In her 40’s, Jackie Walsh (far right) was happy. She had a great job as a business systems analyst, a comfortable home in Bloomington, Ill., and a new Ford Focus. She had lots of friends. And she belonged to an active and wonderful parish.
So why did she chuck it all to jump half-blind into the counter-cultural, misunderstood and little-known world of a Benedictine monastery? Because God called.
Jackie will become a full Sister of St. Benedict on Sat. June 11 during Vespers at St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Ill. She spent time recently reflecting on her journey.
Q. When did you first think of becoming a sister?
A. I wanted to be a nun when I was in grade school. Then I got busy with life. I thought I would get married and have kids. Much later, after a Cursillo weekend, thoughts of religious life began popping into my mind again. I remember thinking, Who me?
Q. What happened next?
A. I had met Sister Helen Carey during Cursillo and stayed in touch, so I told her what I was thinking. She encouraged me to attend Oblate meetings – which I did – and offered to take me to the monastery for a visit. On the way there she shared how she came to join the community. The joy, warmth and hospitality the Benedictines show each other and their guests made me feel at home and very much at peace the first time I visited. I thought, I think I can do this.
Q. It’s been 3 years since you entered. Can you share some observations about monastic life?
A. In some ways, it’s like my old life. I am very busy. I work at Benet House, I have classes and write papers in my Formation Program, I have household responsibilities. I have schola (choir) practice. Some days I’m going from 5 in the morning till 9 at night.
The busyness is similar to my former life, but it’s a different kind of busy. We rise and go to Lauds first thing in the morning. Then we have Eucharist. Then we pray Lectio Divina. We work – inside or away from the monastery – till Noonday Prayer, then have lunch. Then it’s back to work till Vespers at 5, dinner after that, then leisure or community meetings or schola practice. Often I need to study.
Q. Are there any other similarities?
A. I come from a large family, so I had experience living with a group of other people. The difference is that in a blood family, you all come from the same parents, have the same culture and background. Here you have a cast of characters and cultures and traditions.
Q. What makes it all work?
A. The presence of God. When challenges come up, we have to depend upon God’s graces. I believe God has intermediaries. The Sisters are intermediaries; retreatants are intermediaries.
Q. What makes it work for you?
A. It is very important to me to have a family-type of situation, and one that supports outside relationships. Our families, friends and old parishes are important to us all, and this community values that.
Community is the big thing for me. It means strength where there is weakness, faith where there is doubt. It means support though challenges. You have your own private cheering section!
The Sisters give each other unconditional acceptance and love. You can do something really stupid and there will always be someone there to say Don’t worry about it.
And the inner peace I have here, you can’t replace.
Q. What advice would you give others who are discerning religious life?
A. God doesn’t throw a brick at our heads. He puts something or someone in our path. Slow down and listen. In the final analysis, is it a leap of faith? Sure it is. But it starts with taking a step outside the front door … of your mind.
If you even think you may be interested, talk to someone you respect and knows you well. My family and friends surprised me by saying they wondered why it took me so long. (Although the guy I was dating said, Wait a minute. You’re going to wear one of those black and white things? I laughed and explained who the Benedictines are, but the truth is, if they wore habits I would wear one. That doesn’t matter to me.)
Definitely talk to someone religious who maybe can suggest resources to continue your research and discernment. We would be happy to talk with you. Visit our vocation pages.
If you have God in your heart, it really is a matter of, as Benedict says, Listening with the ear of your heart. I’m glad I did.