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Reflections on Becoming a Catholic Sister

Every woman hears God’s call uniquely. Read our stories of how we became Sisters of Mercy.

“It’s Not All about You!” – Reflection on Episode 2 of “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns”

December 9, 2014

By Sister Megan B.

Discernment“It’s not all about you”—this quote from one of the professed sisters captured my feelings about Episode 2 of “The Sisterhood.” In many ways, the show is all about them, the young women who are in the process of discernment. In many other ways, the show is about the religious communities who agreed to participate.

In talking about last night’s episode with the members of my local community, several questions arose:

  • From where did these young women come? Who selected them?
  • What preparation, if any, were the young women given before meeting with the communities?
  • How were the communities chosen? By whom?
  • What does it say about our culture that we broadcast and view reality TV?

And more profoundly:

  • What is the nature of religious life?
  • What is the nature of discernment?
  • What about prayer?
  • What about the vows?
  • What about community life?
  • What about theological reflection on ministry?

And most importantly:

  • What about God?

While focusing on ministry and community life, Episode 2 felt more exploitative than Episode 1. I am still unclear about the purpose of the show, other than to show us a group of young women who have a wide range of personalities and experiences and who think that they might want to be sisters. I think that the show does a grave disservice to those women who do enter into serious discernment with a religious community.

I have found the column by Sister Susan Rose Francois, SSJ, on the Global Sisters Report website to be a measured reflection by a young religious. I recommend it as a way to hear another experience about a young women’s experience of religious life.

So, it’s not all about the young women or the sisters or us; in the end, it really is all about God and the needs of God’s people.

Read Sister Megan’s review of Episode 1 of “The Sisterhood” or learn more about how women become Sisters of Mercy.

Episode Two of “The Sisterhood”— Reflecting on Ministry and Community

December 3, 2014

By Sister Cynthia

Mercy CrossTwo aspects of being a sister were highlighted in the second episode of “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns” which aired last night. One is ministry – the way in which a particular religious community lives out its Gospel call to serve. What was hard about the ministry time in this episode was the seeming lack of preparation of the women for this immersion in a significant ministry to the aged. Once again, as during the first episode, I found myself wanting to yell back at the TV: “It’s not like this. IT’S NOT LIKE THIS!”

Ministry

When a woman is discerning her call to be a sister, part of her preparation is learning about ministry and also testing herself against its demands. It surprises me that for the women featured in last night’s show this seems to be a first experience of being with God’s poor ones. Most young Catholic women and men have been involved in service projects since their early or mid-teen years. Preparation for immersion is important, and so is the reflection afterward, as those in service ponder together the experience itself and their responses to it. Often these opportunities are very challenging and even transformative for the young folks. They leave saying that got much more than they gave. I felt concerned that the women in the show seemed to be just thrown into it. Of course, we can’t know what happened off-camera, or in the many days that aren’t recorded on tape, but their reactions seem to indicate that they were surprised by the setting and by their own deep responses to the people they were meeting.

Community

Community, last night’s second theme, is normally the place where a sister can process what she is experiencing in her ministry, where she can receive the support, the questions and the help of other sisters. But because of the pressure of reality TV, the women in the show don’t have that opportunity, or at least we don’t see it. They appear to be a bundle of mixed up emotions. If you are going to be any good as a minister, you have to have your own stuff as straight as possible, otherwise you get in the way of the ministry. Fortunately the sisters in the show reflected the peace and joy of those who do have their stuff straight and who are comfortable with who they are.

I pray for the young women on the show, that they now have time to reflect about their experience, to let it settle in their hearts, and to listen deeply for what God might be asking of them.

For reaction to the first episode of “The Sisterhood”, read Sister Cynthia’s response to the first episode and Sister Megan’s response. Or learn more about becoming a Sister of Mercy.

Of Broken Winged Birds and Shouts of Joy: Reflection on “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns”

December 2, 2014

By Sister Megan B.

Women on Lifetime's "The Sisterhood"

Women on Lifetime’s “The Sisterhood”

I must confess a certain curiosity about a reality show depicting young women discerning entrance into religious life. I must also confess a certain predisposition towards not agreeing with the basic premise of filming young women during such a personal time in their spiritual journeys. I did try, however, to approach this show with an open mind. One statement might indeed contradict the other, but is that not what life is about, religious or otherwise: holding the paradox, tolerating ambiguity, trusting the Mystery?

So what did I think about the show? The title itself is a misnomer. “Becoming nuns” and “sisterhood” are mutually exclusive. If these women are interested in apostolic religious life, then they are more than likely looking at communities who profess simple vows, i.e., becoming sisters. Nuns are those women who profess solemn vows, whose ministry is contemplation and who observe cloister. I am curious about the research that was conducted in preparation for the show. I assume collaboration with the Carmelites of the Aged and Infirm, whom we saw featured on the show.

