BEING a part of the community of the Sisters of Loreto is just what Natalie Houlihan feels she is meant to be.
The 38-year-old was welcomed into the The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday in front of a crowd of about 700 family, friends, Bishops, Sisters at St Patrick's Cathedral.
"I am ecstatic," Sister Houlihan said. "This is what I believe where God has called me to be and in order to be fully that person, this is what I am choosing."
Sister Houlihan is only the second nun to take her perpetual vows in the past six years in Ballarat. Catholic Bishop Peter Connors said he hoped this would encourage other young women and men to pursue a religious life.
"It is seldom nowadays," Bishop Connors said. "Very few young men or women go into religious life. "This is the second Sister that I have professed since I started here in 1997."
Bishop Connors said Sister Houlihan was a mature and beautiful person with great talents. Brought up near Warrnambool in Winslow, Sister Houlihan is the only sister of five brothers. She graduated from University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science and continues to be involved in education, most recently in East Timor.
Sister Houlihan credited her "faith filled family" for instilling a love for the religious way of life into which she entered as a candidate in 2000.
But Sister Houlihan, who vowed to live a life of chastity, poverty and obedience, said she did not consider her calling a sacrifice.
"Naturally (most) people consider a marriage life (which) is a natural human thing to look towards (but) I just felt that this call was a deeper calling and something that spoke more truly of who I am and who God calls me to be, " she said. "I don't think of it as in terms of sacrifice.
"I am gaining whole religious community and I feel there is a greater freedom to be involved in the lives of so many people." Sister Houlihan said the order, which was formed in 1609 by Mary Ward, still remained true to its underlying goal of empowering women within the church and society.
However, she said the Catholic church was working towards giving women more of a role. "It is about how to be inclusive of everyone," she said.
"For me it is about living a life modelled on Jesus - how he served and loved people. "If I can do that...and share gifts that God has given me fully, then I would be truly happy."