“I Want to Show Joy”—My Journey to Become a Sister of Mercy
November 6, 2017
By Sister Colleen O’Toole
On July 22, 2017 the Sisters of Mercy came together in celebration and prayer as Sister Colleen O’Toole professed first vows as a Sister of Mercy in the chapel at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. She currently ministers as a kindergarten aide in Cincinnati, Ohio. Sister Colleen reflects here on her journey to Mercy.
What first attracted you to the Sisters of Mercy?
When I was a Mercy Volunteer in Detroit, I worked at Mercy Education Project where I was a GED math teacher for women, and I helped in the after-school program. There were several sisters who also worked there. I didn’t live with any sisters, but they were very supportive of the volunteers and took us out and showed us around. I was very attracted to how authentic the sisters were in their relationships with each other and with the people they served.
In what ways have you grown?
As I have deepened my commitment to Mercy, I find myself becoming more authentic, more honest to my inner self. A friend once told me that “what is attractive to you about other people is what you desire for yourself,” and I think that’s certainly true for me!
Describe what you like most about being a Sister of Mercy?
I love the other sisters; getting to know such a diverse, joyful group of women has been a gift. I love the opportunities to gather with them. … I am constantly grateful to be in such a kind community.
What were your thoughts as you professed first vows?
As I walked down the aisle I saw so many sisters I knew, and I thought of all the times I’ve spent with them and remembered, when I first entered, how it was a chapel full of strangers. It was a very strong moment of community for me.
How would you describe being a Sister of Mercy to someone not be familiar with religious life?
I’ve had to explain being a sister to a good number of students! What I usually say is that I love God and God’s people so much that I want to spend my life doing the good things God asks me to do. I live with other sisters who also love God, and we live together and share everything. We work in jobs that help people, and we don’t have any children of our own, because we think of everyone as our kids. I mostly get questions about whether I have a husband or if I want one. My kindergarten children have asked if I still live with my mommy and daddy.
What kind of Sister of Mercy do you want to be?
Brother André Bessette and St. Thérèse of Liseuex have been on my mind often. I want to show God’s love in all I do, no matter how unimportant it is. I want to show joy in the way I live my life. I like their simplicity and their willingness to be “unimportant.” I’m less interested in being influential than being loving and a way for others to meet God. Thinking about it, my grandmother had a strong devotion to both these saints, and she had a great impact on my faith. So that may be where it’s coming from for me.
Share a favorite quote from Catherine McAuley (founder of the Sisters of Mercy).
I like the quote, “Prayer is a seed which is planted in the heart.” I always thought that people just were good or bad at praying and hearing God’s will. To know that it is a skill I can nurture and encourage is a great comfort. I also love Catherine’s Suscipe; I can get very anxious about the future and it helps me to center myself.
Any advice for a woman discerning a vocation as a Sister of Mercy?
Try it out! I thought I had to know for sure when I entered what God’s plan was for me. Pray and talk to people about it; sometimes God speaks to us through others.