I must say that I found the Carmelites delightful. I thought they welcomed these young women with open arms and were warmly gracious and hospitable. For me, the most poignant moments of the show were the times when the sisters spoke for themselves. I felt they were true to their charism and found their remarks telling. I paraphrase:

  • Women don’t enter with halos.
  • It will be difficult, especially if they are running from something.
  • Each one is different and unique.
  • We want women to be themselves. We don’t want them to be cookie cutters.
  • We made a deliberate decision to retain our habit. For us, it demonstrates our closeness to the Lord and our singularity of heart.
  • We are each broken.
  • Community is a blessing and a challenge.
  • Do they have the capacity to care for the elderly?
  • Do they have the capacity to be with persons of different faiths? To pray with them? To care for them?
  • This is a time for quiet—a time to be with the Lord.

I think Mother Mark summed it up when she said that six weeks is not enough time to really engage in a discernment process, but it is a time “to get to know the Lord and develop a relationship with him.” Read More »

Is “The Sisterhood” Reality?

November 26, 2014

By Sister Cynthia

The Sisters of Mercy novitiate community watching "The Sisterhood"

The Sisters of Mercy novitiate community watching “The Sisterhood”

Okay, so it’s reality TV. But who defines the reality of “The Sisterhood,” the docu-series that premièred on Lifetime last night? The show claims to offer a glimpse at convent reality, but as one of the sisters readily admits, this is NOT the usual process of deciding to become a sister. In real reality it’s a long, prayerful process and very much based on the individual woman. The relationship between the sisters and the inquirer develops slowly, during frequent visits, meals, prayers, ministry sharing and long conversations. What “The Sisterhood” portrays is not convent reality.

Is it reality for the young women on the show? If they don’t know sisters at all, then it is, and that’s unfortunate. There is so much more to the life, the commitment, than giving up things and taking off makeup. As Sister Mary Mark says, it’s about what happens inside, how the call from God resonates in a deep place in your heart. Recognizing that call puts things in perspective and makes the other things not so important. But this reality, too, seems shaped by the TV process – what will draw viewers, what will be sensational. I pray that the women in the series will find their own real space before God, that deep, sacred space where life decisions are made freely and joyfully.

One last thought. There’s no drama in the convent? Oh, please! We’re all human, we struggle, we work it out, and like everyone else we live life large. But we live the real drama of following the Gospel, more concerned about embracing than giving up, more shaped by service than sacrifice, more honed by our commitment than by how the world defines reality.

For more reaction from Sisters and women on the path to becoming Sisters, read our live tweets from “The Sisterhood” debut. Learn more about becoming a Sister of Mercy.

Grateful for the gift of belonging

November 21, 2014

By Catherine Walsh, Northeast Communications Specialist

Sister Assunta at a recent Mercy gathering.

Sister Assunta at a recent Mercy gathering

Sister Assunta’s life has been shaped by loving, powerful women—her birth mother, her adoptive mother and the Sisters of Mercy who took her and her identical twin sister in as 1-year-old babies nearly 70 years ago.

The Sisters of Mercy are sharing Sister Assunta’s adoption story in order to raise awareness about adoption during November, National Adoption Month (read the first story in these series).

Sister Assunta, who was called Cindy, and her twin, Sandy, were born prematurely in March 1944. Elsie, their birth mother, had endured a difficult pregnancy. Their birth father, died a month after the twins were born. For the next year, Elsie struggled to care for her twins. She sought medical help for baby Cindy (Sister Assunta), who was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

For reasons still unclear to Sister Assunta and Sandy, Elsie brought them to an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy in Manchester, New Hampshire, in the spring of 1945, and put them up for adoption. The twins stayed with the sisters and were in and out of foster care until they were nearly six. Neither twin remembers much from that time. “I know the sisters were good to us because they found a couple to adopt us,” says Sister Assunta.

The couple, Joseph and Margaret, who were 57 and 50 respectively, had always wanted to be parents. “My mother used to tell me that I crawled onto Dad’s lap and he was hooked!” says Sister Assunta, who wasn’t walking then because of her cerebral palsy.   Read More »

Grateful for being ‘an adopted child of God’

November 10, 2014

By Catherine Walsh, Northeast Communications Specialist

Sister Janice (left), age 1, with her big sister Sharon, age 4, in this portrait from 1950.

Sister Janice (left), age 1, with her big sister Sharon, age 4, in this portrait from 1950.

As a roly-poly six-month-old, Sister Janice K. won her parents’ hearts. “They always made me feel very special,” says Sister Janice. “I always knew that they had wanted me.”

Being adopted was a “great gift,” says Sister Janice, which has shaped her call to Mercy in significant ways. The Sisters of Mercy are sharing her story and those of other members of the Mercy family in order to raise awareness about adoption during November, National Adoption Month.

