Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith blesses Sr. Maria Chiara Melendez and Sr. Maria Benedicta Hemminger during a vows rite Sept. 15 at Our Lady of Peace Retreat in Beaverton. (Courtesy Jose Salame/Joys of Life Photography)
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith blesses Sr. Maria Chiara Melendez and Sr. Maria Benedicta Hemminger during a vows rite Sept. 15 at Our Lady of Peace Retreat in Beaverton. (Courtesy Jose Salame/Joys of Life Photography)
BEAVERTON — It seems God guides people past closed doors to open windows. The vocational tracks for two Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows began in different parts of the world, went many directions, then led to one place of peace in Beaverton.

On Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Maria Benedicta Hemminger of the Cross and St. Sharbel made her fifth and final perpetual vows. Sister Maria Chiara Melendez of the Five Wounds made her first profession of first vows.

Taking on the Franciscan religious habit, the sisters vow to model the virtues of chastity, poverty, and obedience in the service of God and the church.

Called to simplicity

The future Sister Benedicta grew up in Germany in a strong religious family who lived in the bakery/restaurant they owned in their quaint village. Familiar with both Lutherans and Catholics, she attended a Lutheran church, while secretly longing to become Catholic.

By the time she reached 18, she fell in love with an American soldier and moved to the United States, beginning a new life in an unfamiliar place. Slowly she learned English. The moment she earned her driver’s license, she drove herself to the nearby Catholic church determined to join up. She became an American citizen and a Roman Catholic.

It was nearly three decades later that she was drawn to a simple hermit’s life and deep prayer. Outside of her work at a preschool, she embraced solitude and prayer, going to daily Mass and adoration. Feeling called to visit St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church in Southeast Portland, she began receiving spiritual direction and in time was encouraged to pursue a religious vocation. Daily she would cry out to Jesus, “Lord, when will I be able to be totally yours and serve you more?” She is convinced that God heard her prayers and she pursued the call leading her through the doors at Our Lady of Peace Retreat House. Her life has never been the same.

She found home

The future Sister Chiara was born to a devout Texas Catholic family. Her mother would gather the children each night to kneel at a home altar. Taught by nuns, the girl was fascinated by the mystery of heaven and wondered if she could one day be a nun to learn more about that beautiful place.

When she was young, her family relocated to Oregon, settling in Canby. Later, as a single parent, she worked in the Canby School district while continuing to ask God for direction. In 2008, she enrolled in a lay Catholic community where she began formation classes to more intensely discern God’s plan for her life.

God moved her with urgency to detach from the world to live exclusively for him. She soon began to meet with a spiritual director. She did not think religious life was a possibility, being a mother of three grown sons. She was surprised at her mentor’s suggestion that she may have a vocation. Yet she trusted that with God anything is possible and chose to act on God’s invitation. Her vocational discernment led her to visit the sisters at Our Lady of Peace. Upon seeing the women in their habits, she felt at home. She began the candidacy program in 2017.