Fourth woman commits to life of consecrated virginity in the Archdiocese of Detroit
Oct 26, 2020
In rare rite celebrated at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, Michelle Piccolo vowed to be espoused to Christ, living in the world as his bride
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PLYMOUTH — Michelle Piccolo prepared for her marriage much like anyone else: she had a ring passed down in her family resized, she bought her wedding dress, picked a venue and spent time in prayerful contemplation of what this commitment would change for her going forward.
Except Piccolo’s marriage isn’t what the secular world typically expects; on Oct. 24, as Piccolo lay prostrate before the altar at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, she vowed to live her life for Christ as his bride as a consecrated virgin.
Piccolo began her journey seven years ago in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, after the death of her mother. Piccolo wasn’t previously “all-in” for her faith, but her mother’s passing drove her to dive in deeper.
“When she passed away, I thought, ‘I want to get to heaven to be with my mom again, and I am going to figure out how to get there,’” Piccolo said. “That started the process of learning more about our faith and discovering (St. John Paul II’s) ‘Theology of the Body.’”
Two years later, Piccolo found herself on a retreat at the Theology of the Body Institute in Lima, Pa., where for the first time she learned about the vocation of consecrated virginity.
Piccolo said the retreat transformed her, and her curiosity led her to dig deeper into what it meant to be a consecrated virgin. Her research led her to Michigan, where between the Diocese of Lansing and the Archdiocese of Detroit, there is a more sizeable community of consecrated virgins. Three years ago, she moved to Michigan as her discernment became more concrete.
“I felt this strong call to move to the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Piccolo told Detroit Catholic. “I told (friends), ‘I just feel like it’s Catholic Disneyland.’ It was like the Lord is just moving in this archdiocese; it’s just different here. I found community. I found other consecrated women, other women interested in consecrated virginity.”
In 2017, the Archdiocese of Detroit made history when three women — Laurie Malashanko, Karen Ervin and Theresa Jordan — became the first in the local Church’s history to be consecrated. According to some records, it also was the first time three women had been consecrated together in U.S. history.
Consecrated virgins don’t belong to a particular religious community or wear habits, but rather pledge to live their vocation “in the world,” witnessing to Christ through their everyday lives in chastity and singleness.
Nearly seven years after her initial journey began, Piccolo, now 42, found herself similarly committing her life to Christ in a public ceremony witnessed by her family, friends and her new church community in Michigan.
“It took discernment: reading about it, learning more, and there was peace in my heart,” said Piccolo, who works as director of Christian service for Our Lady of Good Counsel. “At first, there was overwhelming excitement because I had just discovered my vocation — because when you haven’t heard of it, and you don’t know where the Lord is calling you, but you know he’s calling you somewhere, it can be frustrating.
“I always had it in the back of my mind that marriage didn’t feel right,” Piccolo continued. “Religious orders were just not something I felt peace with, either. I don’t feel called to (that kind of) community. I felt the Lord really strongly telling me I need to be in the world and be single for him.”
Piccolo described the rite of consecration as a sort of mix between a wedding and an ordination.
During the Mass, Piccolo responded to the expectations of her vocation by undergoing an examination followed by the litany of supplication, during which she lay prostrate before the altar as a sign of submission to the will of God.
After Piccolo renewed her intention to live in chastity as one espoused to the Lord, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron recited the prayer of consecration, which dates back to the sixth century. Archbishop Vigneron then presented Piccolo with her veil as a sign of her espousal to Christ; a ring as a symbol of the promise of faithful and lifelong giving of self; and the presentation of the Liturgy of the Hours as a part of Piccolo’s commitment to prayer.
During his homily, Archbishop Vigneron addressed Piccolo, reminding her that her commitment is part of the mystery of faith.
“The things of this world take us into the age to come; that is a mystery,” the archbishop said. “Baptism is a mystery. The Eucharist is a mystery. And Michelle’s consecration today is a mystery. It is a thing of heaven.”
Archbishop Vigneron told Piccolo her consecration is a sign of communion, which is all part of Christ’s plan for salvation.
“Salvation is always heart speaking to heart,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “The heart of God addressing Himself to us and calling for nothing less than the gift of our heart in return. God is discreet; God defers to our freedom and He speaks to your heart, and your heart has replied.
“That is what this mystical consecration is about: Michelle taking Christ himself as her spouse and giving herself to him as a bride. It is a total gift of self.”
When discerning her vocation, Piccolo wondered whether she needed to participate in a public ceremony rather than just make a commitment within herself. Over time, Piccolo felt called to make a public commitment as a bold way to be a witness in faith, but also as a way to strengthen the permanence of her commitment.
“People would ask if I knew it was permanent, and I would be like, ‘So is marriage,’” Piccolo said. “I know in our society we shy away from that, but it doesn’t scare me, it excites me.”
“To be consecrated is to be set aside through the power of the Holy Spirit,” Piccolo continued. “We are not messing around, we are not pretending. This is public. This is for people to witness. This is what we were all called to do to be a spouse to the Lord. I need to be a visible sign of that.
“The Lord is asking me to be bold in my commitment. I am happy to oblige because He has asked me to do this, and I am responding with my permanent ‘yes.’”
While Piccolo said she’s been committed to the vocation for some time, going forward, she intends to look at everything she does as a bride of Christ.
“I have been praying with that for a while: ‘Lord, what are you going to ask me to do differently that I haven’t already been doing?’” Piccolo said.
“This is what the Lord has called me to, and I need to live it out fruitfully. The Lord isn’t asking me to be perfect, but He is asking me to be more cognizant and aware of my behavior, prayer life, and how others see me.”
To learn more about the vocation of consecrated virginity, visit the website of the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, a voluntary association of consecrated virgins living in the world.