|Caroline Wilders is currently the director of Immaculate Conception Academy in Wakefield, RI.|
By Elizabeth Stromberg
Wakefield, RI. September 7, 2010. Half-English and half-French,
Caroline Wilders is a woman with a steely will underneath
a serene exterior. She is also a consecrated woman in
Regnum Christi, and will be celebrating her 25th anniversary of
consecration this upcoming November.
Her path in life has not been
an easy one, nor has it been typical. Yet it
has always been marked by the presence and providence of
God—especially when she has needed it most.
Looking for the jungle
had dreamed of being a missionary ever since she was
five years old.
“I dreamed of going to Africa or the
Amazon to be a missionary doctor. I wanted my life
to help others and to bring them close to God,
especially the most needy,” she says.
When she was sixteen,
Caroline started spending her summers at Lourdes. For six years,
her summers were spent “preparing meals, making beds, assisting the
nurses, escorting the pilgrims, and praying to Our Lady to
point out the proper jungle for me to carry out
my missionary work as a doctor.”
After a high school education
focused on math and science, she went on to medical
school, which turned out to be a different sort of
“Medical school in France works like this: anyone with a
baccalaureate can enroll, but only 100 will pass the first
year. My freshman class had 800 students. It was every
student for himself. Students caring only about securing their place
did so by any means. They ripped pages out of
textbooks so that no one else would have access to
needed information, they sold cheat sheets with incorrect answers, and
they gently persuaded other students to drop out.”
“I was lucky
enough to be in medical school with two very good
friends. The three of us studied together, stood up for
each other, and stuck together no matter what. At the
end of that first year, all three of us had
made the top 100.”
|Caroline Wilders with her parents. Her mother is French and her father is English.|
In Lourdes for the summer again during
her third year in medical school, she was attending an
international Mass in various languages on her 21st birthday. As
the priest stood up to read the Gospel, she set
down her water pitcher to pay attention.
of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field…”
The reading was then repeated, first in French, then in
English, then in German (a language she had learned in
school), then in Spanish (a language she had picked up
during the summer).
“Someone should have taken the
water pitcher and poured it over my head. It was
all so clear!” she exclaims.
“Listening to those readings of
the Gospel was like God shouting at me from heaven:
Knock, knock, Caroline! I am that hidden treasure. And, knock
knock, to sell everything means to come follow me. And,
knock knock, if you didn’t catch on at first, let
me repeat myself in a language you will understand!”
her knees before him, in a state of elation and
disbelief, she thanked him with all her heart for “the
greatest birthday present he could ever have given me.”
mission was clear: she was called not just to relieve
the sicknesses of the body, but to attend the greater
and more hidden sicknesses of the soul.
“Christ was calling
me to help the spiritually sick find healing in his
love,” she says.
Having gotten to know the Regnum Christi Movement
through a Legionary priest, she consecrated her life to the
Lord on the Feast of Christ the King in November
Solitude and poverty
The years have not always been
easy, particularly in 1988, when Caroline was founding the Regnum
Christi Movement in France. Three years after making her promises
of poverty, chastity, and obedience, she found herself living the
promise of poverty with particular intensity.
In their first apartment, she
and two Regnum Christi coworkers started out with only one
small suitcase and a rotting chair left by the former
renters of the apartment.
As she sat on the chair
and looked out the window, she saw a church steeple
across the boulevard. “For you, it’s all worth it,” she
whispered. Still, that didn’t change the fact that they had
|Caroline receives a blessing from Pope John Paul II.|
to eat canned food for three months and supply themselves
with furniture from what was left as garbage on the
side of the road.
The months that she spent there without
the Blessed Sacrament in her house and without a lot
of human companionship were some of the externally most difficult
of her consecrated life but at the same time were
moments of deep intimacy with Christ.
That experience also led
to one of the best moments of her consecrated life:
the day she received permission from the local bishop to
have the Blessed Sacrament in her apartment.
