Sr. Katherine- Your heart shall be your cloister

I am the youngest of eight children and was raised in northern California.  I was born in 1965, the year the Second Vatican Council ended. There were many wonderful graces being born in this era as well as some downsides.  I grew up knowing that Jesus loved me, but I missed much of our Catholic teaching and devotions and I was not exposed to religious sisters.  When I was a young child my parents got involved in the charismatic renewal and when I was in third grade I was prayed over for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At that time there was a focus on the charismatic gifts, but what was most in my heart was a desire simply to love.  I remember thinking, “When I grow up I wanted to travel around the world and tell people that Jesus loves them.”  I believe that was my childhood expression of my call to religious life.

My adolescent years were difficult, causing me to waver in my faith and to be influenced by the wrong crowd of friends.  I felt so bad about myself that it was hard for me even to look up. Through my dad’s initiative, I went on a retreat where I re-experienced God’s profound love for me: from the top of my head to the tips of my toes I knew I was loved and cherished by God.  This experience had a life changing effect on me, enabling me to make a promise to God to no longer drink or to be influenced by others in wrong ways.  After many years of being overly self-conscious, I felt a freedom to be myself again.

 Shortly after this retreat, our family moved back to California. I knew that I would be starting high school without knowing a soul.  Instead of letting this intimidate me, I experienced this as a new opportunity.  I made a decision to smile at everyone I met.  Given that just a few months prior I could hardly look up, this was truly a grace from God.  My high school years were blessed.  I grew by leaps and bounds as a person and discovered many gifts and talents that I did not know I possessed.  Although all the activities that I was involved in were good, toward the end of my high school years, I was beginning to lose my focus on God.  I remember praying one day and I sensed Jesus asking me, “Katy, what are your priorities?”  I replied, “God, family, school, and sports.”  In a gentle but firm way, I sensed Jesus tell me to invert the order.  In truth, the way I was spending my time and energy was first on sports and school.  My family and God got my leftover time.  This experience had a profound impact on me, because deep down I knew my heart’s desire was to be wholly given to God.

Shortly after this experience, I received a brochure from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  I remember seeing a beautiful young lady praying, and I thought to myself, “This is what I desire!”  At this time I had already had a four year scholarship and even a roommate for a Catholic college in California.  However, the pull on my heart was so strong that I decided to change my plans. This was a leap in faith since I had to put myself through college and there was not enough time to get the same types of scholarships.  Yet God provided in wonderful ways.

 My years at Franciscan University were exactly what I needed to be prepared for God’s calling in my life. I was like a sponge, absorbing my Catholic faith and devotions.  My love for Christ expanded to embrace His whole Body in a newfound understanding and love for the Church. I had a burning desire to help others to come to know and live the fullness of our Catholic faith.  I also discovered my Franciscan vocation.  I remember being in a course on Franciscan Spirituality and thinking that the professor must have read my spiritual journal, for everything she shared about Francis was also part of the desires of my heart.  As I look back I can see how with each year God was forming, or, more accurately, allowing me to discover within my heart, the charisms and spirituality of our community.

 The first charism to come was poverty.  I had the opportunity to be really poor as a student.  I had to save money to do my laundry, and I had no money to participate in any student activities.  But I remember being so happy because I knew I was in God’s will—right where He wanted me to be.  Another wonderful joy was discovering and developing a relationship with Mother Mary.  I found myself with her at the foot of the cross, desiring to love with Christ’s compassion, especially to love the poor and those who were suffering.  The last charism to come was the gift of the contemplative life.  The grace of contemplation became so strong that toward the end of my junior year I thought that I was called to become a cloistered Poor Clare.

 The summer between my junior and senior year in college the Lord helped me discover my true calling.  I was on an eight-day silent retreat with the Sisters of St. Joseph which closed a summer program working with the poor.  I was in their chapel loft praying and I sensed God’s presence so strongly that I could not doubt it was Him.  He spoke to my heart and said, “You are to be a contemplative in the world.  Your heart is to be your cloister.”  I knew at that moment that I was not called to be a Poor Clare.  I ended the retreat feeling like I was in the Upper Room waiting for the Holy Spirit.  I had a sense that I should remain in Steubenville after graduation for one year waiting for His plan to unfold. When I had returned, still feeling the graces of retreat, the Lord gave me Scripture passages that spoke about Jesus sending his disciples out to preach.  Later, I realized that these were the same Scriptures given to Francis when he was discerning whether to be a hermit (completely given to prayer) or also to preach.

After graduation I stayed in the Steubenville area working as a nurse’s aid and later as a family advocate for abused women.  During this time, the Lord was working in other women’s lives calling them to the same charisms and spirituality.  Fr. Angelus Migliore, a T.O.R. friar on the campus of Franciscan University, helped to discern and to bring the group of women together.  On May 16, 1988, one year after my graduation, we began living together and on August 15, 1988 we were official erected as a public association of the faithful in formation to become a new religious community.

Sr. Katherine Caldwell, T.O.R.

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