Alicia Pérez, Spanish
Afra Primadiana, Indonesian
Agnes Samosir, Indonesian
Anouska Robinson-Biggin, English
Francisca Yohana Sri Winarsih (Inez), Indonesian
MaryAnne Francalanza, Maltese
Ann McGill, Canadian
Rita McLoughlin, English
Mary Rose Rawlinson, Canadian
My name is Alicia. I am from Spain, joined the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus in the USA, and made final profession in 2006 in Salta, NW of Argentina. I arrived to Salta five years ago. Our community is located in very poor neighborhood. I work there and also teach computer science at the Catholic University.
When I was studying for a PhD in computer science, the idea of a religious vocation swept into my mind. It was exciting, crazy, frightening, incredible, all at the same time. Honestly, I couldn’t make much sense of it: here I was, half way through a PhD in computer science, and thinking of becoming a nun?? I had never heard of such a thing. And what a waste of my effort! Plus, I am a very independent person. Surely I could never make a vow of obedience and live in a community of sisters. Yes, I was giving myself all kinds of reasons why this was non-sense. And yet deep inside I had a strange, almost silly, sense of joy and meaning. I was becoming aware that God was inviting me to deeper intimacy and to become part of Jesus mission of proclaiming God’s love to the world. Jesus said, “I lay down my life freely”. I can’t even think of comparing my life to Jesus sacrifice, but after all I am called to be his Faithful Companion in laying my life down too. And in doing it freely. What does it mean “to be free”? In discerning my vocation I realized I was free when I was able to put aside my work, friends, security, etc. and choose a religious life commitment; free to choose something in spite of what “the world” prefers; free to choose something good among other good things (work, relationships); after all, all were gifts. This may be why I like this prayer, written by a Spaniard and a companion of Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola. It’s interesting I can’t always pray it because some days the cost seems overwhelming. Take Lord receive… all I need is your love and your grace.
Over all these years, life as an FCJ continues being for me the response to an invitation from God, to an experience of the love of God. The invitation is so deep and so powerful that one senses the need to respond to it placing one’s life in God’s hands. It is an invitation to share in the life and the mission of Jesus, making him present in the world by living as he lived, chaste, poor and obedient. With my commitment I want to be an instrument of the power of the name of Jesus to bring healing, salvation and hope to our world. This conviction and a sense of gratitude for it is what sustains me day after day.
Eight years ago, when I made my first vows, I said to myself, 'My life journey has just begun'. Now, on the occasion of my final vows, I find that that expression is still valid: 'I have just begun'.
I was born in Merauke on the 2nd August 1968. My family is originally from Yogyakarta. I am the third of five children and grew up in Jakarta. Become a sister? The idea was there already, even when I was young. But it wasn't constant. When I was in primary school, I wanted to be a sister because I was interested in their way of life. In Secondary School I tried to forget about it, especially because many of my friends at that time had the same idea. I didn't want to be like the others. In Upper Secondary, the desire became stronger because I wanted to share my life by serving the poor. I wanted to go to Papua and live with the people in the villages there. My director said that desire was not enough. Really? It's a good intention though! Finally when I was at university I had a deep spiritual experience that changed my life. I felt God loved me and wanted me, so much. God wanted me to be there as I was. Therefore if you had asked me at that time, why I wanted to be a sister, I would have answered 'I was flooded by God's love and I fell in love with God!'
I became a postulant on September 29th 1991 and became a novice on August 26th 1992. I made first vows on September 18th 1994. All of this took place in Yogyakarta.
Why do I say that 'I have just begun?' Firstly because just to be a sister is not my final aim. If it was so, it would mean that, after making first vows, I wouldn't need to do anything any more! To be a sister is to choose a way of life in which I offer myself totally to God's love, and grow in loving God. This is a lifetime's journey.
Secondly, because faithfulness cannot be measured by how long I live in a convent. Faithfulness cannot be measured in quantity but in quality. Every minute is a time to continue to try to live as a faithful companion of Jesus. God's love is always new every morning. My vows to the Lord are also renewed every day. Therefore, every day I say, 'I have just begun'.
