“ the best person to be here
speaking of my story would be Him ”

In our diocese, she works for the diocesan archives, with the Catholic Student Movement, and since the current pastoral year, she has been part of the Youth Pastoral Service. Speaking to “PRESENTE”, she spoke about the discovery of her vocation touched by questions and doubts, but built on the certainty of the horizon that was always there: her surrender to God. She quotes Fernando Pessoa to define her vocational discernment: 

“to be great, be whole”

 It was in the certitude of this wholeness that she said yes to the consecrated life.

Ângela Manuela Ribeiro de Oliveira is 23 years old and was born in Guimarães. She is the youngest of four daughters. “I was the last hope for a boy. But now there is a grandson already.” She admits that from all the sisters, because she was the youngest, she was the most spoilt. She had a very serene and peaceful childhood, a life she defines as “normal, within a Catholic family, with features of God”, and who passed on the faith as a legacy. Travelling down memory lane, she mainly recalls concrete images that marked her. “I remember the difficulty of going to Sunday Mass: my dad waiting in the car for the five ladies” This brings to mind the assiduity at Sunday Mass, as a family. Along with this memory she also recalls the family trips. It’s evident that she is comfortable reliving the past, but it is not so clear whether the sparkle in her eyes is due to the memories or the fact that she’s talking about the family. Probably both.

We journey back to the days when she used to help her mother keep the church. My mother used to adorn an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus every fortnight and I used to go with her and get involved, feeling like her accomplice. Her grandfather who was a sacristan and her grandmother, who because of her devotion tried to assure the daily prayer of the Rosary as a family, are but a few of the details that nurtured Sister Angela’s bond to the Church. However at this time God was still limited to an idea of “the One on High and was that distant figure” whom I asked for help to protect the family or help in the tests.

Already in her teens she found herself bracing the question of her vocation to consecrated life. She recalls a period of difficult choices, namely what area of study to choose from in secondary school. The option was not easy because her desire to learn a bit of everything was an old one. “When I was little I wanted to be a painter, a pianist, a teacher”. She chose to pursue the Sciences, but this choice lasted only two years, at which time she switched to Fine Arts.  The love of drawing spoke louder and the sketches she would make in her Biology books were evidence of this. She then proceeded to formalise this choice and concluded secondary school studies in Visual Arts.

Due to this change she made a greater investment in the love she had always had for the theatre and took up a course.  ” The Human being has a tendency to be the protagonist on his own life’s stage, but we would be so much happier if we set the spotlight on Jesus and placed Him at the centre of our lives.” she makes a point of stating. Sister Ângela likes to establish these relations in her mind, and as she tells us her life-story we begin to understand the connections she makes.

She never broke away from parish life though and was an active teenager: she did the 10-year catechism, was part of a youth group and was a church reader. She wanted to be a reader as a  commitment, but the commitment involved challenges she was not always able to meet. During her studies in Guimarães, she made new friendships and joined another youth group.

The process of vocational discernment was progressive, she confesses. ” I had already seen Religious Sisters once or twice in Guimarães, but I had never got involved, until a closer contact came about when my blood sister entered the Congregation of the Aliança de Santa Maria.” She’s referring to Bernardete, seven years her senior. Sister Ângela  was thirteen at the time and began to take part in youth meetings organised by the Congregation. The initial indifference gradually converted to growing interest.


“When I came back from those meetings,
I always had so much to tell my family
And felt that each participation
Unsettled me more and more.”


She then goes on to describe an intense and striking experience which helped her deconstruct the idea of a distant God and to unveil a God who establishes a personal relation. “What I came to know about the Aliança was greatly marked by the relationship I had with the Sisters and this encounter with Jesus, which I deeply felt at each of the meetings. At each meeting I was emptied of everything, even of prejudices” she says, and this closeness she experienced there made her feel good. She then started to question herself, starting with the obvious things. “How can they be so happy, if they have so little, and what is behind all this joy in their surrender?”.

 “Witnessing all this happiness and togetherness, I began to wonder what He might want of me. “It was during this soul searching exercise, “that was both unsettling and enthralling”, that she realised that a vocation is a process of joy and self-fulfilment. “I began to understand that it was a question of being whole… to have head, heart, legs, hands, mouth, everything for God and for others!”

 Daily prayer and the help of a Sister were crucial at this point, she recollects. The will to be there and wanting to keep going back was one of the strongest signs that her vocation was the consecrated life. “There came a time when the meetings were not enough and I began to feel I needed more. I was enamoured and I could not see myself anywhere else.”

 A defining moment in her discernment was the death of a friend in a car accident: ” I was shaken and realised how fragile and brief life is; it made me realise  the importance of finding my place and not “cheat” God.

She then decided that after 12th grade she would join the Aliança de Santa Maria. Despite having had an insight into the consecrated life in her youth, it did not stop her from living intensely, she adds. Until the final decision there were ups and downs, she recalls. At this time she began to work part-time and the money she saved gave her new independence. There were also times when “the heart skipped a beat and I felt butterflies in my stomach”. ” began to develop a close relationship with a boy and considered dating him.” On the other hand the love of theatre and the possibility of going to university to study for a degree in this area made me rethink the decision I was about to take. She recalls a time when she was involved in many activities. But when she came home at night, in the stillness of her room, in prayer, she understood that in fact her vocation was the consecrated life.

At the moment she is preparing for her perpetual vows. She took her first vows two years ago, went to Coimbra for a year and then returned to Fátima. In our diocese she collaborates in the above mentioned areas. During this period, which is also of formation, she is in her third year of Religious Science, Honours Degree, in Fátima. In her Congregation, Sister Ângela also has the opportunity to put into practice her gift for the theatre. Recently she helped to produce a play done by the Congregation about the apostolic exhortation “The joy of the Gospel”.

“He gives me back hundredfold and it is good
to be able to increase what
He has given me, for His service.”

So it is, in the “wholeness” of her being, as a people of the Church, that God fulfills her and His work is  fulfilled.”


Diogo Carvalho Alves
Jornal Presente | Leiria Fátima (newspaper)
3 January 2015