But annoyingly, the idea of religious life wouldn’t go away.
Eventually I got a bit fed up and went online and did some research about nuns. Mostly I looked at pictures of vocation directors. When I found one who looked happy and friendly and safe, I contacted her. But I was terrified. I remember thinking to myself What have I done? Eventually, I mustered up enough courage to meet with her and, in time, other members of the community. To my amazement, I really liked them. They seemed so normal.
However, any time they broached the idea of further discernment, I froze. I wasn’t convinced that God had called me. I was waiting for some kind of neon sign from heaven that would tell me what to do.
Surely, God couldn’t be calling me to religious life. God doesn’t call the wimpy! He doesn’t call people who are too scared to tell their family that they sometimes go to Mass on a weekday for fear of seeming too religious. He calls the bold and the mighty. I was anything but. I was full of questions and fear, and totally confused.
This is a question that has a long answer. The short answer is most definitely: God has called me here. But how do I know that God has called me here? How does anyone know what God is calling them to do? Well, I can’t answer for everyone, but I can answer for myself. It has taken a long time to get to this place (hence, this story will be covered over the course a few posts – prepare yourself!). In fact, it has taken me 9 years to reach this point.
Although I have been a practicing Catholic all of my life, I would never have classified myself as particularly religious. Growing up in Calgary, I attended Mass with my family, went to Catholic schools, and volunteered at my parish here and there, but my faith was not something I advertised or made public. I always felt slightly self-conscious about it. I certainly never would have considered a vocation to religious life – I didn’t even know any nuns! However, in 2003, my mom passed away after a long illness. Faced with questions, doubt, and grief, I turned to God for answers and comfort. It was at that point that my relationship with God matured and I began to pray with greater intent and purpose, seeking direction in my life – what should I do? What kind of career should I have? Where should I live?
After a year of feeling lost and confused, I felt God leading me to Ottawa in 2004 to pursue graduate studies. I felt right at home in Ottawa and quickly found a wonderful community of friends. I joined my neighbourhood parish and was welcomed immediately. My faith life was nourished there and unexpected things began to happen!
I first felt God’s nudge towards religious life in 2005, when I was watching the funeral of St. John Paul II on television. At one point there was shot of St. Peter’s square and I saw all of the men and women religious gathered there. I felt this longing in my heart and I thought to myself, I wonder if I could do that. Of course at the time, I didn’t recognize this a call from God. I just thought I was getting a bit emotional. It was only months later when a friend and I were talking, and she asked me if I had ever thought about religious life. I said, “No. Well, maybe.” I told her about what had happened but that I didn’t think that was how God called people. It felt far too subtle. Don’t most people become nuns or priests after some major supernatural event? Don’t the heavens open up and there are visions of angels and flashes of lightning?
However, my small experience seemed to be good enough for my friend. She pushed me to check out religious communities in Ottawa. I thought, No way. I’m in the middle of a masters degree. When I’m done I’m getting a job with the government. I’m pretty sure God wants me to have a stable job, a good pension, and probably one day to become a Deputy Minister. I pushed the thought away.
Good question. What am I doing in Toronto with a group of women I barely know, navigating my way through a new city, when it seemed like I had everything I wanted in Ottawa?
Well, the short answer is: I am here because I was called here. (Much more on that later.) By asking to become a candidate with the Loretto Sisters, I have asked to deepen my understanding of religious life by spending a year living with the community. In essence, I am testing it out, seeing whether it is right for me. This next year will be a year of further discernment (reflection, decision-making) of the path I feel God has asked me to take.
I will find out what it means to live my life as a religious sister, to figure out if this is what God is actually calling me to do, and whether this community of sisters, the Loretto Sisters, are the community for me.
It’s a year of unknowns. While some things are the same (I continue to do the same job – albeit from a different location, still have access to my own car and resources, am free to pursue my interests, see friends and family, etc.), other things are very different. I packed up my house in Ottawa, and have gone from having a huge amount of personal space to having my own bedroom. It’s kind of like being in university residence again (although my floor mates are much tidier!), which is an odd place to be in after so many years on my own. I am also living with a group of women who are far older than I am. Many of them have been in religious life for 50, 60, or more years. I am not among my peer group, which I am sure will present its own challenges as time goes on.
But for now, I am savouring the adventure! It’s a chance to be different, to be open to newness, and to see the world from a different perspective.
Welcome to my new blog, created to share my discernment experience with family and friends. In my blog, I’ll write about what has drawn me to religious life and how I came to recognize this call. I’ll also write about daily life at Loretto Abbey, the ups and downs of candidacy, the history of the Loretto Sisters (Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary), and their foundress, Mary Ward.
I hope that this will allow my family and friends living far from me to better understand what this journey is about and to help you feel part of my journey.