Steadfast in her calling: Sister Mary Ann DeFazio
St. Christopher Parish in Speedway, Ind., is preparing for a transition of pastors. Sister Mary Ann DeFazio, one of three pastoral associates there, had a special request for the job description of the new priest.
“I asked the current pastor to put in, ‘must let nun play with puppets at church,’” she joked.
Sister Mary Ann’s puppet collection is just one tool she uses to educate families and children in her faith formation ministry in the fourth largest parish in Indiana. 2,500 families, comprised of an estimated 6,300 individuals, including a large population of French-speaking immigrants from African nations, make up the parish community. St. Christopher’s gives Sister Mary Ann a variety of opportunities for trying new projects and creating community.
Vacation Bible School, Kids Night Out, CCD (which, at St. Chris, stands for “Continuing Catholic Development”), service projects for the kids — it’s all part of her ministry.
Sister Mary Ann thought she was on a different ministry path, though. She completed a master’s degree in scripture studies and intended to go on for her doctorate. This could have taken her a number of ways. Most certainly it would have meant college lecturing and training religious leaders. It was a degree someone might pursue to effect large changes.
But needs in the Sisters of Providence community led her to a job as a director of religious education. Parish ministry is where she has remained for most of her 39 years in community. And it’s working for her.
“Where else is church? This is where the church is,” she said. Living and building a community with the people,” she said, is “like we are figuring out where we are as God’s people. … We learn faith by living it as much as possible.”
A call to ordination
Sister Mary Ann feels a call to the priesthood. Yes, that controversial topic in the Roman Catholic Church. Many women who feel such a tug at their hearts leave the faith and pursue their calling in other religions. But Sister Mary Ann is determined to struggle with this issue and find her place within the Catholic Church.
Why? She tells about her father, who suffered from depression, eventually taking his own life. There were many ups and downs in the family due to his struggles and people would sometimes ask her mother, “Why do you stay with him?” And her mother told her, “You don’t throw away someone you love because he is sick.”
For Sister Mary Ann, the Catholic Church “is my family.” And she is going to stick with the family. “How is something going to change if all of the people who want change go somewhere else?” she asks. “It’s about finding community where you can find it.”
And, in her heart, “I’ve just always been an SP.”
Her own bout with depression and the treatment for it, led to finding peace with her call to ordination.
During a difficult time in treatment, she was in a pool, hanging onto a railing, when she thought of the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin quote, “And rest assured, my dear daughters, if you lean with all your weight upon Providence you will find yourselves well supported.”
The moment helped her. “I never thought anything could support me, but Providence does,” she said.
The experience was so significant for her that at a later Good Friday prayer service she was to plan at the treatment center, she used the pool incident (and pool water in blessing). Following the service, everyone hugged her and exclaimed how they felt that was “the Good Friday experience they had been waiting for all of their lives.” It was profound and overwhelming for Sister Mary Ann, who asked a Jesuit priest to sit with her in the chapel and process her complicated emotions.
“He said, ‘you know what this is? It’s your ordination day,’” she said. And now she knows, “I do what I can in my ministry.
“I kind of feel like I don’t need to go anywhere else to be ordained.
(Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)