Alicia Ley

My name is Alicia Renae Ley. I was born and grew up in Washington, Missouri. On November 22, 1998, I was baptized at Zion United Church of Christ in Union, Missouri. I have a younger brother of three years, David, and two amazing parents, Bill and Lisa. God has blessed me with such a loving and supportive family. Growing up, the atmosphere in our home was very warm and loving. Family took precedence in my life, especially in my childhood.

We spent our weekends at the farm or with extended family and ate dinner together almost every night of the week. My mom is Protestant and my dad is Catholic, so I grew up going to Mass on most Sundays and to my mom’s church on occasion. I attended St. Gertrude Catholic Grade School from kindergarten to eighth grade. On May 6, 2007, I received my First Holy Communion and was confirmed on November 7, 2012.

After grade school, I attended Washington Public High School. This transition was a major culture shock from my small private school experience. I put most of my energy into my academics, ROTC, track, and martial arts. Shortly before my high school graduation, I was awarded the National Marine Corps NROTC Scholarship. It was a full-ride scholarship to the college of my choice where I would earn my college degree while training to be an officer with a required service commitment following my graduation and commissioning. I attended The University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. ROTC was everything I thought it was going to be, grueling training on top of my studies. I studied the Russian Language with the hopes of it being beneficial to my future military career. Between training and studying, I was also living the “college life” and seeking happiness in things that ultimately don’t fulfill. There was a deep dissatisfaction and sadness in my heart that seemed to swallow me. I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, but I continued going to Mass on most Sundays because it was what I had always done with my family. At the end of my freshman year, I received a medical disqualification from the Marine Corps and lost my scholarship. This was devastating to me. If I had a religion in my life then, it was the Marine Corps. I was unaware of Jesus’ true presence in the Blessed Sacrament, but when I received this news, I went to find the perpetual adoration chapel in the Newman Center. It was my first time there and I just knelt and cried for hours. I can’t begin to understand how I didn’t know Jesus and didn’t have a relationship with Him, yet, in this moment of tremendous sadness He drew me to Himself. I look back on it all with total awe.

While still at college, I called my mom from my dorm room to tell her my plans to go to Hawaii at the end of the semester. I thought that if I removed myself from what was familiar and comfortable, then I would be able to determine if there was any meaning to this life. I was only 19 years old at the time and a solo trip was something my mom would have never agreed to, however, she didn’t say no. I bought a plane ticket to Hawaii and stayed on organic farms where I worked in exchange for a place to put my tent and food from the gardens. I had a great time living off-grid and working in the fields. Mouna Farm: Arts and Cultural Village was the first place I stayed in Waianae, HI. There were about 20 other nomads from around the world that stayed in our tent site. Living directly at the base of the Ka’ala mountains and a short walk to the ocean, we never wore shoes, showered under the stars, and ate breakfast in our outdoor kitchen as we watched the fog lift from the kale fields. Thinking back only on the beauty of creation surrounding me, I would question why I ever left. I was seeking something much greater. To my disappointment, I didn’t find authentic love, true freedom, or peace. I found relativism. Instead of finding the answers I was seeking, I found immense brokenness. I moved to a different farm in Hilo, HI. This farmer had a small-scale farm so I was a solo worker. On my days off I often hitchhiked around the island. The lack of security traveling alone, walking for hours in the hot sun, finding fresh water, locating a place to put my tent for the night, and being ignored by passersby, I wasn’t homeless or even poor, but God gave me a glimpse of the life, and it was lonely. I am so aware now of the truth that the human person is made for communion.

I made my way down into a valley along the ocean to set up my tent. I met a group of young people living in a hut in the woods. We had dinner and sat around the fire together for most of the night. They each shared their own story with me of how they ended up there in that remote valley. Their stories were sad and reeked of the effects of the human condition. It was clear to me that they, like myself, were searching. Even though they had “left” the world, something was still missing in their lives, they weren’t at all happy. The next morning I woke up early from my tent and watched the sun rise over the ocean. I was staring despair in the face. I went out onto the sand and cried out that if God was real He must make Himself known to me. In an utterly mysterious way, the conviction of His existence flooded my heart at that moment. I didn’t want God to be real because I was not living in a state of grace, but there wasn’t an ounce of doubt from that moment on. I cried out to Him and He answered me. This overwhelming moment was quickly followed by an equally overwhelming moment. Not only had God just revealed Himself to me, but then it was as if He reached down, pressed His finger into my heart, and said “I want you to live totally for Me.” The image of Mother Angelica on my grandma’s TV flashed through my mind and I remember laughing out loud at this ridiculous thought. I understood that nuns lived totally for Jesus, but they were holy, and I had just spent the last year living “the college experience.” My understanding of religious life was extremely limited, but I was confident I didn’t qualify. It was in this valley that I experienced a conversion and where I encountered the first stirrings of a possible call. God in His mercy continued to draw me to Himself and upon emerging from the valley I made my way to the nearest Catholic Church. The volcano, Kilauea, began erupting and I flew back to Missouri shortly after. Unsure what the next step was for my life, I attended the local community college for a year while waitressing in the evenings. I joined a local parish priest and a group of his parishioners on a trip to Washington D.C. for the 2019 Pro-life March. After we returned, determined to grow in my knowledge of God, I began attending Father’s rosary group. I did not understand how to pray the rosary or even what I was praying, but by His grace, I was there every week. Our Lady was interceding for me and I can see with such clarity how she led me to the heart of her Son.

