Sr. Carrie Ann- Go, sell what you have and give to the poor

sr carrie ann mckeown, franciscan sisters torGrowing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, I never thought about religious life as an option. I took it for granted that you get married and you have kids. That is just what you do! Because I lived in the South, I never saw sisters on a daily basis, so it didn’t enter my mind that that was an option.

I attended community college for two years in my hometown and then transferred to Ferrum College in Rocky Mount, Virginia in 1997.  I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing in 1999. During that last semester of my senior year, I knew that I didn’t want to work in the business field. I just really felt that the Lord had placed a calling in my heart to serve His people, and I didn’t know how to do this or where God was calling me.

So I flew to Ireland for a month by myself to do some soul searching. I stayed in Belfast with a friend who had attended Ferrum as a foreign exchange student during my junior year. She was attending Queen’s College, so I traveled during the day to different places. It was a pretty significant trip for me, and it wasn’t until I came back that I realized the Lord had done something in my heart that was very hidden and unseen. He was making me more simple. I started giving away my clothes and became less interested in the things that the world had to offer. I felt like the Lord was drawing me more and more to Himself by clearing out the clutter inside of me. He was preparing me to hear the call to become a religious.

I ended up getting a job at a men’s clothing store back home in Lynchburg. I was an assistant manager there for two years. During that time I increased my prayer life and attended daily Mass. I was really seeking after the Lord’s will and what he wanted for me during that time. It was very difficult to be at home because my parents wanted me to do something with my degree and move my life along. It was hard for them to understand what this waiting period meant. I myself didn’t really know what it meant either. I just sensed that He was preparing me during this time and I just really had to wait upon him.

In 2000, I went to World Youth Day in Rome. One of the places our group went to was Assisi. I remember praying in the Portiuncula fervently to the Lord, asking that He would help me find my place in this world – where I’m supposed to be and how I’m supposed to serve Him.

In March 2001, I called a deacon at my parish, Holy Name of Mary, and asked if he would pray with me on a Thursday evening. He agreed, and when we met, he gave me the Gospel passage from Matthew 19 about the rich young man who goes to Jesus and asks Him, “What do I need to do to follow you?” Jesus responds, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The deacon told me, “I felt like the Lord asked me to give this to you.” That same Gospel was read the next morning at Mass. On Saturday, I left for a retreat that was on the Holy Spirit in Raleigh, North Carolina. There, one of the speakers talked about that Gospel as well. So I received that Gospel three times! I didn’t know this until later, but Matthew 19:21 was one of the passages St. Francis received when he opened the Gospel three times.

I went to pray in one of the gardens at the retreat center, and I heard the Lord say to my heart, “Become the bride of Christ.” It filled me with so much joy! It brought me to an awareness that He was calling me to religious life. During those two years, He was preparing me to hear the call and be able to give a response—to say yes. I never felt any hesitation to say yes to Him because I feel that period of time after college was a time that prepared my heart so that there wouldn’t be any resistance.

The deacon had also given me a book of different volunteer programs in the United States. I read through it and found information on the Alive program run by the Congregation of Notre Dame sisters. In August, I ended my job at the clothing store and moved to Manhattan for the program. I lived with the sisters and volunteered as a teacher’s aide at St. Jean Baptiste, an all-girls’ inner-city high school. As I was flying home after my interview with one of the sisters, I remember looking out the window over the city and thinking to myself, “Wow, Lord, the city is really big and there are so many people in such a small area! I don’t know that I would ever want to live in a big city like this.” But He said, “This is where my people are.” I didn’t have any experience teaching, but I taught 9th and 10th grade English the first semester, and 12th grade U.S. Government in the spring. I also taught karate as an after-school program and I taught one girl how to play the flute. The students there came from the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, and they were only able to attend that school because they had sponsors.

My weekends were free, so I visited five or six different religious orders in my spare time, mostly in the New York and New Jersey area. One of the women who went to World Youth Day with me was a Franciscan University alumna, and she had told me about our community. When I finally visited here, I just felt so much at peace that I knew that was where He was calling me. I entered in August 2002. On May 21, 2005, the eve of Trinity Sunday, I made my first profession of vows, and I professed perpetual vows on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 6, 2010.

When I was at our mission house in Gaming, Austria in 2010-2011, I visited Assisi again, and I was reminded of the time I had prayed in the Portiuncula. The Lord brought me back to the same place, 10 years later, within the year of my final vows. I realized He had answered my prayer!

Now I live at Heart of Mary, our mission house in downtown Steubenville. It has been a journey, but as St. Francis would say, it is a journey that has only just begun. Through my work with the poor in Manhattan and now here, the Lord has been bringing me deeper and deeper into an understanding of my spiritual poverty and helping me to see myself as God sees me. He is helping me to embrace the leper within myself as well as within others, which means to accept people where they are at and for who they are instead of trying to change them. It is the love of Christ along with my cooperation with the Holy Spirit that will transform the lives of the people I encounter. That love that Christ gives me, I in turn give to them, and they in turn give it to others. It is His love that keeps flowing throughout the world.Sr. Carrie Ann McKeown, T.O.R.

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