Hi. My name is Sr. Eliana (pronounced Ellie-ah-na). I grew up in Pennsylvania with one younger brother. We were a Protestant family although we weren’t deeply religious. We went to church on Sundays and prayed before meals. I fell away from any faith in high school and was deeply into the party scene at college. I hit bottom and for the first time looked up to God for help. He gave me his mercy and his love and I began to live my life for him. In seeking him more deeply in the Scriptures and through the witness of some friends, I found the truth in the Catholic Church and converted when I was 21. (Obviously there is a whole story here, but that will have to wait for another time. On to the vocation story…)
After my conversion to Catholicism, I went to the Franciscan University of Steubenville to finish college… actually, my motivation was mostly to be in a Catholic atmosphere to learn what it really means to be Catholic. While I was there I avoided all the religious sisters at all costs. I was not interested! Instead, I was interested in boys and did date a bit. It was a new experience for me to date men who were into their faith and not just interested in a physical relationship with me.
For my graduation gift, I asked my parents for a plane ticket to Rome. The group I was with was invited to pray the Rosary one night with Pope John Paul II. After the rosary, the Pope spoke to us, but in my heart I felt the Lord asking me to leave the group and go over to an image of the Blessed Mother. I sat there and began to talk to Our Lady about the lack of peace that was in my heart all day long. I sensed her response in my heart, “Just be open.” I knew immediately she was asking me to consider religious life. I wrestled with her and the idea for awhile and then responded that I would “just think about it.” Well, within minutes I was so excited and filled with joy! I was thinking about different habits and what colors I would like and how cute I would look in it! I had a lot to learn.
I did make a deal with the Lord, though. I told him that if he wanted me, he would have to woo me. I would expect that of any man and so I expected it of him too. And that’s exactly what he did. The next six years I spent really getting to know him. I went to daily Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, read Scripture, went on retreats, met regularly with a spiritual director, as well as being heavily involved in youth ministry. I knew that no matter what vocation he called me to, the most important thing was to do his will and the only way to do his will was to get to know him. He spoke to me a lot through Scripture. One of the most powerful verses he gave me for my vocation was Isaiah 62:5, “As a young man marries a virgin, so shall your builder marry you.” I was in awe that my God, my Creator would want to marry me.
My discernment those six years was totally led by the Lord. He took me on a cyclical journey kind of like a spiral staircase that went down deeper and deeper into my heart to discover the true desires of my heart. First we would consider religious life and then after awhile we’d switch to married life and then back again. Each time around we would get more and more specific. For example, when thinking about marriage, we started thinking about the vocation generally, then later I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with a solid Catholic family, and finally he introduced me to a guy who made marriage a possibility for me. As I took all of this to prayer, I was able to see the beauty in each vocation and soon I was able to see myself in each vocation as well.
One key experience happened on New Year’s Eve. I had just returned from a difficult visit with my family in time for an adoration service. The priest kept talking about how God still does miracles. I was cynical and inside said, “Whatever!” The Lord broke into my thoughts and impressed this question into my heart, “Do you want to see a miracle?” I was pretty shocked and not so sure. He really didn’t wait for me to answer. I felt a pain in my heart and had an image in my mind of my heart. It had long black tentacles or roots grown deep into it. They started to shrivel up and then the Lord pulled them out of my heart and healed the wounds. Immediately I was filled with a sense of exuberant joy! I sensed that the roots represented a lie that I had believed unconsciously—the lie that because of some experiences I had as a child that I was defective and if I chose to get married I would only hurt my husband and children. Because of this healing I experienced a great freedom in the knowledge that I could choose either vocation—and I could be good at each and holy in each. I felt like I was on top of the world and could do anything!
It was only a few months later that the Lord’s call on my life became clear. I returned late one night after leading a retreat that had gone extremely well and wanted to thank the Lord. So I went into the dark chapel. There was only one small spotlight on the large gold tabernacle. I knelt on the red carpet in front of the tabernacle and simply praised the Lord for his goodness. I wasn’t thinking about my vocation at all. Then I sat down to just be with him in silence, and immediately I felt him say to me in my heart, “Will you marry me?” I was speechless and at first couldn’t take in what he had asked. Then I started to think of the fact that I couldn’t get married and have kids, but that seemed so unimportant, so secondary. “Yes, yes, yes,” I responded! Of course it was a totally girly moment—I was totally emotional with tears running down my face. As I responded, I realized that the yes I said to him was from deep, deep inside my heart, from the center. It was the desire of my heart all along.
After realizing that I desired to give myself totally to Him alone in religious life, I checked out some different communities and went to visit them. On my first visit to the T.O.R. Sisters, I felt so at home that I was making “we” statements within a few days and had to keep reminding myself that I was not part of the community. I entered here in August 2004 after many years of continued discernment and testing of my vocation, I professed perpetual vows on July 6, 2014. This life is difficult because we are all striving to live the Gospel and give ourselves totally to Christ, but it is filled with more joy than I ever expected. Doing God’s will always is!