The University of New Mexico has a special relationship with a government agency that I desired to work for so I moved to Albuquerque in the summer of 2019. Hosea 2:14 stands out to me when I think back on this time, “Thus said the Lord: I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” He did exactly that, He brought me to the desert and spoke to my heart. I had no idea of the plans He had for me there. I was enjoying my classes but unfortunately found myself wrapped up in “college life” for a second time. Guilt and shame weighed even heavier on my conscience because I knew God existed and that my actions weren’t pleasing to Him. I had yet to come to the understanding of His profound and unchanging love for me. The Lord never left me to fight my perils alone and was leading me through my stubborn search for the truth. One Sunday, I mustered up the courage and went to Mass at the Newman Center. I sat in the back pew. I thought to myself, either these Catholics have it all wrong and they are idolaters worshiping a piece of bread, or they have it all right and God is physically present in their midst. I think He, in His immense goodness, gifted me with faith. The answer I was seeking, the truth I was seeking, was a person and that person was there in the Tabernacle all along, I was just too blinded by the world to see Him. I started attending a weekly Bible study. I knew I either had to be all in for this Catholic thing or not in at all. I received the great mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation after many years. This newfound freedom opened me up to an abundance of graces. I would catch the bus at 6 A.M. from my apartment to make it to campus in time for daily Mass at 7 A.M. After Mass, two seminarians and a few of us students would stay and pray the rosary. Then we would make breakfast and eat together, I would head to the gym to swim a few laps in the pool, shower, and make it to my first class by 10 A.M. This consistency, this daily rhythm changed things for me. I was filled with a zeal that awakened my soul and laid the groundwork for me to finally leave behind the sin holding me bound. I had grown up attending Catholic school, but still found myself to be poorly catechized. Father agreed to let me sit in the back of his RCIA classes so I could learn more about the faith. Jesus surrounded me with incredible Catholic friends. We spent the majority of our time praying, studying, sleeping, eating, and playing ping-pong at the Newman Center. Jesus also allowed my prayer to float on consolations. The more I prayed, the greater my desire for more prayer increased. I possess sincere gratitude for all of my Newman friends. In particular, there was a seminarian in his pastoral year who was a shepherd to me during this time. I encountered Christ in him and his friendship was a source of incredible healing. He led with strength and humility, his friendly nature drew people to himself, and from there, his fervor for the truth would lead them to Jesus. He lived his masculine identity with such conviction that I began to recognize the gift of my own femininity. As I continued to grow in my knowledge of the faith, the invitation from God to live totally for Him was a nagging whisper. It was a gentle whisper, but it consumed my mind day and night. Experiencing a sort of unfulfillment, I began replacing my global and national security studies classes with religious studies classes. Changing my course of study during my third year in university was irrational and to friends and family, it was incomprehensible. My newfound faith in God, however, had me on a path of radical love that assured me He was worth the risk. I continued to dive fully into life at the Newman Center. I began facilitating the parish women’s group, helping lead the student Bible study group, leading a Lenten Fiat 40 group, and helping lead Theology on Tap. Into my Senior year in 2021, I was enjoying my classes, but still experiencing a longing to give myself to God in a more total way.

I began spending more time with consecrated religious and went on my first visit to a community on the East Coast. There was still so much for me to learn about religious life but I enjoyed every minute of my time with the Sisters. Following my graduation, I began teaching part-time at the Chesterton Academy of Albuquerque, a devout Catholic high school in the classical tradition. The motto of the school is Cultura Vitae from Pope Saint John Paul II. While at Chesterton I taught Latin I and Literature I to mostly high school freshmen and a few sophomores. I experienced so much joy in teaching and sought to build up a culture of life in my classroom. The school attended daily Mass, prayed the rosary in Latin, and had monthly adoration and opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I also taught at Holy Child Catholic School part-time, a classical grade school. I taught art for kindergarten through eighth grade. By the end of the year, I had fallen profoundly in love with the classical curriculum. I saw the fruit of forming and caring for the whole human person and the awakening that happens within a student when exposing them to truth, beauty, and goodness. Holy Child’s motto is “raising saints, forming scholars.” Everything the students studied drew them into the mystery of the human person and into a deeper understanding of who God is. Teaching opened my eyes to the incredible uniqueness of each of my students and how truly unrepeatable they are. Leaving Chesterton Academy and Holy Child Catholic School at the end of the year, because I believe so strongly in their mission, was a tremendously difficult decision.

Through prayer, it became clear that God was asking me to take the next step in my discernment. I went on a second visit to the community on the East Coast and applied to their missionary program. The program was a unique opportunity to work alongside the Sisters in their different apostolates in the city and share in various aspects of their community and prayer life. The primary goal is to give young women the opportunity to strengthen their personal relationship with Jesus through a deepening prayer life, intentional community, and hands-on service to the poor. Providing a life of greater simplicity with fewer distractions, I found the missionary year created an environment conducive to discernment. It gave me the opportunity to receive formation from the Sisters and pray about how I can make an authentic gift of myself to the Lord in a life-long vocation. The program was eight months, from September to May. Toward the end of my missionary year, I was given the opportunity to visit another community that Jesus had been putting on my heart.

My visit with the Sisters of Life was incredibly blessed. The Sisters are in love with the Lord of life and it radiated from them. I found their reverence for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and their reverence for the human person to be an expression of my own heart. Encountering the feminine, spousal, and motherly hearts of the Sisters was an encounter with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The days and then weeks following my visit with the Sisters of Life left me with what I can only describe as a burning in my soul. Jesus has captivated my heart. I desire to receive with great joy the plans He has prepared for my life and that remains a matter of keeping my hand in His and allowing Him to lead.

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