As it says in Psalm 85:11, 'love and faithfulness will meet.' God’s love will meet my faithfulness, and my love will meet God’s faithfulness.
Today I joyfully give thanks to the Lord for God's faithful love in my life and for God's call. I give thanks for the love and faithfulness of those who have journeyed with me: my family, close friends, fcJ communities around the world, those whom I have met in my ministry and those who have supported and challenged me to grow. Thank you. May God's blessing be with all of us so that we too may live in love and faithfulness to God.
I was born in Banjarbaru (South Borneo) on January 30th 1969. I was the third child of five children of Mr. Victor Samosir and Mrs. Mariani Marpaung. The seed of my vocation began to appear when I joined an altar girl group, an organist group and "Ascensio" children's choir under Fr. A. Soetanta, SJ, at Fransiscus Xaverius Parish, Tanjung. Priok, North Jakarta. The seed grew more and more when I was at Ursula High School, studied at Sanata Dharma Teacher Training Institute (now a university) and was involved in Christian Life Community (CLC). This precious experience encouraged me to join the FCJ Society, which name was still foreign at that time.
During the time of postulancy, novitiate, and temporary profession, I passed through a curving road which brought me to an understanding of life as expressed in Henry Viscardi's reflection:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of others.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all, most richly blessed.
It is this understanding of life which encouraged me to be courageous enough to say "YES" with all my heart and mind to the call to be a faithful companion of Jesus for my lifetime.
Do you feel that the life you are living is not enough, that there is something missing and you don't know what it is but you are certain it is linked with God? Do you ever feel that everyone else’s life is great, but you need to sort yours out?
I did. I had a university degree, job, house, cat, dog – everything that the world was telling me would make me happy, but there was something missing…God!
I felt this deep desire to find out more about my Catholic faith when I was 16/17, and I spent several weeks meeting regularly with a priest who helped me discover the beauty of the Church I had been baptised in to so many years earlier. I never thought, the searching would lead to religious life – when I first started thinking about it, it all seemed so scary and so ‘not-me’. I visited two orders, an apostolic and then a contemplative. In the first I felt good, the community aspect was great but the ministry was not for me. When visiting the contemplative order, the women were lovely but it was not ‘my’ place.
In my mind, after two weekend visits, that was religious life finished, I had thought about it, looked and not found, therefore the search was over, I would go to university, fall hopelessly in love and get married. But God had different ideas.
I have fallen in love, that is certain, but marriage is not where my call to happiness and wholeness lies.
Graduation came and went, then employment, yet still there was something missing. God was forming me to be ready to say ‘Yes’. Eventually I reached the point of no-return, I surrendered to God. I had tried being in control, doing this, living that, choosing this, leaving that – but there was still this gap, and it seemed to be getting bigger and less easy to ignore.
Having spent Easter with friends, at the Easter Vigil Celebration, I felt unable to bargain with God any longer. In floods of tears marvelling at all that God had done, I heard myself say ‘not my will, but your will be done’ – this surrender opened the flood-gates, I could finally say to myself and others, God is the centre of my life, my life will revolve around God and the Church, as a religious, no idea where, what or how. In fact the where, what or how did not seem to bother me, God would look after them, the surrender was all I could offer and I offered it wholeheartedly, and felt completely at peace.
In this peace I searched the internet, I had no real idea about religious life or different orders, but God even worked across the internet and led me to this page www.fcjsisters.org.
By then I was 26 years old - God works slowly, but always effectively, and never gives up! I attended a Vocations Weekend and in that first meeting, I knew that I had found the piece that had been missing. If my life was a four piece jigsaw, I had been living with three, but I had suddenly found the fourth, and I never wanted to let it go.
To have the opportunity to meet sisters who had given their lives to God, who were alive, in love, and happy, and of all ages, inspired me to do the same. I felt I could be exactly who God was calling me to be, and be whole.
Two years of accompaniment followed before postulancy, two years of growth, deepening of the desire and testing of God’s call, I yearned for those meetings and each time I left, I felt I was leaving part of me behind. Yet, the waiting was all God was asking of me at that time, and it just made the time of entry initially as a postulant, then a novice, and now as a temporary professed even more blessed.
