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The Mystery of Religious Life-My Story of Faith, Hope and Trust

By Sister Erin McDonald

It’s National Vocation Awareness Week! My vocation story is my life story and as I reflect on it, I think of the scripture verse, “Is anything too marvelous for God?” (Gn 18:14) My story is a culmination of millions of moments of love, failure, prayer, doubt, trust, and a deep sense of mystery. It is a pilgrim story. A journey of call and response as well as a realization that I am exactly where I am meant to be. Throughout the centuries thousands of women and men have responded to God’s call to become a sister, nun, priest or brother. Religious life has taken many different forms and membership has ebbed and flowed but despite these constant shifts and changes, the unexpectedly marvelous work of God has been woven through it all.

ErinSister Erin displays the ring she wears as a sign of her commitment to her vows.

This may be where you expect me to share all the juicy details of my messy and grace-filled pilgrimage towards being the finally professed sister that I am today. Well, not quite. I’m going to tell you a bigger and more marvelous story about the movements and excitement of vowed religious life today.

I am often asked why I would make a life commitment to being a sister during a time perceived by many as a period of the diminishment and dying of religious life. However, this is only one aspect of the story of religious life today. As I reflect on my experience of the gifts and graces of being a sister, my heart overflows with gratitude and joy. Religious life is in itself a mystery. It is not easily explained or justified. It is a mystery of call and response. Inspired by hidden promptings of the Holy Spirit, we are summoned to give our whole self to living the Gospels, building the Kingdom of God, and being a prophetic voice for God’s great love. Believing that God’s promise endures because God is always faithful, I continue to experience a vibrant and faith filled life with young sisters. I continue to believe that nothing is too marvelous for God. That our future is filled with hope and possibility because I believe that God is alive and active among us. Young women are stepping into this life and we are finding beauty and boldness in our communion with other young vowed religious, with the women religious and associates in our home congregations, and with all of creation.

Sarah-and-JenniferSisters Jennifer Berridge and Sarah Simmons, who both professed first vows with the Congregation of St. Joseph this summer.

Young sisters today, just like our sisters before us, are seekers. We seek ways that will deepen our call, enable us to live our vocations more fully, allow us to become more rooted in our congregational charisms while living grounded in God’s hope for our future as religious women. God’s grace is always at work among us even when we cannot perceive or recognize it. The fabric of our history as Sisters of St Joseph is woven with resilient threads of hope, courage and deep trust in God, even at times when the way forward wasn’t clear. Sisters of St Joseph have persisted through war, famine, crossing great oceans, founding new communities, Church reforms and great cultural shifts. Despite it all, nothing was too marvelous for God and our sisters and associated persisted and so will we.

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Beyond the circles of new Sisters of St Joseph there is a marvelous movement of young sisters from across the country banding together to tend the flames of vowed religious life. “Giving Voice” is a vibrant peer led organization of young Roman Catholic women religious from across the country who, compelled by the love of Christ, desire to serve the dear neighbor, to expand their relationship with God and to strive for a more just and equitable world. “Giving Voice” creates space for younger woman religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams, and challenges in this life. We do not seek to separate from our home congregations but to create times of mutual support, shared prayer, discernment, friendship, and Spirit filled experiences. “Giving Voice” consists of women representing various races, cultures, and congregations. It most accurately reflects the diversity of the people to whom we are called to minister. “Giving Voice” is a movement of inter-congregational, inter-cultural, and inter-generational women. It is broad and varied in its expression of religious life yet grounded in the Mystery of God that continues to call us into being. “Giving Voice” is life giving to its members and enriches their home congregations. Watch this video to learn more about the most recent Giving Voice gathering.

Giving-Voice-Photo-Intercongregational-1Sister Erin, with other sisters from Giving Voice.

I love being a Sister of St Joseph, yet, “Giving Voice” creates a circle of pilgrims with whom I can share this journey now and into the future. This also creates fertile ground for our communal dreaming and discerning the ways in which God is calling us into newness. These relationships are the catalyst for the mysterious work of God to emerge among us.

