Sunday, April 28, 2013

Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, Plus One: This Mother's Perspective

When Dominique was 15 years old, she told me she felt called to religious life.  

Anne Marie and Dominique age 8

She told me she had felt this way since she was ten.  Dominique is now 23 years old, a university graduate, and for the last year has actively perused the different orders that exist for women religious.  The first steps were tricky, because there really doesn't seem to be a 'path' for a woman to follow. A man would, I imagine, follow a path to the seminary where he would begin his discernment, but that didn't seem to be the case for Nique.  She had one disastrous interview with one of our local priests (who will remain nameless), then a more heartening interview with one of our former priests, Fr. Taylor, who was able to dispel the negative feelings of unworthiness the first priest cast and offer her some bonafide things to think about and read, and finally an interview with another one of our former priests, Fr. Scalia, who actually had a potential path for her.

Father Scalia put Nique in touch with Sister Clare from the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist based out of Falls Church.  Sister Clare took Nique under her wing, answering her questions, encouraging her to participate in their activities on the weekends, and I think made Nique's calling more of a reality.

The 'Mother House' of this order is in Meridan, CT. Nique visited Meriden three different times over the past year and as she put it: 'I walk in there, and I just know this is where I am supposed to be.'

How can I argue with that?

At this point, I am well aware that this is going to culminate in 'something'. Nothing has been kept from me regarding her plans. I knew when she wrote to the Mother General requesting to become a pre-postulant, and I knew there were a few weeks that Nique spent on pins and needles awaiting her reply.

So I should not have been surprised when on April 2nd, the Mother General wrote back to say 'of course you can begin your discernment!'  What surprised me though, was my reaction - I cried. No, I all-out bawled, sobbed.  It was a kick in the gut, devastating, mournful wail. And I was shocked! The only words I could come up with right that minute was 'I feel like I'm losing her!', but I still was not sure why I felt this way. This is not a cloistered order, Sister Clare seemed like just a normal, joke-cracking, woman who fit right in with our family when we had her down for dinner - so why I felt the way I did, was puzzling.

Maureen and Nique

The tears did not ebb - I kept hoping they would. Maureen McClure, my friend and choir director sent me this which gave me a different perspective of my tears:

Vatican City, April 3, 2013 – During his brief homily at an April 2 Mass at the chapel of St. Marta’s Residence, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to pray to God for the gift of tears, to imitate Mary Magdalene during this Easter season.

Addressing various members of the Vatican gendarmerie and other Vatican workers present for the Mass, the Holy Father mediated on the passage about the “sinful” woman who wept upon seeing the empty tomb.

Mary Magdalene, he said, is the woman “whom Jesus said had loved much and therefore her sins were forgiven.” However, she had to “confront the loss of all her hopes” in not finding Jesus, and for this reason she wept.

“All of us have felt joy, sadness and sorrow in our lives,” but “have we wept during the darkest moment: Have we had that gift of tears that prepare the eyes to look, to see the Lord?” the Pope asked.

“We too can ask the Lord for the gift of tears,” he said. “It is a beautiful grace … to weep praying for everything: for what is good, for our sins, for graces, for joy itself.”

"Weeping", the Holy Father explained, “prepares us to see Jesus.”

It is the Lord, he said, “who gives us the grace, to all, to be able to say with our lives, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ not because he has appeared, but because ‘I have seen him in my heart.’ And this should be the testimony of our lives: ‘I live this way because I have seen the Lord.’”

I was also reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac, (which made me cry, by the way), and was loosely putting Nique and myself in their shoes (sandals) and knew that when I got to the top of the mountain, God was probably not going to change His mind - He wants my daughter, my show of faith is beside the point. But then just this past week I realized that Isaac (Nique) is actually dragging Abraham (me) kicking and screaming up that mountain, begging me to sacrifice her. She is so excited by this she cannot wait for me.

I am crying because:

  • This is happening now so fast, even though it has been coming for years.
  • I don't want to lose HER. I am SO afraid she will not be MY Nique. I've only met one nun in my entire life! Are they all like Sister Clare? Or is she the rare exception? Or are they the humorless, wimpled whisperers that I've seen on TV? 
  • This was not my plan for her or any of my children, and I'm surprised that my 'plan' is so hard to let go of. I am a convert. Religious life is foreign to me. I would not have chosen it for any of my children because I don't know what it looks like having never experienced it myself.
  • I am mourning the children she will not have. 
  • How do I keep my connection with my artsy, funny, musical, witty, smart, creative, nutty daughter? Will her obviously deep spirituality overshadow the person I know???
  • Will we be 'worthy'? She is fresh out of college and has imparted her new found wisdom a number of times in regards to how we are taking care of the pets and raising Gracie, (I did the same thing to my parents - sorry mom and dad!). I know this is a phase - but I don't know what kind of 'phase' she is going to go through on this journey! Better? Worse? More of the same?  
  • How do I parent this? How do I support this? Will I 'get it' or will I say dumb stuff?

This weekend we took her to Meriden to begin her pre-postulancy, the first step in a years-long process of discernment.  After a quick stop at Mike's sister's for dinner, (leaving Gracie there to spend some time with her cousins) we arrived at the convent.

Sister Catherine Mary and Nique

This crowd of sisters flew out of the house enveloping Nique and then of course, me and Mike.  All smiles, friendship, hugs, laughter like they couldn't wait for us to arrive.  I can only give a watery smile and will the tears to stay back (not happening). They all introduce themselves, but the problem seems to be they are all wearing brown dresses and I swear all their names are some derivation of 'Mary'.

