Hey! My name is Sr. Maria Clare and I entered as a candidate for the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. in August 2008! I am from Westfield, Indiana. I’d like to share with you how God has worked in me and the unfolding of his plan for my life. I received the call to the religious life at a young age. The Lord blessed me with a strong Catholic family and the faith was always something important at home. My mom had a little library and always had a ton of saint books on the shelves. I loved them and couldn’t read enough of them! Looking back later on I noticed a trend of being attracted more to the saints who were virgins for the love of Jesus. I thought, “All of these awesome women gave their lives up for Jesus… I want to be just like them!” My awareness of this desire to give my life completely to Christ came when I was 10.
In middle school my family became involved in the Regnum Christi lay movement. They played a part in exposing me to the consecrated life and helped me to grow in my initial relationship with God. Now fast-forward to my junior year of high school! I switched high schools for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I wasn’t being supported in my faith. I was going to youth group every week up to that point and had a couple of good friends at the public school I transferred to, thanks be to God! One of the girls asked me if I wanted to go to 6:30 a.m. Mass every day before school. I said yes and it became an everyday event for the rest of my high school career. The Lord really blessed me through this because it was from those communions with him that I began to have a deeper relationship with the Lord. My heart gradually became more open to the call.
At the end of high school, I applied for Franciscan University of Steubenville, was accepted, and started in the fall of 2003. On campus, there were Catholic men’s and women’s groups called households, each focusing on a different devotion of our faith. The one I joined, Agape, taught me so much about what it meant to live in a community, loving one another as Christ loved us from the cross. They prompted me to attend a retreat called Born in the Spirit, which is a charismatic retreat. I was prayed over by a group of students, asking for an even deeper relationship with God and a greater acceptance of the graces of my Baptism. One of the images that Jesus gave me through the leader was of Jesus asking me to dance and me accepting his hand. I felt that this was specifically connected to my vocation and that Jesus wanted me to be His and His alone. I was filled with uncontainable joy!
A year later, I studied abroad in Austria, for the spring of 2005. A significant encounter occurred when the campus went on a pilgrimage to Rome. John Paul II was sick in the hospital at this point. He was one of my heroes, so when I found out that we were going to pray for him at the hospital, I was really excited!!! It was during this encounter with the Pope that Christ gave me a great desire to give my life for the Church just as John Paul was giving his whole life to it. This was a turning point for me. Jesus broke through and gave me the courage to discern this call and the courage to actually think about visiting communities of sisters.
So I came back from Austria and began visiting different convents. The first I went to was wonderful, but I didn’t receive any peace in my heart. The next one seemed to fit even more but I still wasn’t completely at peace. I began to get frustrated. To add to the overall frustration, my spiritual director was reassigned and so I had to find another spiritual director for my senior year. I eventually was able to put these situations in Jesus’ hands and trust in Him.
Also during this year, I went on a mission trip to Belize. I have no idea how I got there, except that I had the desire to go on a catechetical mission, so there I was. The missionaries were sent out two by two to the local schools to teach for the week. One of the postulants with the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. (Sr. Eliana Day) went with us and I just happened to be her partner. Now, up to this point in my discernment, I was a little superficial: I had to have the “dream habit”! I wanted to wear the long, ankle-length habit with a beautiful, long veil and a scapular, but wasn’t really looking into much more than that. If I was going to give my life to Jesus and give up everything, couldn’t I at least have a semi-attractive habit?! In working with Sr. Eliana that week, Jesus led me to see that I had desires in my heart for the contemplative life and other desires that were much deeper than the desire for a good looking habit. She invited me on a discernment retreat with her community, but I politely declined.
At the beginning of my senior year I found a spiritual director, and through his instrumental work, I finally surrendered to going to a discernment retreat at the T.O.R. Sisters. I recall actually having the gumption to stubbornly reply to the sisters when they asked me the reason I came on the retreat that I was there “out of obedience”. The entire weekend was blessed and I think that I was intrigued, but also hesitant. After a couple more visits, the Lord really made it clear to me and changed my heart to see that this was where I was meant to be – it felt like home. Some things that attracted me about the sisters were their joy, the call to be contemplatives in the world, adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist, on-going conversion, charismatic prayer, Marian devotion, intercessory prayer with Mary at the foot of the cross, and the fraternal life. I entered in August 2008 and I can see how the Lord is just showering down His blessings. Praise Him with all your being!