Sr. Jean Marie- Agnostic...until Love captured me

Sr. Jean Marie Ledsome, Franciscan Sisters TORI heard my call to religious life simply through a falling in love with the Lord. But it took a lot to get me there. I went to Catholic schools all my life—grammar school, high school and college—but by the time I graduated from college I was agnostic. I know Our Lady followed me around through those wandering years. Even though my family did not attend Mass regularly, I had prayed the rosary as a child. Throughout my life, I was surrounded by devout Christian and Catholic families. And in college, I began asking the big questions—what’s the meaning and purpose of life? I knew there had to be more than this. That’s when Our Lady came crashing through.

I was working full-time in financial services in Rochester after college when one day my world was literally flipped upside down. Our Lady sent a woman to my workplace on a particularly crazy day. She stood in front of me and said she felt like Our Lady was prompting her to give me a Miraculous Medal and a holy card from Medjugorje. The card had this message on the back: “I have come to tell the world that God exists.” She started to tell me about Medjugorje and Our Lady’s messages there. She had no idea I was agnostic, but before she left she said, “Believe me when I tell you, Jesus and Mary are real.” Then she walked away.

That was my “God” moment. He and Our Lady were breaking into my world, coming through the barriers. I went home and dug my rosary out of a drawer and put the Miraculous Medal on it, and the prayer card went up on my mirror. I started to pray the rosary again. Then my parish sent a letter inviting fallen-away Catholics to an event there and the parish had recently opened a perpetual adoration chapel. I found myself drawn to that Chapel and would spend a few minutes or hours there after work. Soon I felt drawn to start going to daily Mass and confession and signed up for my own Eucharistic adoration hour. I started reading the messages from Medjugorje and began fasting once a week.

At first, I didn’t know about the Real Presence. But eventually I learned that the Lord was there and developed a relationship with the “hidden Jesus.” I fell in love with the Lord. At Mass one day, in the Preface the priest prayed: “We see our God made visible and so we are caught up in a love of a God that we cannot see.” I thought, “That’s it! That is what has happened to me.” It was love that captured my heart. The love was real, it was tangible, it was concrete and it was life changing. The only response was to give all of myself as gift. That love is so radical that it requires a response of your whole being, your whole life, your whole person.

Then this idea of religious life came up in prayer. In my newness of being involved with the Lord, I thought, “Oh, no! Let’s think of something else!” There were religious nearby, but nothing about them drew me. I thought my vocation was probably to marriage, but I had other plans and other things I wanted to do first. He kept pulling and calling, but I tried everything under the sun to run.

One night, as I was lying in bed, I felt the Lord say to me, “I’ve given you one life. If you were to die tonight and there was one thing you wish you could have done, what would it be?” Without hesitation, out of the depths of my heart, it was to become a religious, to give it all to Him, to be His.

Eventually, I met a priest friend to talk. I was hoping he would tell me not to worry about what I was experiencing. Instead, he looked at me dead seriously and said, “You are going to have absolutely no peace until you go check out religious life. You have all the signs of a religious vocation.” That was the last thing in the world I wanted to hear! But I listened. I started attending a women’s discernment group with the Sisters of St. Joseph inRochester, and met with the vocation director. I went because there was something there that pulled me, but it wasn’t quite right.

One day, the woman who shared my adoration hour invited me to drive with her to Steubenville,Ohio and attend a Sacred Heart conference for families. It would be my first visit to Steubenville and Franciscan University. I saw young religious and people on fire for their faith, and I knew there was something different here. At the conference, I ate lunch with a woman whose daughter had joined the Missionaries of Charity inNew York City. I had heard of Mother Teresa and her work with the poor, and I thought that maybe I should go and check them out.

I ended up on a two-week experience with the Missionaries of Charity in the South Bronx. It was a difficult but beautiful two weeks. Scripture came alive for me there. “What you do to the least, you do unto Me…” I witnessed daily miracles of God’s love for His people. I lived with the contemplative branch of sisters and prayed and worked in the soup kitchen with them. I saw the beauty of consecrated life, and their commitment to works of mercy resonated within me. By the end of my visit, I decided to join and began the interview process. Then I went back to work inRochesteruntil my entrance. One day they called me out of the blue and told me to come immediately. But I wasn’t ready. I thought, “I have a job (I needed to give the courtesy two-week notice), I have a life, I need some time to pack up my life!”

I went back to my priest friend to talk it through. Was I really sure this was the community for me? I decided to return to France, where I had studied in college, and make a pilgrimage to Rue de Bac in Paris to thank Our Lady for bringing me back to Her Son and to seek direction and guidance. When I returned, I started my search again, looking for a community close to home. I looked through all of the books and pamphlets I had gathered on religious life, and came across a brochure from our community that I had picked up at the conference in Steubenville. It described a way of life that included prayer, fasting, works of mercy, Eucharistic adoration and Our Lady—everything that was important to me. So I flew to Steubenville.

I had once asked one of the Sisters of St. Joseph how I would know where I was called given the vast number of communities, ministries and charisms. She replied, “You’ll just know. You’ll have this peace.” As I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of communities and their charisms and ministries, at the time I thought that was not the most helpful advice. But when I walked into our monastery, that was exactly what happened. This peace flooded my soul and it just felt right. The sisters were young, vibrant, on fire, and they just had a passion for the Lord and for evangelization and mission.

I entered three years later, in 1998, as the Lord’s timing and my timing were not yet in sync. He still had work to do within me. Sometimes we have our plans and expectations and we need to surrender control and begin to follow His will and not ours. We have to rely only on Him and His timing and trust in His providence; this is the trust walk. These were the lessons in the time before I entered community and He continues to teach me these lessons and I continue to relearn and practice them each day.

I made my first profession of vows on May 5, 2001 and my final vows on the feast of Pentecost—May 28, 2007. I’ve come to see that the beauty of consecrated life is in pouring out your life and giving it back to others in spiritual motherhood. It’s just not about you. It’s about God and being a mother to help others find that love that’s so radical and so life changing.Sr. Jean Marie Ledsome, T.O.R.

 

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