When I was young, I used to associate religious life with the smell of strongly boiled cabbage since this was the smell I always got when I visited a convent close to my home!! Since I wasn’t a big fan of cabbage and didn’t think I could eat it every day for the rest of my life, I remember thinking that maybe this vocation was not for me!
I am blessed to come from a strong Catholic family. As a family, we would rise at 6 a.m. every morning to go to Mass and Adoration before school. We would pray together as a family in the evenings, praising God, reading Scripture and often saying the rosary too, just like we do here with the sisters. Youth 2000 and the many friendships I formed there also played a huge role in supporting my faith.
As a teenager, I remember being in Adoration one day when I distinctly felt a call to religious life. Interestingly, I sensed that this was to be in a foreign country – I thought perhaps in India as I had done some missionary work there. I remember though that the thought of leaving home and Ireland and all I held dear deeply upset me. My Mum consoled me saying that if God was calling me to religious life, he would also give me a desire for religious life. Feeling ‘off the hook’, I put the incident behind me.
I was competitive by nature and loved numbers. After school, I pursued accounting studies and became a qualified accountant. I also became a qualified tax consultant with a large global firm. Life was good. I bought a nice apartment and enjoyed having groups of friends over for dinners and late night parties. I loved to travel and spent lots of money on clothes, entertainment and entertaining. However, I began to take my eyes off the essentials. My life began to resemble an overloaded tumble dryer – too many clothes and a life constantly spinning without rest. I got caught up in the stresses of life and drifted spiritually. In 2005 I reached a point where I knew that I had to take drastic action. I left my stable, well-paying job of 9 years and took a 3-month personal retreat, spending time in Medjugorje and Peru.
Even though I was not considering religious life at the time, I remember saying to Jesus that the time I would spend in Medjugorje would be my ‘honeymoon with Him’ – an interesting use of words in hindsight. Well, Valentine’s Day happened to fall during that ‘honeymoon’ and being the romantic that I am, I remember hinting to Jesus that I would love some little sign of His love. On the evening of Valentine’s Day, I went out to one of the local restaurants for dinner. I placed my order and went back to reading my book. Seconds later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a red rose being gently placed on my table. I looked up to see the waiter who had just placed the rose going back to his work without a single word or a further glance in my direction. I shyly checked out the other tables all round me, but not one of them had a red rose on it! Mine was the only one. I felt very strongly that this was my Valentine’s Day gift from Jesus and it thrilled my heart.
In the course of my stay in Medjugorje, I met an Irish priest who encouraged me to consider going to Franciscan University in Steubenville (“FUS”) to take some classes in theology. The way he said it ignited something within me and I began to pray about whether this was where God was leading me. After all, I had come to Medjugorje to seek God’s guidance, to give myself a chance to hear Him speak to me, away from the clutter of my life back home. I took many months to discern this. It was a big decision. I was dating a really great guy in Dublin at the time and knew that this relationship would be put in jeopardy. It would also mean selling my apartment and moving to a country I had never set foot in before. However, through prayer I really felt that God was calling me to this new and “immense country” (Is 34:17) to seek Him out in this new adventure.
In January 2006 I arrived at FUS, newly single and homesick. I missed my family and friends, Irish tea and black pudding (an absolutely delightful concoction made from pig’s blood) in that order. Shortly after I arrived, I remember being fascinated by the numbers of young priests, sisters and brothers that I saw around campus – holy men and women in love with Jesus who were living out their call in a radical but joyful way. I was curious and began to attend Days of Discernment with some local orders.
A word spoken at a time of prayer on campus really struck a chord with me “Find your delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Well, I wasn’t sure what my deepest desires were. I thought that they were for marriage but I knew that it was possible that I had not quite plumbed the depths of my own heart. Maybe there were even deeper desires hidden there that I was unaware of. So I told the Lord that I would concentrate on the first part – ‘finding my delight in Him’ and I would wait on Him to reveal to me what my deepest desires were in His own good time. One way that I felt drawn to find my delight in Him was to spend as much time as I could in Adoration both before and after Mass. I literally wrapped my Mass in a sandwich of prayer. And I found this to be powerful. Jesus began to weave a web of love between my heart and His, drawing me ever closer to Him. I just could not stay away from Him for very long. I was very aware that He was the one doing the leading, and I was simply responding. I would feel the tug on my heart as I sat in class or in the library studying and I knew that the tug had its source in the tabernacle. I also felt drawn to begin fasting in earnest to seek clarity and discernment. At home I had always struggled with fasting but I could really see the effects now as I began to fast with the heart. I also talked at length to some of the priests and brothers on campus who were further along the spiritual road than I was and who were able to help me in my discernment. This helped me enormously.
A word shared by one of the friars at Mass really struck me – “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose”. What was I trying to keep? Was it not better to gain what I could not lose? Then at the consecration of that Mass, the words “This is My body which will be given up for you” really stirred something deep within me. There was I, thinking fondly of and mourning over all the things that I would have to “give up” if I entered religious life, but here was Jesus in front of me, giving up His very own body and blood for me every single day, giving so totally of Himself for love of me. I knew that no “giving up” of mine could ever match that. Here was Someone who could love me as I had never been loved before! I felt swept up in a whirlwind of love that I had never before experienced.
My priest friend from Ireland whom I had met in Medjugorje, and was based in Steubenville, spoke to me about how short life is and how important it is to keep the eternal picture in mind. He also spoke about how badly the world needs intercessory prayer and peoples’ sacrifices. The Lord also continued to use Scripture to capture my heart. Another word that I received in prayer was from Isaiah 34:17:
“Your eyes are going to look on a king (note ‘King’!) in his beauty,
they will see an immense country (hmmm…..I wonder what that country might be?!);
your heart will look back on its fears:
Where is he who counted (exactly what I had been doing, counting out what I would ‘lose’)
Where is he who weighed out?”
But the journey was not all roses and walks in the park. There was real grieving involved in giving up my dream of marriage and also dealing with the prospective separation from home and Ireland if I pursued religious life in the U.S. My family was incredibly supportive of my vocational calling and this helped a lot. But there were deep struggles in the letting go process. But as time went by, I had an increased desire to give these things up (good as they were) to Jesus out of love for Him. When you are in love with someone, nothing seems too big to give up to show that person how much you love them. You do all sorts of crazy things that you would never do for anybody else. I desired to give Jesus not just what I had, but also what I was – I desired to give myself to Him. I had to admit that my relationships with guys had left me looking for something more. I remember that just as I started my last relationship, I said to Jesus that this one would be different. This time, I would not neglect Him in terms of quality time or attentiveness during prayer as I dated. And yet, I did neglect Him, and I was conscious of my divided heart. It seemed that I just could not do both, try as I wanted to. And something within me longed to have an undivided heart, to give my heart to only One.
When I first met the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R., I realized with amazement how God had been placing their charisms on my heart before I even met them. In particular, I loved the way that they see themselves at the foot of the cross with Our Lady. Our Lady played a huge role in leading me closer to her Son during my vocational journey and indeed throughout my life so I felt a special connection to this order with its strong devotion to both Jesus and Mary. The sisters are also intensely Eucharistic and have a strong ministry of intercessory prayer. I also felt drawn to their contemplative-active way of life, their times of silence, their fraternal way of life, their sense of fun and their practical healthy approach to daily living (exercising a few times a week etc.). And they don’t eat cabbage everyday!
And so, on the 18th of August in 2007, I crossed the threshold of my new home here full of hope and excitement and ready for the next stage of the adventure.
Please continue to pray for me!