I am now 31, so many years have passed since the initial thoughts of religious life at 16/17, but God has been with me in all the searching, and is with me each and every day leading me on in my living of faithful companionship of his Son, Jesus.
What attracted me in the beginning and continues to attract me now – 5 years later is LIFE! Young and old, I see FCJs with a spirit that is alive and in love.
We are contemplative in action – called to be companions of Jesus and each other and to work in the world, to be where Jesus would be. The hope and desire we share in trying to respond in our own way to Christ’s thirst in the world inspires me to respond, in my ministry as a teacher and in the whole living of my life.
What does it take to be an FCJ? Love of and complete dependence on God and God's son, Jesus – without God I am and I can do nothing. All I am is gift from God. Openness to those who accompany you along the way, sisters and superiors; God has worked through them all, and continues to do so helping me become the Faithful Companion of Jesus he desires me to be. Vision, to see the world as Christ sees it, accepting that we can’t take away peoples' pain, but we can insert ourselves more consciously within it, and be their companions. Energy! We are a small, international congregation but we work across the world, united in hearts and in minds. It takes energy and courage to live in God’s service and the service of your sisters and the world, but the living is great.
All God asks is an open heart, that he can use and in the words of our foundress: “God will have to lead me by the hand; he will have to do all the work himself.” And God does, I gave him my ‘Yes’ not knowing where it would lead, yet I can say, it is the best journey I have ever undergone and I love it! Long may it continue!
I wasn’t brought up a Catholic because my parents were followers of Kejawan, a traditional Javanese religion. My father’s extended family were all Protestants, while on my mother’s side they were Muslims of strict observance. When I got to class five of elementary school I began to do sholat (Islamic prayer) and to fast in the same way as the other children, without anyone telling me or guiding me. I think that was the first seed of my deep desire to be in relationship with God the Creator.
After graduating from elementary school I continued my studies in Solo. My elder sister, who had already become a Catholic, enrolled me as a catholic student. So I found myself in the group of catholic students without having the slightest idea about the catholic religion. As time passed, without anyone telling me or pushing me, just as previously I had begun to study Islam, now I decided to join the catechumenate. I was baptised when I was in class 3 of junior high school.
I was quite faithful to praying … but becoming a sister was far from my thoughts. I wanted to work outside Java, to get a lot of money and visit new and faraway places. I liked travelling. Later, however, it was as a sister that I went beyond the borders of home and got to know the culture of other nations.
After graduating from senior high school I continued my studies at the Institute of Agriculture in Bogor. It was at this tertiary educational institution that the history of my vocation began. Two important events were the starting point. I began to ask in my heart “Lord, why did you create me? If life has a purpose, what is it? If this life is your will and has a purpose, how must I fill my life to make it meaningful?" The second important event took place when I was attending Mass on vocation Sunday. After coming out from Mass, I was aware of a question from the homily which seemed to be meant for me personally: “God is calling. Who will respond if I don’t?” Heroic, that’s how I felt. There was an urging to answer the call, to sacrifice and live in a different way for God. I began to dream: what will happen if I respond to this?
I began to think about the possibility that I might a sister … God began to disturb my mind and heart. This disturbance pressed on my soul; I wanted to make it disappear but I couldn’t do so. God led me step by step as a teacher leads a student. I graduated from university and spent two years pondering and weighing. From the church directory I knew there were very many religious congregations. But at the time the only congregation I had any acquaintance with was a Franciscan one. My thought at that time was, “Is there really any difference between congregations? Don’t they all wear a habit and not get married?” How naïve I was! Later I learned that each congregation has its own charism and spirituality.
In hesitation and anxiety about the rightness of my choice, I knocked on the door of the Franciscan convent. I was well aware that there wouldn’t be a sign or a sure answer in this searching, but what I did know was that I was following the deepest urging of my heart and for sure God would guide me. For three years I went through the program of postulancy and novitiate. I felt I began to know God in my life and I responded to Him wholeheartedly.
