I grew up in a small place called Seneca, Pennsylvania. I had little exposure to religious sisters, except on Sundays, for we had the Sisters of Mercy in our parish at the time. I remember one time my mother and I were walking out of church after a Sunday Mass and we stopped by the little Christian bookstore that was connected with the parish. Sr. Josephine was working and my mother mentioned to her that I wanted to be a nun when I grew up. I was about five years old at the time. The shy one that I was, I just shook my head in agreement, not really knowing what a “nun” really was. When we got back to the car I asked my mother, “Do nuns have to wear dresses?” Mom replied, “Oh, yes! All the time.” My response was, “Then I don’t want to be a nun.” (I obviously was a “tom-boy.”)
I really did not think of the idea again until years later, in college. However, the desire to be the Lord’s alone never left me. I would dream of having lots of children, but my children were Black, Latino, Asian, and any other race that could be discovered on the face of the earth. I never saw myself being married with only a few children. It was always with hundreds of children. I thought this was normal thinking, until I came to discover from my Protestant friends at school that this was not. I suppose that some of this was from my family being a strong supporter of the foreign missions. Browsing through magazines from the Maryknolls, Salesians, Christian Children’s fund, the White Fathers, and others was a main pastime of mine as a child. Yet there was this “interior knowing” that I was the Lord’s and I was to serve.
During high school I volunteered at the Young People Who Care Mission for two weeks each summer for three different summers. Here my aunt, Sr. Ruth Ann Madera, committed her life to the service of the poor of Appalachia. It was during one of these experiences that I came to discover that I needed community. This call to be the Lord’s had to be done somehow in the midst of community. This same experience hit me the day I stepped foot onto Franciscan University as a freshman. I was alone, sitting on a bench across from the cafeteria, looking at the chapel and again this strong interior conviction came that I needed community.
However, none of this made any clear sense to me, I being so naive and clueless about religious life at the time. I began dating a man in the spring of my freshman year. We really enjoyed each other and the relationship developed. We continued to date until my junior year when our relationship began to become more serious. We were talking about marriage. Yet during this whole time of courtship I was restless. There was something missing. Then one day, I was sitting on my desk in my dorm room looking out at a tree, and I heard God the Father speak to me within my heart. He said, “Mary Ann, I love you so much. I give you a choice. You can choose marriage and I promise you that your children will grow up to be strong men and women of God. Or you can choose religious life.”
I felt so loved by God. He gave me a choice. He desired my happiness and he planted those desires within my heart to be fulfilled. Clarity amid my restlessness finally came. I realized that marriage would not be enough for me and that what I was really seeking could only be found in religious life. So Andy and I broke up, not without our tears. Yet grace was very operative and we both were at peace.
The journey of finding a religious community now began. After visiting a few missionary orders and having no peace within my heart, I was left confused. In 1987, our community did not exist. For the next year, until the fall of 1988, the Lord had to do some transformation within me. I was bent on going to the foreign missions and the Lord had to show me that, once again, I really had no clue as to what would make me happy. Through a series of events, too long to describe here, the Lord and our Blessed Mother began to show me that this new group that started August 15, 1988 in Steubenville, Ohio was the place I was to join. So in May of 1989 I joined the Franciscan Sisters, Third Order Regular of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. A profound peace flooded my heart the day I walked onto that porch at 515 Belleview Blvd. to join the founding group of sisters and this peace has never left me.