Sr. Chiara Joan
Growing up in a Catholic family is a huge blessing that I still treasure to this day. My parents’ constant devotion to Mass and prayer as a family is what first introduced me to Jesus Christ. Although I did not claim Christ as my own until high school, the building blocks of a relationship with Him had already been formed from a young age. I have always had a deep love of the Eucharist. The Sunday after receiving my First Communion I was so ill I could not attend Mass. Because of this, I cried for a good portion of the day because of how desperately I wanted to receive Christ. Even though I went 15 years of my life without a personal relationship with Jesus, my love for the Eucharist never seemed to dwindle. This has truly been my saving grace in my life and in regard to my vocation.

In high school and through college I had a poor image of myself. I always thought that I was too much but not enough at the same time and allowed this thought to eat away at my heart and my thoughts. This was the biggest barrier between me and the Lord that we had to work through together. My relationship with Jesus really blossomed the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I went on a retreat with some friends in Omaha, Nebraska, and it was the first time I had really been surrounded by young people who were passionate about Jesus.

One evening, we could choose to get prayed over and as I was being prayed over there were two beautiful images shared with me by the people praying over me (by “image” I mean a picture that came to their mind).  The first image was myself surrounded by garbage and in a gross pit of filth and St. Joan of Arc was guarding me and protecting me from all of this, and with that came a sense of her protecting my purity. The protection of my purity was happening for a specific purpose and was taking saints from heaven to make sure that my purity did indeed stay intact.

The other image received was of me sitting at a desk and Mother Mary leaning over me, holding my hand, writing the story of my life with me. This was the first time I had ever received Mary as my mother. I found myself journaling to her throughout the week and she slowly and gently guided me toward her son. About halfway through this week-long retreat, during Mass, while the priest was holding up the host during the prayers of consecration, a great peace flooded the caverns of my soul, and as I looked up at the sisters who were doing music ministry, I remember thinking, “Lord, this could be me. This could be what you are calling me to”. That was the first time I felt the call to religious life. Although I did not resist this thought much through high school and even the beginnings of college, I still had in the core of my soul the desire of every woman: to be found beautiful and worthy of someone’s attention and desires. I was always trying to find my worth in men and what society deemed to be acceptable and beautiful. Thankfully, even though I had this mindset, my physical purity was kept whole by the grace of God.

After much discernment, I decided to attend Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I had a really hard first semester of college, in which I felt like God had all but abandoned me and that I had made the wrong decision in coming to this university. However, after explaining these hardships and frustrations to one of the campus ministers, he assured me that God was always present even when I could not feel Him and he recommended that I come out to visit the T.O.R. Sisters. Having had a bad experience visiting a convent just a few weeks prior to this, I was very reluctant to respond to the idea. However, this priest is a VERY persistent man, and every time I saw him around campus he would ask if I had contacted the sisters yet. Finally, just to be able to tell him something other than “No”, I emailed our vocations director just to get more information about their community. However, through the course of the conversation, I signed up for a vocation discernment retreat being held in the next couple of weeks

From the moment I said yes, I had an immense fear of going. I think I was afraid of knowing the truth of who God was calling me to be and what He was calling me to do. Through the encouragement of my spiritual director, I did come out for the vocation retreat, and it was such a beautiful weekend for me. During one part of the retreat, we have Eucharistic adoration and you can come kneel right in front of Jesus and touch a cloth that is wrapped around the monstrance. I looked into the monstrance where Jesus was and I just kept thinking about how beautiful Jesus was. As I was thinking this, the Lord told me that I am nothing but a reflection of Him and I possess the same beauty that I was seeing in Him. He was slowly working through my desire to be seen as beautiful from a man and to feel loved.

Even after all of this, I was still convinced that the Lord was not calling me to religious life, so I went back to school content with discerning marriage. However, the Lord kept placing on my heart His deep, desiring love for me. This is a very hard call to ignore.  I came out for another visit a few months later and felt nothing but peace and a deeper desire to be a part of this community. One of my friends came with me on this visit and confirmed how much I seemed to fit in and feel at home with the sisters. A few months after that, I came on a Come and See, which is a deeper time of discernment, living with the sisters and experiencing their way of life. After this Come and See, I had a deeper peace and love than I’d ever had before, and I deeply wanted to be a part of this community. During this time, I also took on a Holy Hour in our student chapel and was falling more and more deeply in love with the Lord. This one Holy Hour ended up turning into two and I found other chapels on campus that had adoration at different times. I also started attending daily Mass and vespers with the monks. In a sense, my life skyrocketed from that one Holy Hour with the Lord!

After going to a seminar on Theology of the Body by Christopher West and hearing how he so beautifully talked about consecrated life, I saw this life as the desire of my heart, and through much discernment and prayer, I decided to enter that coming summer. During this time, I was also reading 33 Days to Morning Glory, and although I didn’t pay much attention to my consecration day initially, I did once it came on March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation, when Mary gave her eternal Fiat to God. That same day is when I gave my fiat, my yes to God, and how he has blessed that!srchiarajoansignature

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