The Spirit will help you find the courage you need...
Life offers us many adventures and winding roads. The key to happiness is finding the path that leads to an inner wholeness. For me, that wholeness did not occur until I finally stopped running from the journey to which God was calling me. When I finally accepted that path it was as if I had found the missing piece to a puzzle. Religious life has offered me more than I ever could have imagined.
I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama in a prayerful Italian tradition. My family has always played a significant role in my life. It is from my family that I first learned of God’s unconditional love for all people. It was through the example of my parents and siblings that I learned that God should come first in my life and that everything else should be a reflection of my relationship with my God.
My parents instilled in my brother, two sisters and myself that family was a priority. The strong community bond as found in a monastic community matched my understanding of family. Hence, I felt a familial bond with the women of this Benedictine Community.
I first began thinking of religious life when a teacher shared with me what her life was all about. I remember being intrigued with the simplicity of her day-to-day living, especially the tranquil feeling I experienced while on a tour of the convent. It was then that I thought maybe God was daring me to do something different with my life–maybe even to become a Sister.
My high school experience was rather typical. Although I still felt God calling me to become a Sister, I behaved as a normal teenager might. I often spoke with the two Benedictine Sisters who were teaching in the school I attended. As a sophomore, I began to date someone special. It was then that I began to doubt my religious vocation. I shared my dilemma with a Sister that I knew. “If God is calling me to become a Sister, why is the temptation of this relationship in my way?” I was feeling quite confused.
The wise response from her was this: “Tonette, live your life and live it to its fullest potential. If God is calling you to a religious vocation, you will not be able to run from it. Enjoy yourself, and let God do the controlling.” To this day I still reflect upon those words of wisdom.
As I shared this dilemma with my gentleman friend, he took the news rather well. Being a Catholic, he seemed to understand how these thoughts could be prevalent in my life. He suggested that we just continue on our journey together and whatever happens with God happens. This seemed to calm my fears.
As my relationship developed with this gentleman, thoughts about a religious vocation were pushed out of my mind (or so I thought). However, I would periodically visit the Sisters from my elementary school. They were still very special to me. Every now and then the thought about a vocation would knock on my conscience and try to sneak back into my reality. When that happened I would push those thoughts away as quickly as possible. But it seems that the harder I pushed, the more strongly the thought of religious life would return.
My gentleman friend and I chose to attend the same university and continued to date all through college. Thoughts of both religious life and marriage were having a tug-of-war within my soul. I was truly torn with trying to do God’s will when I didn’t really know what God was asking of me. I was grasping for signs, but they were so unclear to me at the time.
Upon returning to college after spending time at home on a break, I realized that instead of traveling southbound on the interstate I was traveling northbound! I then knew what I had to do. I ended up in Cullman, AL (an hour from my home) not having the first idea of what I was going to say to anyone as to why I was there.
As I walked into the main entrance it was just by coincidence (or was it?) that one of the few Sisters I knew came walking through the glass doors just opposite me. I didn’t really know what to say other than that I wished to visit one of the Sisters. While this Sister was tending to my request, I waited nervously in one of the parlors. Unbeknownst to me, this same Sister made contact with the Vocation Director, Sister Bernadette Sachs.
I was introduced to Sister Bernadette. All I could share was that I knew I belonged at Sacred Heart Monastery but that I didn’t know if I had the courage to go against society’s and my family’s expectations for my future. The only advice given by Sister Bernadette was this: “If it is meant to be, the Spirit will help you find the courage you need.” At the time, that wasn’t exactly the type of encouragement I was expecting. But, now, I realize that it was the best advice anyone could have given me.
When I returned to college, I knew that I had to at least give religious life a try. I knew that I had tried to push God out of my life but that God was not giving up on me that easily. That discussion with my gentleman friend was the most difficult thing I have had to do thus far in my adult life. Although he understood my feelings, it was painful for both of us. My fiat, my yes, to God caused my life to take on a whole new meaning. The missing puzzle piece finally slid into place causing a wholeness to occur in my life. I knew that by entering Sacred Heart Monastery I was “coming home.”
I am still very happy journeying on this Benedictine way of life. Each day I am called to new and exciting possibilities knowing the love of my Sisters in Christ will support me on this journey. How blessed I am to be among such a loving Community on the same journey of seeking God.
**Sister Tonette was elected Prioress of the monastic community in 2015. In this role she serves as spiritual and temporal leader of the community. In her spare time, Sister Tonette enjoys wood-working and kite-flying.