Sr. Grace Anne- I have this grace waiting for you

Sr. Grace Anne Wills, Franciscan Sisters TORThe Fieldhouse at Notre Dame University was packed for the Saturday evening session. It was the annual Catholic Conference for Charismatic Renewal, May 1982. A lovely young woman in the music ministry stepped forward to the microphone and spoke a word of prophecy:

“This is a word to the young people at this conference. This is a word for the children of parents who are here. Listen carefully, you who have been married and are no longer married.” My mind focused on the unusual way of expressing it; I knew I was one of the people who had been married but are no longer married. She continued, “I wish to raise up men and women consecrated to be single for me. I am pouring out this gift on this Body. Accept this gift and allow it to grow in your hearts. I AM the Bridegroom and I would have you come to know me as the Beloved.  The gift of celibacy consecrated to me is a gift for the whole Body. And I tell you, where this gift is present, the whole Body is blessed. Do not scorn this gift, do not disdain it, for it is very dear to my heart. Where this gift is present in true purity, so too does the gift of My Spirit abound. But, you say, ‘Where can we go?’ And I tell you, I am raising up monasteries and convents for you. I am anointing communities to prepare a place for you in their midst. Take this seed home. Carry it in your heart and ponder it. Offer your lives to Me and inquire of Me if this gift is for you.”

I sat on the bleachers of the Fieldhouse quietly sobbing as the prophecy was given. I had been sobbing uncontrollably the entire conference. My husband, Rol, a man of unquestionable goodness and integrity had died suddenly of a massive heart attack five months before. He was one of the leaders of our prayer group at St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis, Maryland. He and I had attended this conference in previous years with our family. This year our family was here through the gracious and generous gift of our prayer group.

I continued to sob, saying interiorly, “Yes, Lord” – knowing it was an invitation from Him to embrace consecrated life and celibacy, and not really wanting to, but knowing somehow I would not say no to Him. I took the seed home with me and in the following years nurtured it as I prayed, read Scripture, and pondered its meaning.

Eighteen months later I went with two lady friends to a retreat in Pittsburgh. Following the retreat we drove to St. Paul’s Shrine in Cleveland to visit a priest who had known my husband and our family in Annapolis. We attended 6 a.m. Mass with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration at the Shrine. It was the Memorial of the Presentation of Mary and the Gospel for the day was Luke 21:1-4, “The Widow’s mite.” Its significance was not lost on me, having been a widow now for almost two years. Fr. John Getsy, O.F.M., Cap. gave an inspiring homily on the “widow who gave everything she had.”

A bit later I looked over at the Poor Clares behind the grille (although you couldn’t see them) and the Lord spoke clearly to my heart, “I have this grace waiting for you.” After the Mass I had a few moments alone with Fr. John and I said, “Do you know what He said to me in there?!” He replied, “Well, when I saw what the Gospel was for the day I knew something was going to happen.”  I continued: “He said, ‘I have this grace waiting for you.’ It would be at least eight years before I could consider consecrated life.”  At that time, three of our seven children were married, one was in college, and three were still at home, ages 12, 13, and 15. Fr. John  replied quietly, “You will be tested.” As our children grew, I kept all this in my heart, because I felt it would be too much for them to understand, too heavy for them to carry.

My husband and I had attended conferences at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and eventually our two youngest sons came to attend the university. Through the oldest, Paul, I met the T.O.R. Sisters. After he and his brother David graduated, I applied for entrance to the T.O.R. Sisters. Being a bit over the 35-year age limit for entrance (smile), I was accepted after 20 months of the discerning process. That was 17 years ago.

Our children, all ardent lovers and followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ, are grown, married and have children of their own. They support me 100% in my vocation. To answer a question I am frequently asked: “Do you get to see your children?”…Yes, with careful planning I am able to see my children and grandchildren just about once each year during our home visit time, with the exceptions of one daughter and her family who live in Poland and one son and his family who live in Barbados.  I get to see them less frequently but we keep in touch by email, phone and snail-mail.  Not being able to see my family anytime I want to is one of the sacrifices Our Lord has asked me to make.

I am eternally grateful for the vocations of marriage, motherhood, widowhood and now consecrated life that God has so generously given me here in our community of sold-out-for-Christ, joy-filled T.O.R. sisters. To God be the glory.Sr. Grace Anne Wills, TOR

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