Fourteen years ago last night, I was sitting on the floor of my new bedroom in Marywood house, sobbing. Tomorrow I would receive the short brown veil of a postulant and begin a year of discernment and prayer as an extern sister, a year of getting to know the community I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But for now, I was too busy crying about leaving my family to feel excited about the beginnings of life as a nun. I just wanted to go home.
I don’t remember sleeping, but I’m sure I must have. I don’t even remember much about the day. There were red roses on the altar, and Sr. Raphael sang the Ave Maria at Mass. Bishop Dermott Molloy, a living saint, (who, by the way, just received the Peruvian Congressional Medal of Honor for his tireless work among the Quechua Indians of the Andes) was visiting the network, and so he was the main celebrant that day. After the conclusion of Mass I went up to the grate to receive my postulant veil, and afterward, when I was returning to my seat, Bishop Molloy proffered his ring, saying “Be faithful unto death.” I knelt and kissed his ring, quite in a daze, probably wondering if this was the portent of my sure martyrdom and speedy ascent to heaven. (So far, I have experienced only the slow painful death by monotony that is religious life, but if things get dramatic I’ll let you know.)
A religious vocation is a mysterious thing. Mysterious because one can never figure out just how one arrived at it, or how, by God’s grace, one has persevered thus far, when there are so many other souls better suited to, and better qualified for, the job. Sr. Grace Marie always reminds us about Sr. Veronica, who died in the 1980s, long before I entered. She had been Mother Angelica’s Abbess in Canton, but stepped down because she felt called to join Mother in Alabama. Sr. Veronica lived to her 90s, and everyday she prayed to God for holy perseverance.
And it isn’t just the person with the vocation who is aware of this mystery. I found out later, years later (when we moved to San Antonio) that my parish priest and deacon, who both made the trek to Alabama to see me off, were taking bets on how soon I would come back home:
“She won’t last a week.”
A week went by.
“She won’t last a month.”
A month went by.
“She won’t last six weeks”
Six weeks went by.
“She won’t last six months”
Six months went by.
I don’t know at what point they finally decided that I might actually have a vocation, but I suppose if they were basing things on my mood at the time I entered, then I can see why they expected me to show up on the parish door step any day. We all went out for a final dinner at the Olive Garden the night before my entrance, and I cried the entire time while they tried to make jokes about my mom’s cigarettes and her passel of cats. Nothing could assuage my tears. It was a miserable dinner.
Luckily, my salty beginnings weren’t an indicator of how long I would last in religious life, nor of the joy and fulfillment I would find in my vocation. I chose the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as my entrance day because I wanted to begin my new life in Christ under her motherly care and protection. Lord knows, persevering in any vocation, whether you’re a priest, a religious, married or single, can be a struggle which at times can seem impossible. Without Our Lady’s help and guidance I could have never persevered. And if I want to continue following Christ, if any of us want to continue following Him, the best way to do that is by keeping safely under her mantle of protection.
Thank God for God! For His goodness and grace and mercy. Without it I wouldn’t be here. I still can’t figure out why He called me to this life, but I am so glad that He did.