“The parish priest
didn’t even tell me, he just took me into the
sacristy and handed me Christ in a small pix. I
had already built the tabernacle and the altar for him
with my own hands. I brought the Eucharist home and
put him in his humble dwelling,” she recalls.
as these have formed her conviction that Christ is also
faithful to his promises.
“Cut off from external securities and distractions,
God’s presence in my life became more and more real.
He showed me that he was the only truly faithful
and reliable friend, and I could seek consolation and companionship
only in him.”
Close calls in Africa
In 1993, she took a
group of missionaries to the Ivory Coast in Africa for
a month-long mission. There, too, adventures were waiting.
one village, she caught the eye of a village chief.
broken French, he asked who the leader of the missionary
group was. When the missionaries pointed to her, he looked
at her and boomed out, “YOU, MY WIFE.” Then, pointing
to his shelter, he said, “THIS, YOUR HUT!”
Knowing she was
risking her life by refusing the head of a tribe
anything, she tried to explain with desperate gestures to her
ring and to the sky that she was already married…
“If I had been of that tribe, I
would most probably have been killed on the spot,” she
muses. “Luckily, they have a wise saying that ‘the stranger
doesn’t know any better.’ That saying saved my life that
In another African village, the people were not particularly thrilled
to welcome the group of French missionaries, since the area
had been a French colony and light-skinned people were a
reminder of past colonization.
While preparing for their work of catechizing
the villagers, the missionaries were told to go and listen
in on a local catechist who was particularly good at
reaching the people with concrete images.
In his lesson on
the meaning and value of sacrifice, the catechist began by
asking the group of 1,000 students (all clustered in the
church) what it meant to offer a sacrifice to God.
When they answered that it meant giving God something of
value, he asked for examples.
“An egg,” someone volunteered.
“Good,” he answered.
“And if you have a big egg and a small
egg, which do you want to offer?”
“The big egg,”
a student called out.
“And if you have a white egg
and a brown egg, which do you want to offer?”
Well aware of the missionaries’ presence, the catechist
continued with more examples (a chicken, a sheep, a cow).
The larger, whiter object was always the better sacrifice.
he stopped, and with great dramatic effect said, “We all
know that human sacrifices are still going on just a
short distance from here, but as Catholics, we don’t do
The implied statement seemed to be that the best one
to sacrifice would nonetheless be the white one…
“The white missionaries
in the Church felt very white… and quite unsafe!” says
Good Friday in a post-war zone
While on Holy Week missions
in Croatia shortly after the war between Bosnia and Croatia,
Caroline was walking through a makeshift orphanage full of handicapped
It was Good Friday around 3 pm. There was
rock music playing on the speakers, she had her crucifix
in her pocket, and she was trying to unite herself
spiritually to Christ in his passion and death.
into one of the rooms, where a young woman was
lying in bed. When the woman saw that Caroline had
her hands in her pockets, she asked excitedly in German
if she had any chocolates or cigarettes. Caroline said she
didn’t, and hesitatingly took the crucifix out of her pocket,
expecting that the handicapped woman would feel let down.
her eyes lit up and she stretched out her hands.
She took the crucifix and with great love and reverence
kissed it over and over again.
“It was the most memorable
Good Friday veneration of the cross that I’ve ever had,”
Cultivating a garden
Caroline is currently working at Immaculate
Conception Academy, a boarding school for high school girls who
are discerning their vocation to consecrated life in Regnum Christi.
Her mission has taken her from African and urban jungles
to a garden where the youth are learning to discover
Christ and grow in his friendship.
For Caroline, the certainty
that Christ is always with her and that he is
faithful has always been source of strength and comfort. For
her, these years have been well worth it because she
has always been accompanied by his love.
“Jesus Christ is
my life and my everything,” she says. “Being consecrated means
being a missionary doctor in the fullest and most sublime
sense of the word. My jungle is the world. My
patients are anyone who needs to discover meaning in life.
My prescription: Jesus Christ. Take daily. Fully refillable, no risk
Click here for more information about the consecrated life:
To email Caroline for more information about
Immaculate Conception Academy: Cwilders@inteducators.org