, I was living this," she said.

Margaret Flipp, 73, of San Francisco, said she was 18 when she first experienced Jesus.

"And with it was an invitation to belong entirely to Jesus," she said. "And, being a typical woman, I fell in love. I said yes."

Flipp took a private vow of virginity, but didn't become a consecrated virgin until years later.

"What I think is important . . . especially in this time in our century . . . virginity is dissed. Totally. Constantly," she said. "We're showcasing the essence of this vocation, which is this gift, the one gift every woman has until she decides to give it away or it's taken by force."

Marie Beccaloni, 29, of Chicago, may have been the youngest consecrated virgin at the convocation. She was consecrated last December and said she received her calling while in graduate school.

"I had dated before, but it always felt like something was missing from those relationships. It wasn't fulfilling," she said. "My innermost being longed for something much deeper than what they could provide."

Beccaloni learned about consecrated virgins while doing research online.

"It felt like a perfect fit," she recalled. "This is what I was made for. This was my purpose for my life."

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