Why I say “Yes” to life as a Sister of Providence
“Are you ready?”
“Are you getting excited?”
These are the most frequently asked questions in my orbit these days.
In a few days, I will be walking down the aisle and professing perpetual vows as a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
Google defines perpetual vows as “ordinarily the final vows that a person takes in an institute of Christian perfection, mainly poverty, chastity, and obedience.” I would like to say that Google is very knowledgeable. But it falls short in truly describing the meaning of this sacred Providential “Yes.”
I am also saying “Yes” to being in daily communion and service with my Creator and my sisters in community. Together we are creating a space where all persons are made to feel like they matter. Where their basic needs of food, clean water and clothing are met. Where the rights of all people, regardless of race, color or creed, are honored and respected. A place where people feel loved, supported and included. A place where all creation is honored and seen as sacred and not for sale.
This is a tall order I know — almost an impossible order. After all, women and men for thousands of years have been trying to create this space. And from the looks of it we are no closer today than we were yesterday.
Why say yes?
Some people judge me and look at me with pity. They ask, “Why are you choosing religious life and throwing your life away?” “Women’s communities are dying out.” “Why the Catholic Church?” they say.
Well, let me share some insights. According to a recent study done by the National Religious Vocation Conference, there are more than 2,471 women and men religious in initial formation in the U.S. and about 1,000-plus more who have professed perpetual vows in the past 15 years. Last year, even with a pandemic, more than 300-plus women and men in the U.S. said “Yes” to entering a religious community. The fact is that women’s communities have evolved, just like our communities and families. We often hear that “nothing stays the same.” Well, religious life is no different. It evolves. It doesn’t look the same, numbers may be smaller, but it is not dying out.
Why do we need people dedicated to helping make the world a better place? In scripture Jesus says in Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. … ” Who in their right mind would choose to be sent out in the midst of wolves? Our western, capitalistic society teaches us to be serpents, to meet our own needs and take what “I” want. We teach the “get mine” mentality.
We have turned over the sanctity of family and community and created a selfish model that has left us spiritually bankrupt. The United States in all its riches also tragically has the highest levels of teenage suicide, divorce and debt in the world. Just ask Google!
So why say, “YES!”?
I can only explain it this way. I have a deep calling, a yearning, a longing if you will, to serve and turn my life over to a mission greater than myself. When I reflect back to my youth and my life as a young woman, I can say that this call or longing has been in my spirit ever since I can remember. I can recall moments in time when I dreamed of serving others in ways that were counter to the traditional ways women in my community were serving.
Let me be very clear — this “Yes” does not make me holier than my beautiful mother Olga Gallegos who answered her call to raise seven children and 14 grandchildren. No, not holier than my sisters or brother who have devoted their lives to family, adopted children in need, visit the elderly, feed and clothe those in need. The key to each one’s “yes” is to be Christ-like and holy in the path you choose to live.
The “YES,” for me, is that I found a community that I love unconditionally through all the good times and especially the hard times. I found a community that speaks to my spirit. It invites me to grow and spread my wings. To fly to places I could never have imagined on my own.
The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of-the-Woods have instilled in me a strength that comes from a long tradition of powerful, creative, faithful women who soar in the face of adversity. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin says, “We possess nothing. It is true, however, we form a Community, and from now on we feel obliged, or at least I believe myself obliged, to consecrate the rest of my life to it. … ”
So, my dear sisters, associates, family and friends, I ask for your prayers in the coming days and beyond. I ask for the grace to stay faithful and true to my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. And I ask for the grace to join my efforts with all those who have come before me to serve. I pray to live each day in service to creating a more faith-filled, just and equitable world for all our sisters, brothers and all creation, while remaining grounded and rooted in the Providence that so far has never failed us.