JOLIET – Claire Halbur can’t wait for the day when she will stand before God’s altar in a wedding gown and finally exchange her purity ring for a wedding ring.
The difference between Halbur, 28, of Joliet, and many young women her age is that Halbur has never dated, is not engaged and won’t be getting married. Halbur is preparing to become a consecrated virgin, a decision she said “resonates deeply in her heart and in her soul.”
“I only shared it initially with my family and my spiritual director,” Halbur said. “It was almost too precious to talk about freely or publicly, initially.”
Halbur said the tradition of consecrated virgins goes back to early days of the Catholic church, predating organized religious orders. A resurgence occurred in the 1970s, when it became a recognized vocation in the church, and the numbers are growing, Halbur said.
As of 2008, there were about 3,000 consecrated virgins all over the world, according to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins at consecratedvirgins.org. The vocation still is unfamiliar to many people, even Catholics, Halbur added.
Like many women in religious orders, consecrated virgins spend much time in prayer and minister to their communities, Halbur said. Unlike women in religious orders, consecrated virgins are financially responsible for themselves.
But don’t feel sorry for Halbur.
“The life of celibacy is about abundance, not deprivation,” Halbur stated in an email. “A woman called to lifelong virginity doesn’t lose her sexuality. I seek to love Christ and others in a fully feminine way.”
The decision required years of discernment for Halbur, including a difficult walk in a spiritual desert where God became silent.
Halbur grew up in a traditional Catholic home-schooling environment where she became adept in music, wore modest dresses and attended daily Mass. Halbur liked babies and children and assumed she would – one day – marry and raise a family. At her confirmation, Halbur received a chastity ring. She said her parents encouraged her, as well as her two sisters, to wait for “the right guy and the right reason” and concentrate on their personal growth.
“I’m so grateful for that,” Halbur said. “I know the typical teenage girl goes through a lot of heartache, but I had other priorities at that point in my life.”
By her early teens, Halbur had become a catechist in three churches: St. Patrick and St. Joseph in Joliet and St. Dominic in Bolingbrook. She taught private music lessons. Later, she founded and directed the Joliet-based Cherubim Catholic Children’s Choir, was director of music at St. Mary Parish in Plano and coordinated a Catholic children’s day camp.
Halbur also assisted her mother, Barbara Halbur, with a Joliet area Catholic home school group and coordinating state conferences for home school Catholics, which developed her leadership and team-building skills, she said.
“By the time I was an age where I felt old enough to virtuously date, I was focused on other things,” Halbur said. “And there wasn’t a specific guy in my life that would have led to that.”
At age 21, Halbur said Jesus asked her to “lay all of her very natural human dreams and desire at his feet” and agree to belong 100 percent to him and only him.
“So I surrendered and said, ‘Yes,’ ” Halbur said. “I assumed this meant I would go into a convent soon.”
Halbur visited convents of different orders and prayed for direction. God didn’t provide any. Halbur called these years “profound spiritual darkness.” But she trusted him.
So when the dating offers arrived, Halbur refused them, explaining she was “single, but not available.” She wrote about her journey on various Catholic blogs. In 2013, she was contacted by a media company about the possibility of participating in a project about discernment. In 2014, she was accepted.
The project was the Lifetime reality series “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns.” For six weeks, the show followed five Catholic women as they explored the vocation of sisterhood.
After the show ended, Halbur attended a private retreat. She then realized with absolute clarity that God wished her to spend her life and serve him as a consecrated virgin.
So Halbur, the associate director for the children’s choirs at the Cathedral of St. Raymond, said she approached Bishop R. Daniel Conlon at the Diocese of Joliet, who had two conditions before he would consent.
One was that she finish her music degree at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. And she had to secure a full-time job. Halbur said the degree is nearly completed. And this week, she moved to Arizona to serve as director of sacred music at St. Mary Magdalene in Gilbert, a position that opened up for her earlier this summer.
At St. Mary Magdalene, a 4,500-member “vibrant” parish, Halbur said she will strengthen the existing adult choir and build a children’s choir. These choirs will sing music that is part of traditional Catholic liturgy, such as Gregorian chant and ancient choral hymns in the vernacular.
At a Mass this summer, Halbur said she received confirmation of this new direction during the reading of this verse: “I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14.
“I feel very much that God, in his Year of Mercy, very personally expressed this for his bride,” Halbur said.