Joni has an “overwhelming feeling to serve”
Joni Luna, our new postulant from Texas, wanted more. She was a successful teacher/women’s athletic coordinator with a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She had a loving family, a successful volleyball coaching career, and a comfortable life (car, beach house, boat, pop-up camper), yet Joni felt that something was still missing.
“Becoming a sister was something I’d felt for a long time, but I’d never really told anyone or talked about it,” said Joni. Although her mother was Catholic, Joni didn’t grow up going to church. She had friends in grade school that were Catholic, and she observed them during Lent. “I thought it was such a noble thing to give something up for the love of God,” said Joni. “I thought this sacrifice must have pleased God,” said Joni.
Joni decided to go to the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas because she wanted to be around religious sisters. However, she got busy with her studies, playing on the basketball team and traveling so she didn’t make time for church. “I put the thought of the sisters out of my mind and pursued the materialistic things in life. I did, however, purposely choose classes that were taught by the sisters,” said Joni.
After graduation, she started teaching. The time came when Joni wanted to learn more about her faith so she began visiting all types of religions. “I fell in love with the Catholic Church,” said Joni. She started attending RCIA classes at St. Pius X Catholic parish and met Sister Barbara Bluntzer, a Sister of Providence who was teaching the class. “I expressed to Sister Barbara that I wanted more. She invited me to a ‘Come and See’ weekend at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and when I arrived, I instantly felt I was on sacred ground,” said Joni. “Sister Barbara wasn’t preachy or pushy about me becoming a Sister – I was impressed by how she lived out her faith, her care of earth, and her love for people.”
Joni decided to become a Providence Associate after her many visits to the Woods. The more events she attended at the Woods, the more Joni felt her desire to grow in her faith. “That led to my discernment with Sisters Jenny (Howard) and Bernice (Kuper),” added Joni.
Joni continued her visits to the Woods. She “fell in love with the whole charism of the Sisters of Providence.” She specifically mentioned the Sisters’ warm embraces, their hospitality, and their love and care of Earth, especially their attitudes about peace and justice issues.
As a coach, Joni looked at things from a team perspective. She liked that the Church was based on tradition and a strong foundation. “I also like that I could go anywhere, and the same gospel was being preached. I liked the cohesiveness – everyone on the same page.” She felt at peace with not taking the Eucharist until she joined the church because, as in sports, “when you’re starting out on a team, you don’t get the uniforms or the shoes right off the bat. You have to try out and earn your spot on the team, thus earning your uniform.” She welcomed the chance to learn more. Joni appreciated the communal prayers which are similar to the chants that the team said before, during and after a game. “There is a lot of power when people come together and cheer on their team. I imagine God feels the same pride when people come together to pray at church,” said Joni.
Joni’s family was concerned at first about her joining a community so far away, especially since there were sisters in Texas. Her sister Lori and brother Joey made the long drive from Texas to SMW with Joni. Lori and Joey said they felt protective of their older sister for the first time in their lives. After visiting the Woods, Joey told Joni, “This truly is a sacred place, and I know why you have chosen Saint Mary of the Woods.” Lori later told Joni, “I wasn’t sure about you coming here, but after being here I know that you are home.” Joni admits that coming to the Woods helped her family understand her deep desire to join the Sisters of Providence.
Joni and her family were touched by the entrance ceremony. “Everybody is honored in the process,” said Joni. “There were prayers offered not only for me but for my family.” Joni’s mother and Sister Editha formed a bond that continues today as they keep in touch. Her family felt at peace when they returned home.
As Joni experienced her first few months of being a postulant, her appreciation of the Sister of Providence continues. She is building new relationships and letting go of some, as her priorities shift. “The Sisters of Providence allow you to gauge your own needs and give you the power to choose,” said Joni about making changes in her life.
When asked what advice Joni would give to other women thinking about religious life, she said, “Don’t think about it so much. Allow the spirit to move within you. Allow Providence to lead and allow yourself to follow.”
About the discernment process, Joni quotes Sister Regina Gallo, “You’re not free to come (to the Woods) unless you’re free to leave.” That’s what the discernment journey is all about with the Sisters of Providence. Joni also advises women to find one or two trusted people help them make the vocation journey. “The trusted people can be a Sister and a close friend,” said Joni. “I shared my feelings about becoming a Sister of Providence with my friend Diana Garza, and her questioning about why I was considering religious life made me take an honest look at the reasons why I wanted to be a Sister of Providence,” said Joni. Joni met Sister Kathryn Koressel during one of her visits to the Woods, and Sister Kathryn was especially helpful to her, talking with her by phone every few weeks and helping to answer her many questions. She reminded Joni to pray about her decision and to remember that the sisters were praying for her, also. She would tell Joni, “It’s a calling from God and you’ll know if it’s a place you’re supposed to be.”
Joni sums it up, “I have an overwhelming feeling to serve and be part of something bigger than myself and bigger than money can buy. My formation is a process/relationship with the Sisters of Providence. During this time through the various forms of prayer, activities, experiences and ministry visits I am learning about the core values of what it truly means to be a Sister of Providence. With my director Sister Marsha Speth and the other Sisters, I am stretched to become everything God desires for me. Sister Marsha’s wisdom, insight, goodness and love of God and Providence has, in a short time awakened my soul to that, “something” that was missing in my life.