At that time I was helped by the best formators. I was taught how to know myself and to know God, to mend what was wounded as well as to embrace weakness. Some teachers were priests from the Society of Jesus. From them I got to know Ignatian spirituality and the spirit of “magis” – to be more. I learned about serving-honoring-glorifying God in the simplest of daily activities, in everything.
My first vows were in 1992. My journey went on, as I continued to learn and began to teach, for another four years. But in 1996 my time of joy as a Franciscan sister came to an end. I was not accepted for renewal of vows. This was a time of great darkness.
When I reflect back on that event, I’m aware that it was both the lowest point and the turning point in my life. It took a long time for me to realize that this was the moment when I was born again in a new way. God, who knew me so well, was going to lead me to a new place – the place that he wanted. At that time I wasn’t able to understand the purpose of his heart and so I complained, repeatedly, with all my strength; I was angry … with many people but also God.
The next three years were really a very hard time. Just like the people of Israel who were angry, fed up, weary, grumbling, complaining, demanding and following their own will, so was I. I had many questions and not even one was answered. It seemed that, after a long time of being silent, God began to speak.
When in 2006 an earthquake struck Bantul the FCJ sisters supported the efforts to help people rebuild their homes. Some materials from the devastated houses could be used again, some had to be thrown away, and some new materials were added. Foundations and supporting pillars were rebuilt in a new way, hopefully better able to withstand any future earthquakes. This, too, was what God did for me: helped me to rebuild my life again with some old materials that were in ruins but still usable; helped me to rebuild on a firmer foundation.
After a two year process of rebuilding, I found the new building to be more beautiful than the old. My keywords were: “Always journey on and don’t let me stop because of despair.” That was the beginning of my new life. I re-wove my relationship with God and at the same time I was healed and restored by Him. My faith became simpler, and for sure God and I were more able to be honest with each other.
As my studies came to an end, it already seemed clear that I was going to live my life as a single woman.. It wasn’t a matter of deciding whether to be single or not, but something deeper, that God was questioning … That sense of God’s urging was so powerful that I went to see a spiritual director, a Jesuit priest. He said to me, “That restless feeling you have, that lack of peace, is perhaps because you are in the wrong place.” He gave me a card with the name of the congregation of Sisters FCJ. Of course, I didn’t immediately accept it. I felt fear and worry at the thought of entering religious life for the second time. I put it off for a long time. Finally I sent a letter introducing myself to Sister Barbara FCJ in Yogyakarta.
For two years I went to and fro between Yogyakarta and Jakarta – joining together with others in the d’Houet group, a group named after the FCJ foundress, Marie Madeleine d’Houet, for young women who were interested to know about FCJ. Two more years passed, still without the courage to make a decision. While I still wasn’t able to be sure, Sister Marion asked me if I was ready to become a postulant. I answered, “Yes.” I felt full of worry, but every time I went into the deepest centre of my heart, I felt calmness, peace. Still I said, “Lord, give me a sign.” In prayer God answered: “You will not be given a sign. Now ask your own self. What do you most desire from your life? What do you hope from your life? Whatever you choose will have my blessing."
I made my final vows on January 3, 2010, happy and proud to be an FCJ sister. God’s way of teaching and entering a heart is beyond our understanding. My journey to this point had many twists and turns, but its beauty is indescribable. (To read a fuller account of my story, click here.)
My name is MaryAnne Francalanza and I live in the British Province. I come from Malta - a little island in the Mediterranean Sea. I travelled from Malta to England to meet the FCJs. I contacted them first on the internet:-) I studied Mathematics at the University of Malta and did my teacher training here in the UK. I taught Mathematics at an 11-18 Catholic School in Hounslow and enjoyed it immensely. There is something very life-giving in working with children. It is both a huge responsibility and a great privilege.
I never would have imagined that my journey with God would bring me here - and yet it feels like home. I had been growing in an environment of Ignatian Spirituality for a number of years, having worked closely with Jesuits in Malta and I felt that this was the way I had to take to find myself more and be the best person I can be.
