I can’t really share my vocation story without sharing my conversion story. From as early on as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother and have many children. My favorite pastime was playing what we called “house” with my sisters and neighborhood friends. Sometimes we were even able to get the boys on the block to play with us too. I grew up in a large family and I liked having many brothers and sisters, so the thought of being something other than a wife and mother never occurred to me. I knew religious sisters from attending a Catholic grade school, but they all seemed old and I was expecting to remain young forever. So, I never considered (or imagined) that I’d ever become one of them.
As a high school student I asked all the important questions: Who am I? What do I want from life? What is my purpose? What is my destiny? Like many young people, I was looking for love and self-fulfillment in all the wrong places and in all the wrong things, so most of these questions remained unanswered. Deep inside I knew there was more to life than what I had discovered or seen in other people.
In college, my restlessness only grew worse and my search for meaning relentlessly continued, as I made choices that moved me away from God and His love for me. On many occasions I turned my back on Him and chose the attractions, allurements and charms of the world, until one day His mercy took hold of me.
As a college student I was involved in the Newman Center and there was a mandatory retreat in May for those who were planning on serving as peer ministers and living at the Newman Center the following semester. This retreat coincided with what the university I attended called “Flatlands”. The best way to describe Flatlands is to say it was like a mini-Woodstock. As was typical of me, I decided to attend both. During the retreat an older priest gave a talk on our call to union with God. As I listened to this man, I knew he had what my heart desired. Whatever he had, I wanted it! He spoke to us from John 17. He quoted a portion of Jesus’ prayer to the Father for His disciples and those who were “still far off” (that was me): “I pray, Father, that they may be one in Me as I am in You and You are in Me.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I looked around the room to see if anyone else was as shocked as I was by these words. For the first time I had heard scripture as if addressed to me. It was a living word that pierced my heart. Jesus wanted to be united to me, a sinner, one who had turned her back on Him innumerable times, just as He was united to His Father.
The priest asked if any one of us wanted to make a commitment to Christ. He would pray with us if we were serious about giving our lives to Jesus. For me, that was a moment of intense interior battle. There was a civil war within me. I weighed things in my heart and mind, but despite the fact that I knew that everything this man said was true and life-giving, I ran from the room. I didn’t feel that I could let go of all that I knew and thought that I had loved. I left the retreat and met my friends at Flatlands only to find it empty and meaningless. That was a significant grace of God and a real turning point for me.
I got up the courage to call the priest several months later (he lived two hours from where I studied and I had never met him outside of this retreat) and he said he was waiting for me to call because it was evident that God was doing something in me. I went to see him on several occasions to learn as much as I could and to find direction for my life. From that point on, I found my desires changing. Seeing the joy, the freedom and the life this priest had, I wanted only what he had—union with Jesus Christ. I knew this was the answer to all of my questions and the fulfillment of all of my desires.
I tried to pursue this union wherever it (or He) would take me. After I graduated from the University of Minnesota I served the St. Cloud Diocese in their mission in Venezuela, South America. The desire for more of Christ continued within me. I received a book on the life of St. Francis and when I read it, I went to one of the priests in tears saying that this way of life was what I desired with all of my heart. Not long after that, one of the other priests I was working with came to me with a brochure that he had received from our community. He wasn’t sure why he got it, how he got it, and how the community had gotten his address, but he handed it on to me and I returned to the States, visited our community and entered about 6 months later.
It didn’t take long to learn that in religious life I didn’t have to give up the desire or the dreams of marriage. Religious life is about marriage and union to the One, True spouse—Jesus Christ. In John 3:29-30, He is called the Bridegroom: “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete.” My joy too is being made complete in my union with Him as His bride. To discover that Christ desires this union with me has been my greatest joy, and many spiritual children are being born to new life through that spousal union and my life of prayer, penance, service and the sacrifice of my life.