So my message is not the messy and intimate details of my personal journey to being a Sister of St Joseph but a testament to the excitement and vibrancy of this life. To share our story of hope and deep trust in the slow work of God. I share our story of a collective group of young, passionate and faithful women who want you to believe in us and to believe in our future. At a time when our country and our church are experiencing seemingly unbridgeable divisions and increasing cynicism, “Giving Voice” witnesses to a unified future of religious life shared among a diverse group of women.

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Giving Voice participants include Catholic sisters from both apostolic and monastic communities, congregations that wear habits and those that do not, and women who encompass a diversity of cultures, ethnicities and races. We are not divided by our differences but bonded together by what we hold in common. As our shared communion with Christ deepens and expands, so does our love and unity with each other. May we all be filled with renewal, rejuvenation, and inspiration. As I imagine the future of vowed religious life, I see it is full of possibility and, like the sisters who came before me, I will continue to ask, “Is anything too marvelous for God?”

About the Author

erin-cropped Sister Erin McDonald, CSJ currently serves as the University Minister for Service and Social Justice at the University of Detroit Mercy. Prior to this she served as a case manager Freedom House Detroit where she worked with asylum seekers from all around the world, helping them settle and assimilate in the US. Sister Erin also spent two years as a humanitarian aid worker in Rwanda with the Jesuit Refugee Service. She professed first vows with the congregation in 2015 and final vows in 2019.

Editors Note: Portions of this blog were first published in the Fall/Winter issue of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s magazine, imagineONE.

22 thoughts on “The Mystery of Religious Life-My Story of Faith, Hope and Trust

  1. Maria Hill says:

    Indeed, there is nothing too marvelous for God! I note that your story is all about relationships. You have caught the wisdom of God who has done wonders for us. Thank you for the reminder; I needed that today.

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  2. Mary Jo Curtsinger says:

    Thank you, Erin, for giving voice in this reflection to the marvels of your journey in religious life. You are truly a gift to the Congregation of St. Joseph, as well as to women of other communities in Giving Voice. It’s so great that God’s life in you inspires me, and I’m sure those you meet from day to day!

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  3. drhalfpint says:

    I’m so glad you have this group. This may be a larger question than can be answered here but what are your thoughts about why young women do not seek vocations? 25 years ago my doctoral dissertation was about self-directed learning among women religious and through my interviews I came to some conclusions. Not being Catholic I’m probably wrong but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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    • Thank you for your kind words and your thoughtful question. I do think this is a bit difficult to try to answer in a couple of sentences and I’m not sure I have “answers.” I can speak more authentically to why women enter than I can to why women do not enter religious life. However, a couple of thoughts would be that throughout the centuries membership in religious orders has waxed and waned as new forms of religious life emerged and evolved. Why women enter is often influenced by the culture, societal norms and experiences of church in the times in which they live and, of course, by the mysterious work God. For example, vocations to religious life may have been more commonly encouraged and valued by families at certain points in history which could influence how many women discern vowed life. Opportunities for education and ministry in theology and spirituality are more widely available to women today than they may have been 60 years ago, if you weren’t a Catholic sister. These are just two examples but there are many more. I’m not sure I’ve actually answered your question but I hope I’ve opened the door for you to reflect on other factors. Thank you. 🙂

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  4. Erin, Thanks for highlighting your journey as a CSJ. What a gift to be able to connect with newer members in religious life across the globe !!!
    as we discover anew each day that we are all ONE. ♥️Ya Christine

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  5. Janet Franklin, CSJ says:

    Plumbing the depths of meaning of our vowed life as Sisters of St. Joseph today is a way of proclaiming and inviting others to experience Love’s Mystery written clearly in your one, precious life. Thank you. Thank God for you.

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  6. Theresa Pitruzzello, CSJ says:

    Thank you, Erin, for your witness to God’s continued marvelous and mysterious action in our lives today, especially in the broad context and diversity of religious and those with whom we minister today.

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