Vocation Stories

The “door of faith” is always open for us,
ushering us into the life of communion with God…
To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.
-Pope Benedict XVI

One Thing I Ask

I am quite proud of being the daughter of a farmer from southwest Michigan. I am the third of ten children, and am grateful to God for the Catholic Faith of my parents, which they devotedly instilled into each of us, by both word and example. I am also grateful for the valuable foundation of community life, in which I was raised from the very beginning. My contemplative vocation has its roots in this upbringing, specifically my love for our Faith, community, prayer, and solitude. I had an even greater opportunity to discover this during my high school years, when I was homeschooled. Between farm chores, helping to care for my siblings, and homework, I began to ask “the deeper questions”: Who am I? Why am I here? In what way can I best serve and please God? I was very much drawn to the religious life—or at least, what I imagined the religious life to be, since I had never met a Sister. I was especially interested in being a missionary in a third world country—to introduce many souls to Jesus, who, for me, was so real and captivating. I wanted everyone to know and love Him.

My first encounter with Sisters occurred when I began college. The Felician Sisters (an active Franciscan Congregation) sponsored the college I attended. I was so blessed to be able to go to daily Mass with them and right away, I began speaking with their vocation director. A year and a half later, I entered the community, where I eventually became a secondary school science teacher. After teaching for five years, I began ministering to the youth in a detention facility, to prisoners, and detained immigrants. Finally, I served as a college campus minister.

I loved being a Sister, and yet, if I had to be entirely honest, something was missing. I searched for answers—spent more time in prayer and spiritual direction, earned more degrees, got involved in more and more ministries…

Finally, after thirteen years, I went on a 30 day Ignatian retreat. The setting was perfect: the rolling hills and prairie grass of South Dakota, the vast fields and open country, the holy priests who served as directors, the beautiful chapels, our daily Mass and Adoration—it was heavenly. And yet, I would have never been able to predict the outcome of my retreat. Of course, I came searching for answers, and I knew that God would faithfully respond, but I never expected that the answer would involve such a radical change of life! God’s invitation to me was to enter a cloistered monastery. The invitation came gently, peacefully, SO CLEARLY…and my heart had never been filled with such joy and gratitude. My conversations with my spiritual director only served to further confirm and clarify what I was hearing in prayer. Furthermore, I knew that I was being called to be a Poor Clare and I was almost positive that it was to the Poor Clare Monastery in Kokomo, Indiana. I wrote Reverend Mother Abbess as soon as the retreat was over. A week later, I visited as a discerner, and after receiving permission from my original community to transfer, I entered the Monastery about two months later.

From the time I heard this invitation during my retreat to this very day and forever, my heart will sing with the Psalmist: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord, to contemplate in His holy Temple” (Psalm 27). I have learned that God not only answers our questions when we truly and humbly seek Him, but He fills our deepest longings and desires with nothing other than Himself. Deo gratias!

His Word Got From My Head to My Heart

The day was July 29th, the feast of Saint Martha, and I eagerly attended the 11 o’clock Mass.  Martha was my middle name, and the day seemed special.

I had my bachelor’s degree in elementary education and was happy teaching.  I never dreamed that God had other plans for me.

The homily at Mass that day began peacefully, but by the time Father ended, I was boiling inside.  Father had spoken about Martha and her sister, Mary, by comparing the active and the contemplative vocations, focusing on the fact that Mary had indeed chosen “the better part”.  Barely out of his vestments, I stomped up to him and with a clenched fist, but smiling, said, “Father, you made me so mad during your homily!”  Well, that was not what either of us expected to hear!  He responded, “You seem upset.  Maybe we should talk about this?”  And we did, for the next four years!

Eventually God’s Word got from my head into my heart, and I responded to a cloistered Poor Clare vocation.  Now, over 30 years later, I’m still rejoicing in this gift!

To Give God Everything

My vocation to be a Poor Clare came as a surprise to me.  Growing up I had always wanted to be a wife and mother.  I had religious sisters in grade school, but the idea of a vocation had never crossed my mind until one day in the eighth grade.  During class we were watching a video about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and I was intensely interested.  The thought flashed through my mind, “I could be happy doing that.”  My next thought was, “Where in the world did that come from?!”  After that brief episode I didn’t give it any more thought.  In fact, it wasn’t until years later that I came to understand what was so attractive to me about Mother Teresa’s life and what God was saying to me through it.

When I was seventeen, a group of my girlfriends from high school were going on a retreat weekend to a convent.  I knew nothing about these sisters, or what the weekend would hold, but since my friends were going, it sounded like fun.  It turned out that I was astonished by what I saw that weekend – many young, happy sisters in full, traditional habits, with angelic singing and inspiring presentations.  When I returned home, I couldn’t stop talking about it, so my parents asked me when I was going to enter.  I was startled, but quickly replied that it was a beautiful life, but it wasn’t for me.  At the time I had a boyfriend and was intent on getting married someday.  Besides, I had already promised him that there was no way I’d become a nun!

Soon after, I put the convent thoughts aside and returned to my busy high school life.  Eventually I started college with a major in nursing, but I sensed a restlessness within myself.  I started asking God what He was saying to me.  I felt drawn like a magnet to daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.  In the midst of this searching, I started to think of the weekend retreat I had been on in high school, so I decided to go back.  That was the beginning of my serious discernment.  The attraction was too intense to put aside again.

Throughout my discernment I spent a lot of time in Eucharistic Adoration.  It was there that I always found peace and the courage to go forward, because at times I thought I must be crazy!

