Sister Taryn Stark Reflects on Her Steps to Mercy
July 28, 2015
By Liz Dossa
Sister Taryn Stark’s dark eyes glowed with excitement as she talked several weeks before her perpetual profession ceremony. She had prepared for seven years for this day when she would profess perpetual vows—the final step in becoming a Sister of Mercy.
Looking back, her steps toward religious life seem clear and direct. She knew the Mercy Sisters as a young child when her mother, Ruth, a graduate student at the time, was close friends with them. She was baptized at the convent chapel in Burlingame, California, during the Mass when her mother became a Catholic in 1978.
As her mother traveled the world working for the World Health Organization and Catholic Relief Services in Fiji, South Africa and Peru, she always sought out the Sisters of Mercy. Ruth shared a sense of community and vision with the sisters. This example of trying to serve the world’s most needy deeply impressed Taryn. “I grew up with a mother who taught me to treat every creature on earth with respect, all people, even if I have been mistreated by them. Even the spider which might have bitten me.”
Taryn spent her high school years in Africa, the South Pacific and Europe. After graduating from Whittier College in southern California, she returned to South Africa. Taryn’s focus became clear after she worked in a bank in South Africa and then as finance officer for the South African Bishops Conference. The first job she found unsatisfying, but working for the Bishops’ office intrigued her. She met priests and nuns she admired. At this point religious life began to call her, but she thought she could do “good works” and support herself with a job in the financial world.
She became a certified public accountant working in Rockville, Maryland, and assumed she was too old for religious life until one day she looked up the Sisters of Mercy online.
“I went to a web link that invited me, ‘Come and See for ages 18 to 40!’ It was a huge thing — not just a light bulb, but a huge stadium lighting up, knowing I can still do this. I went through the discernment process, but I knew at that moment.”
The steps have led Taryn through candidacy, then two years as a novice, part of which she spent in the Institute novitiate in Laredo, Texas. During her next three years as a temporary professed sister she worked at Mercy High School in San Francisco, California, as the school’s registrar and database administrator. Through it all she has studied theology and met regularly with a spiritual director.
As part of her ministry at Mercy High San Francisco, she talks with students, “I love spending time with them,” she says. “I tell them, ‘Find your passion!’ I’m trying to open their minds to try different things. Be adventurous! I help young women know that religious life is a road open to them. They can have the freedom to be centered in Christ and be a light for others.”
She currently lives in the Burlingame convent in a community, a small group of sisters who eat together, meet and pray together. “I learn so much from them,” she says. Among them are sisters who have run hospitals and high schools, written books, tutored children and done social work. They are a trove of wisdom, humor and community history.
Ongoing discernment is part of the seven-year process, but the discernment has not been hers alone. The Mercy Community also has discerned whether or not there is a “fit.” “It’s a mutual decision,” she emphasized. “We are both saying yes.”
The Mercy Community said an enthusiastic “yes” to Taryn. She professed her vows on Saturday, July 11, in a ceremony witnessed with joy by many sisters, associates, friends and family at Mercy Chapel in Burlingame.
Taryn shines with a clarity of purpose. “When I felt the call,” she said, “I knew religious life was for me. I know there are fewer people in religious life today, but I see how the sisters have influenced the ministries all over the world. Pope Francis calls on religious to ‘Wake Up the World!’ What a wonderful time when you have a leader who is calling you like this. It gives me energy.”
Taryn joins 3,100 sisters in the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. She is one of six Mercy women in the United States who will make perpetual profession this summer.