Mother, grandmother and sister?
This article is reprinted from the fall 2010 issue of HOPE.
A woman can only become a Sister of Providence if she is young, has never been married and is generally willing to cut ties with her family, right?
Not so fast!
Sister Marilú Covani is one of several SPs who have joined the Congregation after having been married. When she entered in 1987, her son Rick had recently married and had a daughter.
She said she felt called to religious life from an early age and had been “in ministry since my early teens in one way or another.” But when she met her husband, “I just forgot about the special call to community and went along with marriage, a career, moving to the United States, being a disciple, wife and mother.”
After her husband died in 1977, she was devastated. Alone to raise a 9-year-old boy, she relied on the support of her parish. She began developing friendships with different sisters, including Sister Susan Dinnin, who was ministering in a church in Detroit. Marilú would help out sometimes.
“We became very good friends. I ministered with her and invited her to my house,” she said. “When sisters would come to visit, I was often invited. I liked what I saw and respected their relationships, their faith and commitment to discipleship, their wisdom and kindness toward me.”
As her son Rick grew up, she continued to feel drawn to religious life. “I knew Rick was very close to me and at the same time had a strong and independent spirit and soon would need to start his own adult life,” she said. “I myself felt a strong call and desire to walk and serve the Hispanic Catholic people in this country.”
When Rick was 19 and starting his family, she took the plunge. Her entrance in the community didn’t create an immediate “stir” among loved ones.
“My son and his wife were very young to be married and have a baby. There was much turmoil about this that year,” she said. “It took a little longer, around a year, for us all to start to deepen into the new reality. My first two years in community were a time for discernment and prayer for me. I wrestled with God, trying to understand how and why I was being called to be a religious sister in our community and also feeling a responsibility toward my young son. I was enthused and attracted, but felt withdrawn at times.”
She said the support of her formation team was crucial. She was surrounded by the love and friendship of many sister-friends during those first two years. Then, it was time for her to move to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to begin her novitiate (a period of time focusing on spiritual growth and studying Congregation history, while living at the motherhouse). Sister Marilú and her son had a heart-to-heart conversation.
“I would ask every time we talked how he felt about me being a sister and he would say, ‘It’s OK, Mom. I want you to be happy.’ He didn’t want to hurt my feelings, even though we both knew there was much more that could be said. But that night, it was a Providential moment. I asked again and he said crying, ‘How do you want me to feel? You are gone and I do not have anymore a house to come back to,’” she said, retelling this painful story. “Oh, how did our hearts ache! I cried, too. From some deep instinct, a gut feeling within me, I said to him: ‘Hijo querido.’ It means ‘Dear son, home is the person, not the building, and you always will have a home in my heart.’ It was a long talk and it started a new journey, a mutual understanding and learning that have continued along my 23 years as a Sister of Providence. I am very happy today as a sister and so is Rick that I am one. He often says it to me.”
Sister Marilú remains very close to her family and is grateful that her ministry has allowed her to stay nearby her growing family. Her son had three children in his first marriage. They are young adults now and live in Las Vegas, and Sister Marilú is a great-grandmother to a one-year-old boy. Her son has remarried and they have four younger children; they live in southern California about 90 minutes from Sister Marilú, who ministers as the director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of San Bernardino.
She doesn’t feel different as a Sister of Providence, who happens also to be a mother and widow, because, as she says, “everyone comes from and has a family.” And while she thinks that being a mother and having the experience of marriage may help her relate well with others, she also sees many other sisters who haven’t had the same experiences doing excellent work with children, couples and families.
While not the most common path to religious life, she has taken a path that works. So, what would Sister Marilú tell a woman who has been married and has a child about entering the Congregation?
“Put yourself into the hands of Providence. Trust in the Lord,” she said. “Share your concerns and your inner treasure with others while you keep your own integrity. Get to know us. I am not the only one who was previously married and is a mother in our community. If it fits, it is a wonderful gift. Others have done it; there are founders of communities who show us the unlimited possibilities of this journey. And feel free to give me a call, I would be happy to be one of your sister-friends.”
You can reach Sister Marilú at 909-475-5336 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.