Hope you enjoy this article from our Steps Vocation Newsletter!
Celebrating 60 years as a Catholic Sister would give anyone pause. Was it a good life? Were the trade-offs worth it? Would she do it again? Sr. Catherine Cleary reflects on the life-changing decision she made back in 1951.
Sr. Catherine was just 7 years old when she told her mother she was going to be a nun and teach Kindergarten. Turns out she was right on only one count. She never did teach Kindergarten.
Born into a large family – there were 10 children – Catherine enjoyed the kind of childhood that today seems quaint. From morning till night – unless in school – the children were encouraged to play, read, sing and make believe. Their playground was the entire farm.
“My parents created a space for us where we could be joy-filled and creative,” Sr. Catherine says. “They valued conversation and friendship and fun. They held wonderful parties. They opened many doors for us, but we were encouraged to find our own path.
“At dinner one night – I was about 11 and apparently had given up my earlier plan – my father asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. My siblings all said they wanted to be of service, as lawyers, doctors, social workers. I had changed my mind about teaching and said I wanted to be a ballet dancer. But I started to think about that later on. Was that really what I wanted to contribute?”
After dinner, young Catherine would make her way to a special spot within shouting distance of the house to watch the sunset alone. Although she didn’t realize it at the time, those contemplative moments were a clue.
By the time she was in high school, Catherine had begun focusing on friends and fashion. Although she always went to daily Mass and had friends who planned to enter religious orders, Catherine had another plan for herself.
“I thought if I just had the right friends and the right clothes and went to the right college, I’d be satisfied,” she says. “I went to Marycrest in Davenport. I loved it.”
At the end of her freshman year, Catherine traveled to Chicago for a friend’s wedding.
“What a great party,” she says. “It was lovely. But I came back realizing it didn’t quite do it for me. Something was missing.”
As Catherine began to consider religious life more seriously, she thought with a pang, I don’t want to leave my family. And those ugly shoes!
But the quiet voice of God would not be silenced. Catherine finally said yes. She told her family.
“My mother stopped the washing machine and looked at me. She asked if I had told Dad. Dad suggested I go to a different college. My brother Mike said, You’re kidding aren’t you? I wrote to my college friends to tell them, and they threw me a farewell party.”
The only trouble was, Catherine hadn’t yet discovered where she was going to enter.
“We visited an apostolic community – I didn’t know what that meant at the time – but I didn’t like it at all. It was much too big. I had experience with many orders that had taught me from grade school on, but wasn’t attracted to them either. Finally my parish priest suggested I try a smaller family-oriented community because of my own family values. I visited the Benedictines and entered two months later.”
Sixty years later, Sr. Catherine remembers feeling comfortable with the Benedictines immediately.
“I often thought – still do – this community is a lot like my family,” she says. “We have meals and prayers together. We enjoy friendships. I keep up with my college and even high school friends. We promote learning in the home and in the greater community. We are encouraged to find our path.”
For those today whose path may well be to the convent, Sr. Catherine has several thoughts.
“It was hard to put on those ugly black shoes, but I didn’t think about it again after I did it. We don’t wear a habit anymore. Today’s women won’t experience that.
“You give up other things today. Your credit cards. Your car. Your house.
“You read about life in a monastic community, but you really must experience the ambiance and dailiness for yourself.
“In the inner recesses of your heart, if you find that all this material stuff cannot satisfy your hunger, that you have a great desire for God, that you are seeking for something, that college and friends and career aren’t enough, those are great clues.
“It’s a very good life. I never had a regret. For me, the call had been lurking around my heart for years. I had to acknowledge and trust it. It is the pearl of great price. I sold everything to attain it, but it is the real treasure so I lost nothing. Come see for yourself.”