Born in 1949 to a young, single woman, baby Janice was placed in St. Agnes Home in Hartford, Connecticut, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy and is today a residential center for pregnant and parenting adolescent mothers. It is marking its centennial year. Sister Janice sometimes jokes that she had “early roots in Mercy” because she was cared for by Sisters of Mercy in her infancy.

As it turned out, Janice’s adoptive mother had herself been adopted and so didn’t hesitate to consider this option after several miscarriages. She and Janice’s adoptive father yearned for a sibling for Janice’s older sister, Sharon. Although Janice’s mother would later have another biological daughter, Lois, Janice says her sense of being chosen and cherished was always reinforced by both parents. Her father, a supervisor at the aviation company Pratt & Whitney, made her feel particularly special.

“When I was five or six, my father would put me on his lap and tell me this wonderful princess story, of how he and Mom went to look for me and picked me out and brought me home,” recalls Sister Janice. “He was a very good storyteller and I would ask him to tell me the story again and again!”   Read More »

Counseling the Cincinnati community

November 6, 2014

By Karel B. Lucander

Since 2008, Sister Trish Rice has been serving in physicians’ offices for Mercy Health Physicians in Cincinnati, Ohio. Above, pictured in her office.

Since 2008, Sister Trish Rice has been serving in physicians’ offices for Mercy Health Physicians in Cincinnati, Ohio. Above, pictured in her office.

Sister Trish Rice knew in 8th grade that she wanted to be a nun, despite her father’s dismay and attempt to dissuade her. After she graduated from Holy Family High School, she left her home in Columbus, Ohio, and joined the Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati,
Ohio, professing her first vows
on August 16, 1966.

“My mom was thrilled, but as a non-Catholic it took my father a long time to come around. Every time he came to visit, he brought a suitcase with my clothes to take me home. Eventually he resolved this, thanks to one of the sisters there who counseled him,” she says.

Now, Sister Trish is the one counseling others, and her ministry helps them to move toward becoming whole people — body, mind and spirit. Since 2008, she has been serving in physicians’ offices for Mercy Health Physicians in Cincinnati. Prior to her current ministry, she taught high-school and college math, was director of vocations, worked at a community mental health center, and was a clinical supervisor at a crisis care center. Interestingly, Sister Trish believes her math background has been pivotal to her counseling.   Read More »

You Are How You Eat

September 18, 2014

By Sister Mandy

Serving poor and homeless at St. Vincent de Paul in Middletown, CT. Photo by Bob Walsh

Sister Mandy. Photo by Bob Walsh

During my time in the novitiate I have had the opportunity to experience ministry at Our Lady’s Inn, a women’s shelter in St. Louis, Missouri. I was alone in the kitchen in the morning since I arrive at my current ministry an hour or so before the cook does. I started preparing some side dishes, and while I was cutting up carrots I found my mind wandering through other things. I was not frustrated, but rather amused at how easily I get distracted, even from things I am passionate about, like cooking. As I called my mind back to the present I wondered about what is so spiritual about food. I have often wondered this and occasionally think I might enjoy studying food anthropology. There seems to be a significant connection between us and our food. This moment in the kitchen when I connected with the carrots was a very peace-filled one for me.   Read More »

Coming full circle in Mercy

September 18, 2014

By Amanda LePoire, South Central Communications Department

Debbie Ann Chambers

Debbie-Ann Chambers entered the South Central Community in December 2012

As a second-year candidate, Debbie-Ann Chambers’ life in Mercy has come full circle.

Growing up in Jamaica, Debbie-Ann knew Sisters of Mercy through her mother, who taught at Convent of Mercy Academy with Sister Colette Marie Yap and Sister Marjorie Woods. Both sisters became dear friends to her mother.

Despite her knowledge of the sisters, religious life wasn’t at the forefront of Debbie-Ann’s mind when she began her master’s degree in counseling at New York University in New York City in 2001. However, during her studies, she developed a deep interest in social justice issues and a growing passion for addressing classism and racism. Those issues began to spark questions and growing restlessness.   Read More »

Five seconds turns candidate’s question into yes

August 21, 2014

By Amanda LePoire, South Central Communications Department

Patricia Baca, left, receives a Mercy candle lit from the paschal candle from Sister Jane at the end of the Welcoming Ritual on August 11, 2013.

Patti Baca, left, receives a Mercy candle lit from the paschal candle from Sister Jane at the end of the Welcoming Ritual on August 11, 2013.

Five seconds was all it took. After
20 years of running from a vocation
to religious life, five seconds with
a Sister of Mercy made Patti Baca
say yes.

Patti, a second-year candidate, knew she had a call to religious life, but she “kept pushing it aside.” She spent 19 years as a search and rescue expert in the Coast Guard on the West Coast and in the Great Lakes region. She was working on her associate’s degree in nursing when she went on an Alternative Spring Break trip to Baltimore, Maryland, in March 2010. One meeting with two Sisters of Mercy–Sister Kitty Nueslein and Sister Karen Schneider–and Patti was ready to answer the call to religious life.  Read More »