I was attracted to the FCJ society for several reasons. I was looking for Ignatian women whose lives are rooted in God and whose work is a continuation of Jesus’ mission. I was looking for a group of people who embrace the world with all its joys and sorrows, and are not afraid to ‘live fully’. I was looking for a place where I could use the gifts God has given me for God’s kingdom, and where I could do this with like-minded people who journey together. For me, the FCJ Society is this place.
I started my two-year novitiate year in September 2001. It was a blessed time full of new challenges and insights. There were moments of joy and of pain, but I discovered some very beautiful things inside me, and realised that I still have a lot to learn.
But if I had to start again - I wouldn’t change a thing!
I made my first vows in 2003 and you can read a little about my ceremony by clicking here.
Because consecrated religious women and men are explicitly about “the quest for God”, religious life is intended to be “a sign” which can and should inspire others to live their own particular calling. It witnesses also to God’s presence and love in the here and now, while at the same time, pointing to our ultimate “homeland,” the heavenly city that God has prepared for us.
Yes, God chooses whom God wills, and God takes the initiative in an individual’s life. Just as with Abraham and Sarah and so many others who have gone before us, we are all called by God to walk in faith, to trust God’s promises to us, to set out on the journey even when we do not know the destination. As Religious, we are called to make the relationship with God the primary and defining relationship of our lives. We are called to make Christ our First Love. And I think it is really important to emphasize this, that our lives are primarily about Love, about being the face of God’s love and compassion to our world, whether that be through the ministry of prayer as in the monastic communities, or through more active involvement in response to the needs around us.
God’s invitation may come in the form of an interior inclination to a deeper spiritual life. It may come in the form of a question or comment by someone who knows us well. There is no limit indeed, to how God may awaken a person to this sense that he or she may be gifted in this way.
Typically, at first, people tend to doubt, deny or try to turn a deaf ear to the little whisper of God that stirs this unsettling ‘’something’’ in their heart. They may consider themselves not holy enough, not good enough, too young or too old, too sinful, etc. Most often, the communication from God is not anything as dramatic as St. Paul’s encounter with God on the way to Damascus, but just God speaking to us where we are in the circumstances and ordinariness of our lives and our relationships. Nevertheless, I believe, each of us is given our own little “burning bushes” or “annunciations” if we have eyes and ears and hearts to perceive them in the routines of our days. That is why regular prayer, and reflection on our experience, is important for the development of a sensitive heart, so that we can catch this still small voice of God amid the busyness of our lives.
In my own case I felt this secret desire from my pre-teen years, and it was sparked mainly, I believe, through reading the stories of “foreign missionaries” in magazines that came into our home monthly. Like many people today, I had no personal contact with sisters, brothers or priests, apart from seeing the priest at church and occasionally when he visited the school. After finishing my education I had an office job, which proved to be very unsatisfying. I was involved in the social activities and relationships of that time and place and while that was fun, it left me wanting more. God was tugging at my heart.
In an effort to placate this persistent little voice I decided I would become a Nurse, thinking that that is a good thing to do with my life - I will be helping people. That was indeed a very positive and growth filled time in my life. But after several years of various kinds of nursing experience in various parts of the UK, the opportunity arose for me to go to Canada. So off I went, again thinking that being in a new country, meeting new people would satisfy this nagging little yearning for something more. Well, I came to Canada and lived in Calgary. I had my job, an apartment, car and all the trappings of singles in those days. I had a close circle of mainly outdoor type friends with whom I loved to hike and backpack and ski on a regular basis. I was active in the local parish. I was still close to my family. Life was good, but you know there was still this sense in me that something was missing. It was a persistent nagging sense of dissatisfaction with my life despite all that I had and all that I enjoyed.
I did a lot of spiritual reading and a lot of praying. I used to feel so frustrated with God, wondering why God was keeping God’s plan for my life so secret and mysterious, when all I wanted to do was live out “God’s will” in my life. Eventually I found a very helpful Spiritual Director and that’s when things began to move. It felt good to have someone to talk to about this turmoil that was going on inside of me. And I discovered there were several other people like myself, considering a religious vocation. After a couple of years of personal and group prayer, discussions, discernment, visits and live-ins with various religious communities, I was still sitting on the fence. Then one day I was walking in the park with a Sister and talking about my life when she stopped and turned and faced me and said “Ann McGill when are you going to stand up and be counted?”