Eventually after writing and visiting a variety of active religious communities, I went to visit the last place on my list.  I had put the Poor Clares last on my list on purpose.  Although I was very interested in their life, it was also the one that scared me the most!  The whole idea of the cloister, the absoluteness of it all, made my stomach flutter, yet in my more honest (and stronger) moments, I had to admit that it was the place that attracted me the most.

Finally I went to visit.  By the end of the weekend, I knew I had found my future home.  I cried the whole way home.  How could I find the courage to do it?  I believed God was calling me, but how could I leave my wonderful family, my nursing career, my dreams of marriage?  But when I thought about the simplicity and joy I had experienced when I spoke with the sisters that weekend, I realized that it was the same simplicity and joy I saw in the life of Mother Teresa so many years ago.  The sisters had so little and yet they were so happy.  And that was just it.  That was the deepest desire of my heart.  To give God everything, not just in theory, but really, truly.  When I was in Kokomo I knew I had found everything I really ever wanted.

Five months later I entered, and I’ve never been sorry.

Enough For Time and Eternity

A vocation is a response to the gift and mystery of God’s call:  “You did not choose me; I chose you” (John 15:15).  It is a unique and personal call, with roots being prepared even before birth.  I could write a dozen vocation stories—all true, all different, all facets of the precious relationship and circumstances that form my story and response.

I am the oldest of eight who grew up in a strong, Catholic farm family.  Sunday Mass, First Fridays, Lenten Stations of the Cross, Forty Hours, and confession twice a month (stopping for ice cream cones afterwards in the summer) were all part of a Catholic culture that formed me, even though there was little talk about religion outside of these times.  My family and faith deeply prepared my vocation.

While leaving out many details to keep this brief, I wondered:  “Is heaven boring?  Just sitting around looking at God forever?”  I felt attracted to the contemplative life of a nun, but was God really enough, both for time and eternity?

I now have absolute certainty and perfect peace in answering that question of years ago:  “No, heaven is not going to be boring!  God is sufficient.  We will never tire of plunging deeper into the mystery of God.”  A vocation is about relationships—relationship with the Triune God, relationships with the communion of saints in heaven, saints of earth and would-be saints in the making.  Our life here is a time to practice, to be tested and trained for that all-embracing relationship with God and to bring as many with us into that goal of our life.  If life in a monastery is a fair test, heaven will be far from boring!

God’s Plan Was Infinitely Better

I had an inclination toward God and Catholicism as a child, but my Faith occupied a small portion of my life as I grew up.  Thanks to my devout mother, I went to Mass every Sunday and confession once a month, but the sisterhood never entered my mind as a possibility for my life.  Since I attended public grade and high schools and was surrounded by secular friends, I only vaguely knew that nuns even existed.  My plan since childhood was to get married and to have a family, “just like everyone else”.

As a freshman in college, I had a conversion and began to fall in love with Jesus and His Church.  This prompted me to switch my major from journalism (my dream since high school had been to be a rock music critic for a large newspaper) to Theology.  Then, during my sophomore year, God opened my eyes to the possibility of a religious vocation.  I had a supernatural experience during one Sunday Mass first semester, in which I felt the Lord inviting me to become a sister – although I didn’t know what a sister was.  It was too powerful to ignore, so I decided to spend part of my winter break that year on a “Nun Run,” a convent tour for girls thinking of entering a religious community.  The first stop on the Nun Run was a Poor Clare monastery.  Sister came into the parlor and stood on the other side of a barred partition in the middle of the room.  She was wearing a full habit and I noticed that her feet were bare.  She was the first cloistered nun (and perhaps even the first habited sister) I’d ever seen.  As Sister explained the Poor Clare life to us, something deep inside of me said, “I want this,” but my attraction became overshadowed by all sorts of fears about such a radical way of life.

I spent the next four years in discernment – first coming to peace with the vocation to the religious life that Our Lord had given me; next, discerning that I was being called to be a contemplative nun, rather than an active sister; and last, discovering my Poor Clare vocation within a specific community.  I see now that I spent much of that “discernment” time running away from God and His plans and trying to convince Him that my ideas were better.  In fact, I distinctly remember praying one day, “I know that You’re calling me to be a nun, but You are God; You can change anything.  Change Your mind and call me to marriage instead!”  Yet in His Mercy and Love, He gently and persistently continued to lead me to His Will, and thus to the fulfillment of my deepest and truest desires.  Now that I am in the cloister, I am so grateful that  God didn’t listen to me, because His plan was infinitely better than mine.  I’ve never been happier.  Really.

What More Could Anyone Desire?

My first seven years in Catholic schools never saw me raise my hand when the Sisters would ask who wanted to become a Sister someday.  I did not like them, and wanted nothing to do with them.  They were hard on me, but I suppose that was necessary to clip my free wings.  Today I thank these Sisters for the solid Catholic education I would have never gotten at home.  By the seventh grade we were part of a new parish with a different order of Sisters.  I greatly loved and admired my eighth grade teacher, and wanted to be just like her.  But the convent was not a possibility until after college.  I then investigated two active orders and even entered one for a few months.  However, they were both in the process of “modernizing” and I wanted none of that!

It took ten years before I began thinking of a religious vocation again, even though I had attended daily Mass all that time.  After a period of waiting, discussing with my spiritual director and writing various monasteries, I arrived in Kokomo.

There have been hills and valleys along the way, but I know God called me to the best life for me.  He has blessed me with much peace and joy.  What more under heaven could anyone desire?