My spirit rejoices in God my Savior; Because He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name (Luke 1:46, 55).
Before discerning religious life, I was living the vocation of marriage. I knew Mike from college, we starting spending time together as friends and then fell in love and married in 2004. Both being busy with careers, our weekends were filled with work and time with friends and family. Unfortunately, we were still caught up in unhealthy habits from high school and college. Something was missing in our lives (rather someone)…God. We were both Catholic, but not practicing. We didn’t attend Mass (except major holidays), let alone belong to a parish. We didn’t even pray together.
Ten months into our marriage, Mike was diagnosed with brain cancer. During this time of diagnosis, a glorious transformation took place in both of us. We opened our hearts to let God into our lives and our marriage! We began to pray and attend Mass together. We joined a parish where Mike befriended a priest who helped him in various ways, especially in learning to accept his diagnosis. We began to live and fulfill our vows as husband and wife, to truly live our vocation to marriage, and to help one another grow in holiness. Praise God!
Mike survived about 4 ½ years – we were able to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary a couple months before he died. After Mike died, I did not feel called to marriage again. The Lord was placing other desires on my heart – unbeknownst to me at the time – because I was still growing in faith, my relationship with Jesus and grieving the loss of my husband. Yet I was given the grace to recognize and respond to the gift of living my life for Christ.
I fully returned to the Church; the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. At this time I was teaching at an Orthodox Jewish Day School. I was struck by the way my students and colleagues lived their faith and expressed their love for God and neighbor. By their witness they all taught me much about God and I admired their devout and holy lives. Witnessing their faithfulness to God made me realize that there were many things I did not know about my own faith and God (so many things I had taken for granted). I started learning these things on my own at first, and then began to further seek answers by talking to friends and religious, attending retreats and parish events, volunteering, going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and reading more and more. I began to read the Bible as God spoke to me through His Word. I also started researching religious life … just to see what it was all about or what “it would take” to become a nun. I didn’t tell anyone initially about this curiosity. I searched online, sent away for information from various communities, and just pondered this possibility in my heart. Our families worked together to establish a foundation to help others who were diagnosed with brain cancer. But as time went on, I still felt restless as if there was something more God was calling me to. My journals were filled with questions and ramblings of these feelings, wondering if God was calling me to another vocation. I began fasting weekly and took a private vow of celibacy. The Holy Spirit was active, placing these desires within, and giving me the grace to respond to these desires.
I experienced Jesus’ personal love for me as I began attending daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. A relationship developed with Our Lady too. I began to feel a happiness I had not felt in a long time, possibly ever. It wasn’t just something I was feeling, but a change was actually occurring; it was something others could see radiating from me, a transformation. Another change was occurring: my thoughts. When I would wake in the morning, my thoughts were of Jesus. When I would go to bed at night, my thoughts were of Him. I wondered how I could serve Him; my heart swelled with love and gratitude. I was reminded of the poem Fall in Love (attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ) and I realized – that’s what is happening; I’ve been here before, I know what this feels like; it’s like how I felt when I was falling in love with Mike, but now I’ve fallen in love with Jesus!
Being in love and on fire for the Lord, I began to pursue some different paths. I entered the Cleveland Diocesan Pastoral Ministry Program, began to take classes at the seminary, and began teaching at a Catholic school. I thought perhaps God was calling me to be single and serve Him and the Church in this capacity. But restlessness continued to stir within me. At school I met a teacher who was discerning religious life, and I went with her to visit the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. for a day of recollection. I thought it was a beautiful community, but I never thought I would actually enter a community, let alone one that wore habits. The Lord had work to do in my heart and much more to teach me.
And then one day, a priest asked me if I ever considered being a sister. This question was unexpected! Up to this point nobody had really sat down to talk to me about this. I had been asked the question before, but more casually. This time it felt different, though it did take some time for me to come to terms with it. I tried to laugh it off, ignore it, and make excuses. (I’m a sinner, I’m a widow, I’m too old, I’m too selfish, I don’t know enough about our faith… the list of excuses perpetuated). But the question festered and kept nudging me … it seemed impossible, and I could barely say it out loud, so I waited before telling anyone … but I wondered.
I began to actually “really” discern religious life soon after this time. I began meeting with a spiritual director who was a priest from my parish. It was a blessing to have his guidance and witness to how he lived his life and vocation to the priesthood. When I was first just thinking about religious life on my own, I thought I was going to find a community that was going to fit into my present lifestyle, my wants and my desires. In my mind I thought I said “yes,” but I was putting stipulations on the Lord. My yes wasn’t a complete yes; it was a “yes only if” – only if I could keep my things: my dog, my career, my phone, my clothes, the foundation, etc. … My thinking was worldly … trying to make religious life fit into what I wanted it to be. The Lord gave me the grace to gradually surrender those desires as my prayer life developed and as I learned about the evangelical counsels and consecrated life. This was a pivotal time when my prayers turned to an offering to God to let His will be done, like Mary’s fiat. I could feel my heart and hands begin to fully open and let go in trust and surrender. I was then able to begin to make decisions and distinctions about where the Holy Spirit was leading me to discern. Going and visiting different communities was helpful for me to get a better sense of this. Each place I visited (three communities) and every phone call and email I sent (a bunch more), I learned something that was helpful to guide me through the discernment process. I am so grateful for all the sisters, priests and religious who answered all my questions and helped me discern.
I signed up to attend a discernment retreat in September 2013 with this community. I felt more and more assured that this was where the Lord was asking me to take the next step in the discernment process. The mission of our community is “to glorify God and to make known God’s Merciful Love”. This spoke to my heart because it is at the foot of the cross with Mary that I’ve fallen in love with Jesus – through His Mercy. He’s been so merciful to me and has done such mighty things, and I want to share this good news with others. After the retreat I began the application process and was accepted in March of 2014! I entered in July of 2014 and am growing to know the Lord’s merciful love more and more each day. Praise the Lord for His unfathomable love and mercy!
Please keep me in your prayers as I continue to discern God’s will in this stage of initial formation.