Well, that did it! Being confronted like that by someone I loved and trusted freed something inside of me. It freed me to take the next step. And there are many steps from the time one applies to enter a community to the time one makes final commitment. It takes several years and there are many supports but also challenges along the way. I remember saying to myself after that first formal step that “at long last I am doing what I have always wanted to do.”
There are great “storms” swirling around us in our church and world today, and some may feel like Religious Life and the Church and all of us are “perishing” in various ways. But the Spirit of Jesus is still with us and says to us “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” As the disciples in the boat being lashed by the storm, we too are called to invoke and trust that the power and the Spirit of Jesus will Shepherd us through these turbulent times. As I was thinking about this the words of poet Christopher Fry came to me:
“The frozen misery of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move...
Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to face us everywhere.
Never to leave us until we take the longest stride of soul we ever took.
Affairs are now soul size, the enterprise is exploration into God.”
Yes, we do live in turbulent times but we are not alone. We are called individually and as church to a radical openness, trust and dependence on God. As the poet says, we may be being called to take the longest stride of soul we ever took.
God is a patient, faithful, gentle but persistent God. If you or anyone you know is sensing that God may be inviting you to become a brother, sister or priest, I encourage you and them to seek out someone who can accompany you and guide and help you along the path as you discern your way forward.
I don’t often remember my dreams but the one I had after a Sunday retreat in my school, surprised me so much that I couldn’t but remember it! The FCJ Sisters were doing the washing up after dinner, including my FCJ class teacher and I think it was Sr. Philippa Maston, head of another FCJ school in Middlesbrough, who suddenly said, ‘So, are any of you going to be FCJs?’ I hadn’t even thought about it and did not answer. But that night I dreamt that I said ‘Yes’! I was flabbergasted and it set me thinking. Although I was only 14 at the time, this was the beginning of my journey to becoming an FCJ. However, I passed through many phases and feelings, at one time wanting and another time resisting the idea.
The FCJ who taught me Religious Education inspired me and helped me to grow spiritually. I even asked her one day to teach me how to pray, but I never told her what I was thinking about being an FCJ, because I knew somehow that once I did, I would have made up my mind and that was a bit scary.
I came from a very faith-filled family. We said the family rosary each evening together and went to daily Mass most days. We were involved in parish organisations and as children were encouraged to make God the most important person in our lives. Between my family and the teaching and example of the FCJ I had come to know, I was growing in my understanding and love of Jesus. He was coming so much more alive for me as a real person and I wanted to give him my life in return for all he had done out of love for us.
I avidly read the shorter and the long life of Marie Madeleine d’Houet, and I was fired by it. I found her so courageous, so determined, a woman of such faith and love whose greatest desire was to do what God wanted. I was excited and ‘hooked’! But I sent away for vocation material for other congregations as I thought I should not just fall into the FCJs because I was at school with them. But I didn’t feel as attracted to the other congregations about which I read and eventually came to the conclusion that if the FCJ way of life made the sister I knew such a committed, loving and generous person, it was good enough for me!
But this was not the end of my struggle. Sometimes I wanted to go along with the idea that God wanted me to become an FCJ and for other periods of time, I felt a great reluctance to doing it. I felt the attraction to choosing my own career and perhaps getting married.
One evening, just before I went out to see a film, I was in my bedroom and out of the blue came the conviction that I had to try and see if God wanted me to be an FCJ. I knew at that moment that I would never be happy unless I took this step. By this time I was in 6th form and finally admitted to the FCJ sister who taught me that I was thinking of becoming an FCJ. So although I applied to university I was also taking the first steps along the road to becoming a postulant and after leaving school in July went off to Broadstairs, Kent, in the following January.
Forty-nine years later, I have no regrets! But it’s been a long journey to much greater maturity than I had at 19 years of age, a journey to a deeper faith, an understanding of how sharing in the mission of Jesus and service are central to being a Faithful Companion of Jesus.
