In celebration of the World Day for Consecrate Life, Sister Catherine Cleary reflects on her childhood, and how and why she became a Sister. If you are discerning religious life, perhaps Sister Catherine’s memory will help you!
By Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB
Growing up in an ideal Irish Catholic family for me meant an unquestioned acceptance of faith and fidelity to the Catholic Church. It also meant loving and really liking my parents, brothers and sisters. It also meant being raised by parents who were dedicated to education, music and reading, who loved a social life, and who served on many civic boards. In general, we were a well-balanced family.
I think I knew from an early age that I might become a Sister someday, even though I only saw Sisters for one hour on Saturday when they came to teach us the Catechism.
My mother reminded me that at the age of 7, I told her I was going to be a nun and teach 2nd grade.
I spent the next 14 years trying to forget that idea – or at least not allow it to be known or evident.
In high school, I led a very busy social life that included a close crowd of girlfriends. We congregated every weekend at games, the Youth Center, parties, and dances. And we had a close crowd of boys who met us at the same places!
In private, I would tell myself, “I think if I met the RIGHT boy, I would get rid of this ‘silly idea of being a nun.’” So the solution was to go to college, buy the right clothes, and meet the right boy (who would be like my Dad and brothers). He would be good looking, kind, loving, funny, and, of course, Catholic.
Meanwhile I continued to go to daily Mass. I kept confidential the secrets of a few friends who were going to be nuns. And, of course, I told NO ONE that a priest had once said to me in the confessional, “Did you ever think about being a Sister?”
I loved college life, made a lot of new friends, and met a boy. He was everything I wanted: good looking, kind, loving, funny and Catholic.
I thought his goals were close to mine, and that I could begin to erase that inner voice that kept saying, “Come be a religious woman…”
I declared my major. I would become a social worker in order to help the poor. Everything was working out perfectly.
Except for that nudge deep in my heart. It was guiding me to the convent.
I felt the growing need – becoming urgent now – to find an order of Sisters to join.
At last, I listened. In June, I told my parents that I was thinking of quitting college and going to the convent. They were surprised but cautiously pleased.
I met the Benedictines and, after a round of farewell parties in which I assured everyone – friends and siblings – that I was NOT SURE, but just checking it out, I entered the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery.
Obviously, I stayed, and I am grateful. God has blessed me a thousand fold and continues to call.
Sister Catherine’s ministries have included education, retreats and spiritual direction. She also serves in area outreach programs as well as in faith-based groups such as Pax Christi and InterFaith.