by Jan Dixon
Special to The Leaven
Family and faith have always been important to AnneMarie Whitehead. She grew up chasing after three older brothers, playing basketball and volleyball, swimming and babysitting. She attended a Catholic grade school, high school and college.
Becoming a religious Sister was not her plan.
“I knew I wanted to do something with children, and it would probably be in a foreign place,” said Whitehead. “But there were hints of a special vocation along the way,”
She recalled her first Communion as a student at Church of the Nativity in Leawood as being a very special event.
“I understood the importance of the sacrament,” she said. “I was all dressed up and I knew I wanted to be a bride one day.”
Confirmation also had a strong impact on her and, as a student at St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, Whitehead felt called to participate in various ministries.
At the end of her senior year, she was voted the most likely to pursue a religious vocation.
“She was not happy about that at the time,” said Diane Whitehead, her mother. “I think others were seeing what AnneMarie couldn’t yet see.”
She chose to attend Benedictine College in Atchison because of its size, its proximity to home, and its strong faith life.
“I didn’t know at the time what a huge impact it would actually have on my life,” she said.
Surrounded by the faith examples of other students and religious and with opportunities to grow in faith, she began to sense that God was calling her to something deeper.
Her discernment intensified during a semester abroad and it was there that she decided to open herself to God — and to listen.
“After returning to Benedictine, I knew where I was headed and began to search for the right religious order,” said Whitehead. “And no one was surprised at my future plans.”
Using the rules of discernment of St. Ignatius of Loyola and through much prayer, she found the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, commonly known as Las Servidoras.
The order, founded in 1988, now numbers over 1250 sisters and is present in 35 countries.
“I knew immediately that this was where God was calling me to be a spouse of Christ,” she said.
AnneMarie Whitehead became Sister Mary Altar of Sacrifice, a direct title to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her name shows a special consecration to Mary and has inspired her to try to be like Mary to the world.
Following theology studies in Washington, D.C., she spent a year at the International House of Study in Italy with 50 Sisters from 17 different countries.
She then volunteered for mission work in Papua, New Guinea, where a new school was to be established. Due to the extreme climate of that area, her parents and brothers had to support the choice.
“I felt that my general and special education degrees would be a help with the project,” Sister Sacrifice said.
Once the Whitehead family agreed to the assignment, she was ready for her new role in a faraway place.
With her heart open to God, Sister Sacrifice left Italy on Oct. 4 for the long journey to reach the mission in Papua, New Guinea.
“It is with great joy that I am heeding [God’s] call to the religious life and to a life of prayer and service,” she said.
Her faith started in the family and grew through her education. Now, she has begun a life of sharing that faith with others.