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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Vocation Story: Sr Johanna

This vocation story comes from Sr Johanna at Turvey Abbey

Make me know the way I should walk: to you I lift up my soul (Psalm 142). I prayed with the Psalmist for God’s guidance over many years, but even from my childhood, God was already guiding my heart and sending people into my life to lead me toward and prepare me for becoming a nun.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, USA, I was baptized Catholic but raised Lutheran, going to church with my Aunt Ann and being introduced to the Bible by my Sunday School teachers. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Catechism classes were some of the highlights of my childhood, when spending time with Jesus was the main event. In junior high school, aged about 11 or 12, a new, young priest—Fr Douglas—arrived at my father’s parish. He stirred my interest in Catholicism and through him I discovered the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Sioux City, Iowa. By correspondence, they became my teachers in the Catholic faith and the monastic tradition. Their prioress, Mother Therese, introduced me to her great patron saint—Therese of the Child Jesus—who became my patron saint when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church on my 17th birthday (which just happened to be Holy Saturday that year).

I began studying English at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, but left after my first year to try my vocation at Sioux City, but found, to my sorrow, that I wasn’t suited to Carmel. I left after a few months but gained a formation in Carmelite monasticism that has influenced my spiritual life ever since. I finished my BA at DePaul then worked in publishing for a few years and did my MA and PhD in English Literature at the University of Birmingham. While I enjoyed my work and my studies, I knew there was unfinished business regarding my being a nun. I always stayed in touch with the Carmelites and they remained a quiet, prayerful presence in my life.

In Birmingham, I started attending retreats with the Benedictine monks at Belmont Abbey and Douai Abbey. As I finished my PhD, I knew the time had come to make another attempt at monastic life. I asked Fr Gervase at Douai for guidance and he confidently directed me to Turvey. I entered the Priory of Our Lady of Peace in September 2003 and now I ‘lift up my soul’ along with a whole community of Sisters through whom God continues to speak and to guide me.

Behind the scenes of my journey are the many other friends who have supported me along the way—some for a short while, just the length of a course or retreat, and others for many years. I have truly encountered Christ in each of them and it is now my privilege and pleasure to support them through prayer. I also remember in prayer the men and women who are searching for their vocations and ask God to speak to their hearts and send them guides as good as the ones he sent me.

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