Sixty years ago, as the family was on the way to drop me off at the convent, I lit up my last cigarette. (Remember, this was the sixties and smoking was in vogue.) After one puff, my brother pulled it out of my hand and threw it out the window saying, “You don’t need that, you’re entering the convent!” I was not amused.
At monastery door we were welcomed by Sister Maurus, the postulant director who took me to the novitiate and introduced me to Renee Davis (Sister Marian) from Ireland, who was suffering profoundly from the heat. Before long twelve others arrived. We changed into our postulant outfits, were instructed on how to pray Vespers, and promptly were led to the chapel and our assigned pews.
Over the following days, weeks, and months our every day was scheduled, being tutored in Benedictine life, the Rule, Scripture, theology, and the Divine Office. We also were given work assignments. As time went on we attended college, majoring in education since we were expected to be future teachers. The most profound teaching, however, came from living with ordinary women who dearly strove to be more Christ-like, to overcome weaknesses, to love one another, and to pray and work side-by-side with their Sisters through good times and tough times for a higher motive than achievement or success. It was evident that each Sister strove to listen with the ear of her heart in order to deepen her relationship with her God and her Sisters.
Eventually, we found ourselves “on mission” with a variety of personalities, attempting to put into practice what we had learned in our years of formation. It was the moment when the proverbial rubber hit the road. There were times of progress and times of set backs–not all personalities meshed, not everything was harmonious all the time, some were more confident and successful than others–but everyone strove to live as best she could the Benedictine life. Praying together, sharing meals together, recreating together, and having the same goals helped to make the rough ways a little smoother. Everyone helped everyone else and strong bonds were forged in the process, bonds that have lasted a lifetime. Oh, the examples of kindness and sharing I could give! Today, as we look back, we laugh and cry together recalling how those times truly molded us.
As we grew both in religious life and professionally we were challenged to be more and to do more than we ever could have imagined for ourselves. We found that our efforts were not mere work but ministry–the ministry of love. We were challenged to see everyone as a child of God instilled with the beauty and profoundness of Christ. We were encouraged to see that ministry was a two-way street. Yes, we had a lot to offer to others, but they too taught us in profound ways. I was constantly humbled when people shared their struggles and failures or their accomplishments and joys with me. Even though I was in a position to do for them, invariably they did so much more for me. People have taught me to be humble (I’m still working on that), to look at circumstances with a wider lens, to accept everyone no matter where they are in life (no one is hopeless), to be patient and keep working toward a greater goal, even if it means taking small steps. Most of all I have seen the mercy, compassion and forgiveness of God personified.
Now that I am old and gray, I have an opportunity to look backward and forward. Backward with tremendous gratitude for all that God has done for me and with me and forward in anticipation of what might be God’s future plans for me. The past and the present have been and are exciting, even breathtaking at times, as they continue to stretch me. I can only anticipate what this loving God of mine has in store for the future. But, whatever it might be, I know that God and my Benedictine community will be with me, encouraging me to respond in love. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to be part of this community or sharing this way of life.
By Sister Veronica Ryan, OSB