Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
I spoke with five sisters who were founding members of traditional communities in the United States about their entry into religious life. Here is what they shared:
Mother Lucille Cutrone, Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal in New York
I was a lay woman working as a public high school teacher and living on Long Island. On weekends, I’d volunteer to help Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in their work in the Bronx and Harlem. I was drawn to Mother Teresa and her community. I felt wonderful and peaceful when I was with her. She had an inner strength which came from the Lord.
I also met Fr. Walter Ciszek [a Jesuit priest who wrote With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me about his experiences as a prisoner in the Soviet Union’s gulag system] in the early 1980s … I was praying for a spiritual director, and he invited me to visit him. I then went on retreat with him, and the first thing he said to me was, “You’re going to be a nun.”
Mother Teresa Christe, Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa, California
The Lord took me by surprise!
I grew up in a large family in Los Angeles. I had seven brothers and two sisters. My mother was a devout Catholic.
I felt directed toward the married state. I had a life full of activity; we owned horses, I liked ice skating. As a teenager, I dreamed of getting married and moving away from the big city to Montana, where I’d have 10 horses and 10 children.
Although I had read about women religious, I had never met one. It was a dormant period in religious life when I grew up; if I did see a sister, I did not recognize her because she did not wear anything to indicate her vocation.
In the eighth grade, my parents sent me to a Catholic boarding school in northern Idaho. It was there that I first encountered sisters in full habit. I was scared to death when I arrived, because I thought the nuns would be hard and strict. But, they were the most kind, warm and sensitive people I’d ever met. I was happy there. I learned to live in the state of grace and have fun.
My respect for religious life grew, but I didn’t feel the call. At 17, I got my first job, and began making my own money. When I went to Mass, I thought I’d be happy because for the first time I could put money into the collection basket that I’d earned myself.
But, when the basket came around, I had an unusual and dramatic experience. I pulled the money out of my pocket, looking at it, then the crucifix. I felt a profound sadness. I said to Our Lord, “You gave me your whole self, and all I can give you is a few dollars.”
I had the sense that I wanted to put my whole self into the basket. I knew God wanted more from me.
I went on a high school retreat, and listened to a priest speaking on vocations. He said that we were all like a tree, which bears fruit from the use of our time, talent and treasure. As we grow into adulthood, we give to God from that tree.
However, if you are called to religious life, you give God the whole tree. He gets to plant it where he wants, and pick from it what he wants. The whole tree belongs to him. Some are called to give that whole tree.
I told a woman religious that I loved children, and of my desire to have my own. She told me about spiritual motherhood, and said that if I was called to religious life, I’d have more children than I could imagine.
I entered the convent after high school. I thought I would be unhappy there, but I experienced the joy that one experiences in a true vocation.
Mother Marie Andre, Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah, Arizona (an outgrowth community from Mother Angelica’s Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama)
I am the third of four daughters. My father is a former U.S. Navy fighter-attack pilot and retired rear admiral. My mother was a grammar school teacher. I had a wonderful life growing up all over California, in Northern Virginia and overseas in England and France. I give thanks daily for my family and friends and all the opportunities that were given so generously to me. My youngest sister is also a Poor Clare nun and we are blessed to be together in our religious life. I always wanted to work for the CIA or the FBI or the DEA, and I interviewed with all of them after graduate school while working in a law firm. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that is not what the Lord was asking of me. His call came like a bolt out of the blue when I was 28 years old. I knew about Our Lady of the Angels Monastery through my best friend from sixth grade who had entered there, and from then on, the Lord opened one door after another, and I have been very happy and blessed [as] a Poor Clare nun.
Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan
I’m from Tennessee. I was blessed with saintly parents and taught by sisters, so I had the best of both worlds. I entered religious life after high school, becoming a Dominican.
Four of us in the community believed God was calling us to found a new community. Mother Assumpta [who was previously the superior of the Nashville Dominicans] was good friends with Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, and he agreed to canonically establish us.
Tom Monaghan, the great Catholic philanthropist, heard about our new community. We’re a teaching community, and Tom wanted to build Catholic schools. He invited us to Ann Arbor, Michigan [Monaghan is from Ann Arbor], and after much prayer and consultation between our bishop in New York and the Bishop of Lansing, we moved.
As a vocation director, I thought the move would prove itself a good idea if vocations came. Sure enough, the day after we arrived in Ann Arbor, a young woman came to our door asking about joining us.
It just shows that you have to pray, put yourself in the hands of the Lord and trust Him.
Mother Mary Augustine, O. Praem., Norbertine Canonesses of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph in Tehachapi, California
I am from a family coming from Alsace (France), and was born and raised in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific between Australia and New Zealand. I had no religious formation until God brought about my conversion at the age of 42. I am perhaps similar in this way to my patron, St. Augustine, as, like him, my conversion became the very beginning of my true life.
From that point on, there was no going back, and it became whatever God's will would be for my life. Like Jesus, my food became to do the Father's Will. Over time, and through many trials, it became clear that God wanted me to have an undivided heart for Him alone. It was through time and events that His plan unfolded for me, bringing me first to the Catholic Church, then religious life, and then specifically, at the request of the Norbertine Fathers, to become the foundress of this community.