Choosing Ability Over Disability Helps New Secular Institute Serve God

Natasha Sager (foreground) at her first dedication to the secular Caritas Christi institute during mass on September 14 at the Epiphany in Coon Rapids. Beside her is a close friend Samantha Herrlin, a member of the Epiphany. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Father Paul Baker said he viewed Natasha Sager as one of God’s spies – in a good way.

“She is able to… be more grounded in ordinary life in such a way that she can reach people in a different way” than being a nun or a nun, Father Baker said in a homily during a mass on September 14 which included the premiere of Sager. dedication to the secular Caritas Christi institute. Dedication was equivalent to the first profession in a religious order.

Sager is not a religious sister, although some elements of her life are similar. The members of his secular institute, which is a form of consecrated life, live and work in society. They are also self-sufficient, different from the nuns who live in community. But, like men and women religious, members of secular institutes share commitments to prayer and to the apostolate of their institute.

Sager said members of his institute bring Jesus to the heart of the secular world because they are meant to be “the leaven in the dough,” impacting people when they encounter them in work and home environments. .

“One of the beautiful aspects of our vocation is its hidden character,” she said. “We blend into society and bring Jesus to places where priests and religious cannot. “

Sager, 34, completed three years of initial training before his recent profession. Four years of renewal will follow before her engagement becomes perpetual, she said.

Father Baker, Epiphany Parish Vicar in Coon Rapids and Spiritual Director of Sager, said she also dispels any notion that a person with a physical disability is hampered in devoting their life to God.

He added that Sager, who uses a wheelchair because she cannot walk on her own, is accessible. She was born with a rare disease caused by a small crack in her brain. Sager said two doctors believed she had an inoperable brain tumor, but a third correctly diagnosed her around the age of one with a rare form of cerebral palsy. “My parents were relieved to find it wasn’t terminal,” she said.

She said a lot of people want to pray for her. “People always ask me why I’m in a chair, and I feel like God has put me on a chair to be a witness in a different way, because I feel like everyone. Bible verse about God uses the weak to shame the strong, ”she said.

Society sees people with disabilities as burdens with no purpose, she said. “It may not look exactly like an able-bodied person, but there is a purpose.”

Thérèse Druart, the national godmother or leader of the national council of Caritas Christi in the United States, attended mass. The secular institute has 793 members in 37 countries, including 29 in the United States, half of whom are at least 80 years old. Sager is the only member in Minnesota. Born in Belgium, Druart, 75, joined Caritas Christi after moving to the United States in 1978 to teach philosophy at Georgetown University in Washington, DC

Caritas Christi was founded in France in 1937 by Dominican Father Joseph-Marie Perrin, who was blind, and Juliette Molland, who Druart said was limping. Druart is not sure whether their disabilities are related to opening the institute to members with physical limitations, but said that from the start a disability was not an issue as long as members could support it. their financial needs.

“We have to live this life of ordinary people, with all the risks,” she said.

When Sager sought to join religious life, she feared her options were limited, if not impossible. She didn’t believe a religious order living in a community would consider her because of her disability, so she searched the internet extensively for an option. She began to discern with another secular institute, but decided that was not the right solution. And when she saw the documents from Caritas Christi indicating that having a physical disability does not necessarily exclude membership, she deepened her research.

“Our charism is to love God and make him loved in all providential circumstances,” said Druart. “And they vary a lot,” usually as a result of a member’s professional work. She mentioned “a very good member” who worked as a hairdresser. “Apparently some women confide in their hairdressers a lot,” she said.

Caritas Christi members aim to serve God and influence the people they meet through their work and relationships, said Druart. “Many are in education,” she said, and not necessarily in Catholic schools. The institute also had a social worker and a woman who worked for an airline, she said. One limb depended on a steel lung, but spent a few hours a day doing computer-aided design.

“(Saint) John Paul II spoke of… the members of a secular institute being pioneers, because they go in all types of circles, even some where the Church is generally not very present”, a- she declared.

Sager lives with his family in Andover. She serves God and influences others through her volunteer service in parishes. Being a part of the institute deepened her prayer life and helped her bring God into the lives of others, she said.

Sager goes up with friends every Sunday to Epiphany Mass, and she attends daily mass at St. Paul in Ham Lake. She volunteers regularly at St. Paul, most recently leading small group sessions of the Synod. She enjoys spending time with the children and has served as a catechist in the parish religious education program and in the parish vacation Bible school program.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sager helped lead a group of young adults at Epiphany. Today, she and other members of this group meet weekly to study the Bible.

Because Sager has experience in social media, a friend recommended her to Father Kyle Kowalczyk for promoting “Young Adult Catholics: The Musical” on social media. She has also designed professional materials for Caritas Christi and has assisted her community and the United States Conference of Secular Institutes with their social media. Last year, Sager contributed to the conference “virtual booth” for a FOCUS exhibit.

Father Baker said that Sager’s service through Caritas Christi provided her with a greater opportunity to experience the “full bloom” of identity in Christ that she received at her baptism. This is the case when someone responds positively to God’s call, he said, “whether it is the universal call to holiness, or a call to be followed more closely as a member of God. ‘a secular institute, of a religious community, of consecrated life or of the clergy’.

To learn more about Caritas Christi, visit

Key words: Caritas Christi, Father Paul Baker, Natasha Sager

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