I am still fired by Marie Madeleine’s vision as we come to understand it and live it in today’s world. She was a woman of outrageous hope, and that is what our recent FCJ documents have called us to be and what I want to be! Marie Madeleine has come so much more alive for me in the last ten years. Her life as young woman, wife, and widow, mother and religious, seems to be able to speak powerfully to me and to those whom I meet in my different ministries. So I am very grateful for that dream many years ago, a dream which did come true!
In January 1960, when I told my mother I wanted to be a sister, a Faithful Companion of Jesus, she asked me what I knew about the FCJs. "Well", I said, "they wear mostly all black, they mostly all teach, and they never go home"!
This doesn't seem like very much to base a life choice on, but as I reflect back on those days, I realize that I knew considerably more than that.
I realized that becoming a sister was entering into a love relationship. From the witness of my parents particularly, I was aware that committed, faithful, love relationships depend on mutuality, openness, communication and trust.
I knew that becoming a sister was an expression of wanting to live my life for others, unselfishly. I knew I wanted somehow to be useful to God and available to serve God's people. My father asked me if it would be better to finish university first, to become a doctor or a teacher and then to offer that to God. That was tempting and I saw that it was a good suggestion. Still, I also had a strong desire to simply offer myself to God and let God use me how God wanted.
I knew that becoming a sister was about wanting to live for God alone. As psalm 62 puts it, "Only in God will my soul be at rest...". I realized that life commitment as a sister included not being married and not having children. That was not an easy decision to make and at times it has not been an easy decision to live!
I knew instinctively somehow that Eucharist would be essential to my life as a Faithful Companion of Jesus. Before I even considered being a sister, I had begun to go to daily Mass, usually to 7:30am at St. Mary's Cathedral so that my friends and classmates would not see me doing anything so holy or strange! When I was a child, our family usually went to daily Mass during Lent and then came home for breakfast together before school. I suspect the adventure and the joy of those early morning family outings contributed to my growing appreciation of Eucharist.
Although at sixteen I did not have many possessions to leave behind, somehow I had a sense that having things, even things like educational and entertainment opportunities of my own choosing, was not going to make me happy. I had a pretty strong hunch that the call of Jesus to "Come, follow me" would hold more than enough richness and possibility for me.
People have asked me, "But how did you know? How did you hear God calling you?"
Well, I certainly didn't hear a voice or get a letter from God! I considered possible ways to live my life: as a single woman, in marriage, as a sister. When I tried to pray, when I tried to ask what God wanted, the idea of becoming a sister persisted. I didn't get answers, just a simple, gentle, persistent sense of "Come and see!".
At first I said to God, "Well, life as a sister might be okay for some people, it probably is, but it's certainly not for me". But the idea did not go away! Then I said, "Well, okay God, maybe it is for me, and if this is what you want from me, I will be a sister, but not until I finish university." Still, the idea persisted! Finally, I said to God, "Okay, if you want me to be a sister, I'll do it, whenever you want, you show me the time!" I decided to ask to become a novice. I knew that if the Community told me I was too young and that I needed to wait, that would be a sign that God wanted me to wait as well!
I was accepted and many years later I am still grateful to God for calling me to this life, still happy to be living as a Faithful Companion of Jesus.
Today, our world is perhaps more complex. Certainly, our community would ask a young woman to have more life experience before making a decision to become a sister. Much has changed in the Church as well and in religious life in over fifty years. Vatican Council II has had a big influence on all of our lives. FCJ sisters no longer wear mostly all black, they do many ministries as well as teaching, and they maintain healthy relationships with their families!
But the essential things remain unchanged. Religious life, FCJ life, is still a relationship of faithful, committed love. Eucharist is still at the heart of our apostolic, community lives. It is still a source of joy to me to be useful to God, to somehow know myself as invited to be partner with God, companion with Jesus, in God's ongoing work of creation and redemption. I still know that I want to serve God how God wants, to be useful to God's people how God wants. I still know that things do not make me happy, but being a loving, committed woman religious does!
Being a sister is not a choice I made once. It is a choice I make every day! Becoming and being a faithful companion of Jesus takes a lifetime!