Peace!! On October 13, 2012, I professed first vows as a Franciscan of the Eucharist. I can never forget what the Lord has done for me, nor the generosity of countless men and women . . . My story is a testimony not only to Divine Providence, but to the steadfast love of God Almighty
Often women invited by God to the consecrated life are asked to write their “Vocation Story”, a narrative detailing their experience of God’s invitation to be totally his, to be a Spouse of Jesus Christ. I was invited by the Laboure Soceity to share my vocation story, which they generously published in their May 2009 newsletter! Here it is…
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
It is only through God’s Divine Mercy and the constant care of Our Lady that I am able to share my story with you. I’ve finally been quiet enough to hear what God has been whispering in my heart for years, and now that I have experienced that Joy that only comes from God, I know there is nothing else that could complete me other than giving myself fully to my Beloved.
So many Little Chapels and so much Mercy! A vocation truly grows in silence. There is no silence richer than that silence spent with Jesus Himself. I remember as a very small child visiting our neighborhood church nearly every day with my mom, brother and sister. I would always carefully remember to pray both before the statue of Our Lady and that of St. Joseph–I didn’t want either to feel ignored! I knew Jesus was in the Tabernacle, and I sincerely longed for the day when I could receive Him in Holy Communion. Joyfully, the day to receive Jesus finally came in 1993.
I always anticipated Sunday Mass and spending time at the parish. My siblings and I were home schooled and St. Benedict’s Chapel was literally the center of our family’s activities outside our home. Every morning our mom would lead us in a prayer for vocations…which I remember to this day. Although we had pictures books with religious sisters, I never really knew any as a child. But, Fr. Damian, our parish priest, had a great influence on my life. He would often come to visit our house on Sundays. He would tell stories about his time in the Seminary, and taught us how to make the famous St. Vincent Abbey bread. Fr. Damian even came with us to Six Flags and rode the roller coasters with me! He was such an example of holiness and joy.
I do remember asking him once if I could take St. Francis of Assisi as my patron for confirmation…he said I’d have to choose a girl saint, which made me a little sad, but St. Francis would still come back to play a role in my life.
As I grew older, my mom began to have a devotion to the Divine Mercy, and so naturally, I did too. I began to attend Immaculate Heart of Mary School in 8th grade, and asked if we could pray the Mercy Chaplet on Fridays in our little chapel. The Sisters were supportive, but it was always so hard to get my peers to come pray. Yet, I was consoled by the 1st and 5th graders, who were ever faithful, as was my classmate, now Sr. Magdalen Marie, who entered religious life the year after we graduated high school.
Among the sisters, Sr. Marie-Jean had a particularly strong influence on me. She was constantly encouraging, and particularly supported me in my pro-life efforts. We would regularly go to pray in front of a Boston Area abortion clinic, and prayed daily at school for the end of abortion. Sr. Marie-Jean had such a motherly spirit, and truly cared for us students. Ever joyful, she shared the light of Christ with us, and was a tremendous mentor for me during my high school years..always, always she focused on Jesus!
After learning I was not accepted by the Naval Academy, I had to reevaluate the ‘plans’ I had made for my future, and finally ended up in Chicago at Loyola University. I was not a quite student, and became very active in Catholic activities and the pro-life club. I was a favorite on campus and I was trusted, too. My Junior year I was awarded the Arnold Damen Award, presented to students who exemplified the Jesuit values of services to others and being men and women of extraordinary character.
Yet, something else happened Junior year that was even more important. After many years of thinking about it, and seeing Sr. Marie-Jean and her community live it out, I finally made my Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary–an amazing devotion spread by St. Louise Marie DeMontforte, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe and Pope John Paul II. The moment I made the Consecration, my life changed drastically and I began to feel tugs on my heart toward religious life.
After visiting the Sisters of Life in New York, I was convinced that Jesus was truly inviting me to be totally His. I was at peace and knew true Joy. Yet the purpose of the enemy is to take what is true, good, and beautiful and twist it. I began to doubt this grace that God was offering me..I went back and forth, committing to no real discernment process.
Yet, there came a moment when I realized that my life had entered a vicious cycle. I needed to make a choice to take Christ at His word.
On a pilgrimage to Europe I had the grace of encountering Divine Mercy at the Shrine of St. Maria Faustina in Krakow, Poland. I’d prayed the Chaplet for years, and yet when I was there it hit me so hard! I could not stop myself from sobbing, and I knew that Jesus, through St. Faustina, was speaking the truth of His love in my heart.
A few days later an even more powerful experience happened in Assisi. There, in the little chapel St. Francis built with his own hands–Our Lady of the Angels–I was embraced by God’s presence, and once again began to sob. It was not out of fear, but rather being overwhelmed by the immense love God has for me.
Almost a year later, I knew I had to stop living in limbo and listen to that voice speaking in my heart. At that point I was working full-time for the Archdiocese of Chicago Respect Life Office. Coming back from a Theology of the Body presentation at the University of Illinois, I fell ill. I was at home in bed for nearly two weeks, the last two weeks of Lent.
During that time God sent me an angel, my friend Fr. Mercer. We were in the habit of corresponding through email. Being a holy priest, Fr. Mercer asked about my discernment, and encouraged me to pursue religious life. He shared with me the wisdom of the Saints, and many wonderful Spiritual Classics. During my time of illness, I wrestled with the question, “What is God calling me to?” I would literally awaken during the middle of the night and immediately think: am I to be a sister? What do I do?? The Sacred Triduum provided an excellent space for me to come closer to Christ, and even in my weakened state of body, my spirit was becoming strong…and I realized that I must stop turning a deaf ear on God’s invitation of Love.
I knew a Franciscan Priest in Chicago, Fr. Bob Lombardo, who’d been talking about a community of Franciscans here in our city. Fr. Bob invited me to the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, and listened to my story. He confirmed that yes, indeed, with the blessing of Cardinal George, the Spirit was moving to form a Franciscan Community in Chicago. With this prayer on my heart, I traveled to New York City for Pope Benedict’s visit in April 2008. As I was asking for clarity, I received a curious sign. A Jesuit priest invited me to reflect on the simplicity and joy of St. Francis while we were waiting for the Holy Father to arrive on the grounds of St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, New York. I’d never heard Jesuit mention St. Francis before (and I’d been around Jesuits for years)!
When Pope Benedict began to speak at the Youth Rally that day, my heart felt as if he were speaking directly to me. His message was simple: Christ needs YOU. ALL of YOU. Do not be afraid! Finally I let Christ speak in the silence of my heart. The more I prayed, the clearer the invitation came…that Jesus wants me, all of me.
There is nothing more that could satisfy my heart. I believe we are all made for Heaven, but we must do something beautiful for Jesus before we get there. I cannot think of anything more beautiful than being fully, freely His. I know that the way God has created me to love is so big, it must be fully consecrated to Christ, so that in turn I may share that love with others, through my Beloved Jesus.
There is freedom only in love. I desire nothing more than to consecrate my life to Jesus, as his little spouse, following the Spirit of Joy lived by St. Francis. I want to be a witness to what we are all created for: Heaven. I want to be a messenger of mercy and love to the poor in our midst: those suffering from material and spiritual poverty.
I have no desire to measure the success of my life. As St. Maximilian, a faithful follower of St. Francis, said, “God is pleased even with our desire to please Him.” I may not be a success in the eyes of the world, yet my soul desires to please my Beloved, and with this, I am satisfied.
More than anything, I count on your prayers to help support me in my journey to Religious Life. Know of my prayers for you! May Christ, through the intercession of His Immaculate Mother, bless and keep you and those you love!