This vocation story comes from the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R, of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother.
Though I was baptized Catholic, I was raised in a Protestant church until seventh grade, when my father returned to Catholicism. But even so, I held on to a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic faith until my junior year of high school. I didn’t understand that Church Tradition was rooted in Scripture, which led me to disregard the role of the Magisterium of the Church, confession, Mary, and the communion of saints in my faith life. Ironically, it was through reading Sacred Scripture that my heart changed. On one occasion as I read Christ’s words from the cross to His Mother: “‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to the beloved disciple, ‘Behold your Mother’ (cf. John 19:25-27),” I realized that Christ was giving His Mother to all of His disciples, including me. Through this experience I began to search in Scripture for other doctrines that I had previously disregarded.
Before this total reversion, I had a profound experience after reading the account of two early Church martyrs, Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, who chose to die rather than renounce their faith. I was so touched by their witness that I thought, “The greatest thing that one can do with their life is to die for love of Jesus.” In that moment the Lord spoke to my heart: “Will you be a spiritual mother? There are many children whose own mothers do not care for their souls. And you will experience a death.” This touched me very deeply, though I didn’t completely understand what He was asking of me. But I knew it was connected to my vocation.
As a sophomore in college, I didn’t know you could go to Mass every day. A Baptist friend who lived near the Catholic Church and noticed people going there daily asked me if I would go with her to Mass so she could see what it was like when there wasn’t a lot of people there. I thought, “Wow, you can go to Mass every day!” So I went with her, and after Mass, a woman came up to us and told us about Franciscan University of Steubenville. I was looking to transfer colleges and change my major to nursing. A few days later my Mom called to tell me that she had learned about Franciscan University at a booth at the Diocese of Portland youth conference. She informed me that they had an excellent nursing program. That decided it for me.
At Franciscan I began to see young, joyful religious sisters and brothers, and I was attracted to their life. But I couldn’t accept it for myself. My biggest obstacle to accepting a call to religious life was a poor self-image. I needed boyfriends to be my source of self-worth and couldn’t imagine being happy or fulfilled without this. What I really needed was healing. I had head knowledge of God’s love for me, but it wasn’t in my heart. Deep down I felt there was something wrong with me and that God couldn’t love me. I placed my worth in external things, and this only deepened my feelings of worthlessness.
Through adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament I began to experience healing and a deep sense of my worth rooted in Christ’s love for me. This prepared me for saying “yes” to a religious vocation. I planned to work over spring break because of my financial needs. My roommate wanted me to go on a discernment retreat with her. But I told her the Lord usually makes it clear to me when He wants me to do something like that, and besides, I needed to work. The week of spring break, a student in one of my classes pulled me aside to tell me the Lord had put it on her heart to give me the amount of money I would be making over spring break so that I could go on the discernment retreat. I told her I didn’t want to take her money, but she insisted, telling me that she would just buy clothes with it and she didn’t need any. After months of begging me to go on the retreat, my roommate didn’t believe me when I told her I would be going.
At the retreat, the first talk mentioned how being a “spiritual mother” was a significant part of the call to religious life. This struck me deeply and I knew for certain that the question put to me seven years earlier, “Will you be a spiritual mother?” was God’s invitation to be His spouse, to be a religious sister. I said “yes” on the feast of the Annunciation (not really knowing what the feast was) during the discernment retreat.
A year later, doors began to open quickly. I visited our community with a couple of my friends and was drawn to our community’s way of life for its focus on Scripture, Eucharistic adoration, daily Divine Mercy Chaplet, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, praise and worship, simplicity, poverty, and a balanced way of life that included regular exercise and healthy diet. I just felt at home with the sisters.
As I prepared to enter the sisters, the Lord reminded me of my desire to die for love of Him, and He showed me how through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience I would be able to die for love of Him every day. It is awesome for me to experience the strength of God within me in spite of my weaknesses. I know how deeply incapable I am of living the evangelical counsels (vows), and yet through God’s grace and mercy I am able to live them with love and joy. I hope to always be filled with gratitude for the great things the Lord has done for me!
- VOCATION REFLECTION: Sr Cecilia Ross SJW
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