By Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB
Left to my own devices I would never have entered religious life. I thought it was dull, stilted, without fun, zest, relationships or community. I was interested in my friends, stylish clothes, a social life, my education. So how did it come about?
I began to sense something inside, despite my objections. (Not that I actually heard God’s voice – at least not audibly!) Rather, I began to feel a growing consciousness or awareness that moved me. Gradually, it became clear that God was asking me to enter religious life.
I did not know where or when or what community I was to join. I simply knew I was to become a Sister. My father’s response was, “Perhaps you just need to change colleges. How about St. Mary’s of Notre Dame?” (Notre Dame was the flagship of all colleges to my Dad.) My mother said, “Go visit your brother and Bishop Sheen in New York.” (Bishop Sheen, then Msgr. Sheen, was Mother’s first cousin. I never did know if she thought he might get me to change my mind or if she just thought I should travel a bit before being confined to a convent. She did not realize that as a “confined” sister, I would be teaching in Africa for a month and studying in the Holy Land for 3 months!)
Nothing could get me to change my mind. It was clear to me – if simultaneously vaguely – that I was being called by God to be a vowed religious woman. In faith I followed the inner movement of the Holy Spirit. I understood it was a gift being offered me, thought not one I had asked for, nor one that I necessarily wanted. But the sense was steady, strong and loving. “Come,” it said,”I will give you gifts you cannot imagine.” It was like Mary’s saying, “He who is mighty has done great things for me.”
I knew I was called to enter somewhere. But where?
I 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 2 months later.
What I found was anything but a “dull, stilted, without fun, zest, relationships or community” kind of place. In fact, I have often thought this community is a lot like my family. We live together. 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.
Why have I stayed for 60 years? I surely would say, it is the loving community, the caring, compassionate individuals who help me “carry my burden” and who are interested in whatever ministry I am doing. Also praying the Psalms daily is like food to a hungry pilgrim. I find, like Cassian, the Psalms are “fire in my heart.” They add “an ardent fiery aspect to my relationship with God.”
In the final analysis, it is part of my nature, my true self to be in this community. As Mary before me, I am grateful to have said, Yes.