We visited for a short time, then settled in the Guest House for the night. The next morning started with Matins and Mass.  (I cried, surprised?) Then we had breakfast, a tour of the Chiara Center and property (they've got hospice, elder care and counseling centers)

and then our work assignments were handed out. Saturday at the convent is a day of Work! (We were expecting this!)  Nique, Mike and I got put on garden duty at the Mother House, a nearby property where some of the nuns live.

 The Mother House
 Sister Patricia (I remembered her name!) and Bosco the dog.
 Dominique and I think Sister Regina

We spent the morning with four or five sisters planting potatoes, onions, Swiss chard, broccoli and peas in their absolutely awesome garden.  After lunch we went back to Nicole's to bring Gracie back to the convent so we could meet the animals on the property.

 Sister Francis and Annie, one of four sheep
 Peanut, one of five goats
 Chickens, too wiggly to count
 Gracie collected the eggs - 22 in all!
 Sister Mary Peter gave us the animal tour.

They have chickens (for eggs and meat), goats, sheep and some barn cats.  They've inherited a few dogs from people who had been in their hospice/elder care facility.

Throughout the day we are meeting more and more sisters. My head is swimming in brown dresses and women named Mary, but the best thing that is happening, is I am seeing the 'people' that these nuns are. Just like any crowd of people - coworkers, family, congregation - they all have personalities!  They are all varying levels of funny, grumpy, witty, serious, happy, busy, silly. This is what I needed to see!  I think Nique will still be Nique!

At Vespers that night - no tears! A breakthrough!

We said 'good-bye' to her this morning, I got teary, I did not CRY cry, you know what I mean. I am happy for her.  I'm not sure when I'll see her again, but she has her phone and computer, so contact will be the same as if she were still living downtown.

I wish I could say my tears are over.  About the time we crossed into Pennsylvania it hit me again how excited the sisters were to welcome Nique, how they all went to her big smiles, open arms, really, genuinely glad to see her again and meet us. Now my tears land more on the joyful side.

I really think she is where she needs to be right now.  *sniff*


  1. What a beautiful story! Dominique is going to do great things. You and your hubby raised a wonderful woman!

  2. Wow, what a great story, and of course well written. You should have been a writer!

    Three years ago I was Ordained as a Peace Minister in the St Francis of Assisi order. I have learned about the Chiara sisters and saw the actually convent she built. I went to Italy two years ago and did a spiritual pilgramage in this world. There is so much love and growing in that world that it is very powerful. I cannot understand the full tears and deep emotion you are feeling as my children are only 14 and 9. But just letting him get to his first date is giving me anxiety. (giggle)

    Living a religious life is no different than living a normal life, it is just in a different mind set with the same tools in life you have given her from your amazing life skills you have. she may have chosen to not have biological children at this time in her life, yet the many young people she will help to grow into the amazing adults they have the ability to be is her children in the world. She may not have one...she may have many!

    I am loving your place and honesty in this.
    with great love and respect across the miles and time...your friend...Tammy

  3. Praying for Dominique, and all of you!

    God Bless,
    The Loobys

  4. Pat, Thank you so much for sharing your story. Dominique is a wonderful giving person. I wonder how she got to be that way? Could it be that you and Mike have given her your love and guidance and she is now ready to share that with the world and all the many people who really need someone in their life to give them such a beautiful gift? I feel your sorrow.. that's because it is foreign to you right now but your heart is in the right place. I admire you and respect you more than you will ever know. All is well! Thanks for sharing! Keep it up and keep us all posted. We all love you and share in your sorrows and your joys!
    Barbara Snyder

  5. Pat, Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can relate to this story in alot of ways. I grew up in Meriden and met the FSE community through my parents shortly after they moved to Meriden. They are, without a doubt, the most genuine, spiritual women and I am glad that Dominique met Sister Clare as her introduction. I've known Sister C since my newly-wed wife and I moved across the street from her family home 35 years ago. (We baby sat for her, her sister & brother when Jan & Dave went out and later she was a babysitter for our kids.)
    In 1981 one of my family members joined the order, so I can relate to your story on that level too. It was my mom. My dad had died unexpectedly in 1979 and my mother felt called to religious life. After a period of discernment, she entered and was a professed member of the FSE for 25 years until her death in 2009. Both my mother and father are buried in the Franciscan cemetery not too far from the garden you helped plant. The community accepted our family as an integral part of their order in so many ways. They are probably the most sensitive, decent people I know and Dominique is in a very good place.
    Don't worry; if this is truly a call, it will happen. If it is not, that, too, will be discovered. Enjoy the journey with Dominique.

  6. Having grown up with an aunt who was a Dominican sister, a great-aunt who was Prioress, and dozens of others in the family who were nuns....let me just give you a big hug and say YES nuns are people too. Some are kind. Some are creative. Some are wacky. One of my college professors, Sr Pat, had been a dancer in her pre-religious days and would bring in her tap shoes on the last day of class and tap dance a great number for us. Your daughter will still be the daughter you love. God bless!

  7. I'm not sure how I missed this BIG news -- wow! I can only imagine the range of emotions you are feeling right now, but think you have a great handle on what is to come. Prayers for Dominique during her discernment and for you, too! Hugs!