“The Fund for Vocations’ model reflects the Holy Spirit”Sister Maria Asterone Dodeka Garry, SSVM Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará Professed Final Vows September 14, 2018
I was ten years old before I even knew that there were people in the world who believed in God. As a young child, I knew absolutely nothing about religion in general much less about Jesus Christ. I grew up in a household headed by parents who were committed to “being good people” but who also sincerely believed in “good without God.” Once I discovered that there was a thing called religion and that there were people who believed in God, I immediately set about ridiculing those people. Their religion was obviously a crutch to get through life, a crutch only necessary or attractive to people who were weak, ignorant, and brainwashed. I alone truly understood the meaning of life—that there was none.
But I was empty inside. Despite the love of my family, despite my accomplishments in academics and athletics, I felt hollow. I began to envy my friends’ faith, wishing that I too had been born to parents who would have been kind enough to brainwash me into believing something, anything. But even though I was beginning to suspect that brainwashed ignorance might be bliss, there was nothing I could do about it. Because I also had been given the gift of the love of truth: the truth at all costs. All I cared about was what was true, even if it left me desolate. And the truth was that God did not exist. It was a fairy tale for weak-minded people, and I preferred to be honestly desolate than falsely content.
One night, even though I was only a junior in high school, I experienced a genuine moment of profound despair. Overpowered by the spiritual pain I felt, I got down on my knees, without quite knowing what I was even doing, and tried to pray. “You’re stupid, you’re crazy, you’re just talking to yourself!” I thought, but I was desperate. I prayed sincerely, telling God that I was ready to believe, that I wanted to believe, but that I couldn’t do it on my own, that I needed help.
What happened next is beyond words. To this day I cannot adequately describe it, but I was suffused with His presence, and with joy. I just felt flooded with love. I knew, in a single moment, that God existed and that He loved me. That God was love—a love beyond any love I had ever suspected. That experience was the beginning of my vocation story. My life can be divided by that night, into Before and After. In a single night, God captured my heart with love, and there was no turning back for me. I was baptized into the Catholic Church within a few months. My parents were not delighted—their reaction to my conversion and subsequent vocation has been complex. But their main preoccupation has been for my happiness. Over time, they have come to understand that my decision to embrace God was not a rejection of them. I have watched them rise to the occasion, and die to self, to support my spiritual journey, and I experience that willingness of theirs as Christ-like charity.
Divine providence and softball led me to college in Maryland, at Mount St. Mary’s. I was able to attend that school thanks to a combination of softball scholarships and student loans, and it was there at the Mount that the seed of my vocation was watered and brought to flourishing. From daily Mass, to spiritual direction, to friendships grounded in the mutual desire for holiness, the Mount provided a well-spring of spiritual nourishment.
I think I knew by the end of my freshman year that I was called to religious life. After my second year, I decided to drop softball so that I could load up on more classes and graduate in three years instead of four. Even with the loss of the softball scholarship, I still came out ahead financially, by not having to take on more debt, and it freed me to pursue my vocation sooner.
I had my heart set on the Dominicans. I love to study, I had become passionately interested in the Summa Theologiae, and I was still that person who tried to live by the same principle that is the Dominicans’ one-word motto: Veritas. Truth. The idea of joining a missionary order never crossed my mind. And then I went on a discernment retreat that the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara hosted at the Mount. And it just felt right. They also are devoted to the intellectual formation of their sisters in the Thomistic tradition, and their Marian devotion and charism of evangelizing the culture resonated deeply.
So the irony is that I thought I would be sacrificing St. Thomas and the Summa and a certain kind of intellectual life unless I joined the Dominicans, and today I teach philosophy to the other sisters. I also work in our order’s publishing apostolate, translating the work (from Italian into English) of Cornelio Fabro, a 20th century Thomist who also deeply understood some of the most important modern philosophers.
I am so grateful to the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations for making this possible. Without your grant, it would have taken me seven years at least, probably longer, to pay off my loans, despite having graduated in three years. The way that the Fund for Vocations operates gives discerners true freedom. I could not have entered without that money, it is as simple as that, but the manner in which it gets paid out matters too, a lot. The fact that the Fund takes over the loan payments during formation makes a big difference. It lets you discern with no pressure. It lets you say Yes, but at the same time, it doesn’t make you feel like you have to persevere even if you discover that your true vocation lies somewhere else. I think if a third party just pays off the student debt, it creates a heavy sense of obligation in the discerner that can cloud the picture, to everyone’s detriment. I know your model makes the accounting more complicated—that you don’t know in any given year who’s going to discern back out, how lightly or heavily indebted those out-discerners will be, and so forth. I know you must rely greatly on the Holy Spirit, and I think that reliance gives the Holy Spirit room to operate.
Thank you to the supporters of the Fund for Vocations. Christ has no hands on earth but yours; God’s providence works through you, and I am forever grateful.