I grew up in an average Catholic family in rural Maine with 7 siblings…
We attended Sunday Mass & received basic catechesis. But it was the witness of my mother that was the most formative. She was careful to impress upon us the moral & pro-life teaching of the Church & although we never prayed as a family beyond grace at meals, she certainly never neglected her daily rosary. Her generosity was formidable – although raising 8 kids of her own, she made regular pro-life activities part of daily life. She made it known to the guidance counselor at my high school that she was ready to help any student who became pregnant. She wanted them to know they are not alone, and there is a way to finish school and choose life & together we can make it happen. And so in the early mornings, we often picked up pregnant students on the way to school, even when their own Moms would have let them drop out. We often babysat their children or arranged child care, assisted with material needs and getting to appointments.
I’ll never forget the day years later when one of these young mom’s called my mother & recounted with joy that she had just landed a job at a bank that would not have been possible without a HS diploma! My Mom was moved to tears: what a gift to hear that my Mom’s generosity and heroic motherhood made a life-changing impact on this young Mom who is now able to provide well for her child. Her witness taught me that life is a sacred gift, and no matter what the circumstances & struggle, by standing with mother and baby, love always triumphs!
Second, my heroic college friend Jamie. By a miracle of grace, I ended up at WYD 1993 in Denver, and came in contact with students from Franciscan University. I knew immediately I had to look into this place, and upon visiting was so moved by the faith I witnessed there, that I decided to apply. It was a life-changing choice, as my faith flourished like never before. The
Lord was drawing me to prayer and speaking to me in new ways, and I was starting to be open to the possibility of a vocation.
And then 3 years into school something happened that changed my life forever. In the spring of my junior year, I was shocked when my friend Jamie told me she was pregnant as the result of a date rape. My heart broke for her. I had no idea what to say. She was filled with anxiety and fear about what to do amidst processing a devastating trauma. She was of course pro-life, but like never before understood why women choose abortion because of the panic she was experiencing. I prayed for her and told her everything would be ok, although I had no idea really. With the encouragement of her supportive family, and an invitation from the Sisters of Life – she went to take up residence with the Sisters in the Bronx, and was the first pregnant woman to do so in our history. If it wasn’t for the constant love of the Sisters, she would have fled the Bronx not soon after arriving! Mother Agnes and Cardinal O’Connor walked with her personally in discerning what the Lord was asking of her: to parent this child as a single-mom, or to entrust the child into the hands of a married couple through adoption. There were many ups and downs, but through prayer and the loving care of the Sisters, she felt the Lord calling her to make a sacrifice of love and entrust her child into the hands of adoptive parents in a sacramental marriage, something she could not provide for this little one we’ll call Anna. Watching this miracle unfold I witnessed yet again, the triumph of motherly love! Out of the darkness of a very painful situation, Christ’s light radiated in Jamie’s love which literally brought new life to others! This was the most heroic act of love I had ever witnessed: the sheer power of a mother’s love to sacrifice herself for the good of the one entrusted to her in the mystery of God’s plan. This was a miracle!
When she returned to college, she never ceased nagging me to visit the Sisters of Life, sharing freely about the power of their transforming love in her life. I was slightly curious perhaps, as I had never known of a community so devoted to upholding the sacredness of human life. Secretly, my heart leapt just a teeny bit – ‘well perhaps IF I have a vocation’, unlikely as that seemed, this might be the community I look into. I spent many a Saturday morning during college praying outside the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh with classmates.
I finally did give in to Jamie’s harassment, and I went on a ‘Nun Run’ to visit the Sisters in NY which set in motion events leading to an invitation to the discernment retreat that year. As I sat back and drank in the words of Cardinal O’Connor about the vision for the Sisters of Life that summer, my heart burned. I started to look around…Is this how everyone feels, I wondered? …my heart continued to resonate conference after conference, drawn to the beauty of proclaiming the truth of God’s love for every person, each a good, unique & unrepeatable gift… Entering into Holy Hour one evening, with my heart wide open, I knew, I just knew in the depths of my heart that the Lord was inviting me to be His Bride forever! Overwhelmed by His love, I received the freedom to say Yes! I was filled with joy and also terror at placing oneself fully in God’s hands. Yet, I knew His love was all I needed.
That fall was my senior year and I soon realized, that my Dad, who had made it possible for me to get a nursing degree, fell silent when I spoke of my said ‘vocation’. I was expected to work after graduation, and I promised myself ‘ok, well just for a year’. I got a job in Boston & reconnected with high school friends, which let’s just say wasn’t helpful for vocational discernment. A year became 2 years, then 3, soon I was fully immersed in the single lifestyle and had put vocation on the back burner as it became a source of anxiety. I realized I needed a spiritual director before I gave up on it completely. Thankfully, God provided and meeting after meeting, my spiritual direction brought me back to the truest desires of my heart and the confusing (at the time) desire for religious life. I still wrestled with how I imagined my ‘identity’ and that it didn’t correspond to a quiet, pious, obedient Nun. I loved travel & outdoor adventure and was enjoying dating at the time… Why would God call me ‘away’ from who I truly was and the good things I loved? I was still trying to understand everything with my head, and it didn’t make ‘sense’. My spiritual director suggested a retreat.
It was on this retreat that my good and faithful Mother Mary came through for me! I had a meditation that I was in total darkness sensing that I was suspended above a bottomless abyss about to fall. The distracted and worldly way I had been living seemed to tend in that direction. Something, almost imperceptibly, like a tiny thread, was keeping me from falling. I kept waiting just waiting to drop, as there was nothing in myself to prevent it, but I didn’t. The Lord revealed to me that it was my Mother Mary who was holding me, advocating for me, silently preserving my vocation, and preventing me from being lost. She quietly drew me back and revealed to me that my truest identity was in God himself, and that in inviting me to be His Bride, he was not calling me ‘away’ from who I was, but inviting me to become fully who he had created me to be. And this could only be understood by the heart, a heart transfixed by His love. The mysterious attraction to consecrated life never left my heart, although confused in my mind. And with this, my heart was at peace, and with the witness of my heroic mothers before me, I received the courage to make the leap of faith into a life completely lived for God alone!