“After the purifying fire of the loss of employment, debt and other humbling experiences, the Lord has created in me a heart that desires Him and Him alone.”
Sr. Veronica Mary of the Transfiguration Solemnly Professed, Monastery of the Most Holy Rosary Buffalo, New York. MEFV Grant Recipient.
I am from a small family that includes my mother, father, one elder brother and two younger brothers. My parents are immigrants to Canada from Jamaica, with my father coming from Kingston and my mother coming from Montego Bay. I attended Catholic schools from elementary through to high school. At the age of seven I was confirmed and received my first Holy Communion. This would be the last time I would go to church until my late teens.
After high school, I attended community college to study medical laboratory technology. I was eighteen and during this time some friends from high school asked me if I wanted to make a retreat called Challenge. Challenge is a diocesan youth retreat movement where young people share their experiences of God with others. There are similar retreats with names such as Teens Encounter Christ, Search, etc. On this weekend the Lord touched my heart. I experienced a deep peace that was sweet and this sweetness remained with me for days. After my Challenge weekend I became very involved in many youth-related activities which included choir and prayer groups. It was during this time that I started to think about my vocation.
From the time I was a child, I felt drawn to religious life. As a child I loved to read or hear about the saints. I would sneak down to my brother’s room and look through a little prayer/Mass book he had that was filled with religious pictures. As a child I had a sense that God was watching over me from the clouds above. I knew God answered prayers because, when I was nine years old, I prayed for my mother who was very ill after the birth of my youngest brother Dwayne. My dad came home and told us that mom was sick and so I asked God to heal my mother. The following day dad came home and he said that mom was better.
So, in my middle twenties I started to look into religious orders. My success in youth ministry gave me somewhat of an inflated ego when I started to look at religious orders and I found it to be a very difficult road. The religious orders I contacted told me to wait and take time to listen to what or where the Lord was calling me. I knew they were right, but I didn’t really take their advice. Later when I was going through the application process with a community in Illinois our relationship fell apart. Bitterly, I left behind all ministries in the church. I felt I did all this work for the Lord, where was He to help me? So I decided religious life was not my vocation.
Still, I was interested in serving so I became involved with Amnesty International and other causes. I always had an interest in world events and people and I started to travel. I travelled to Israel and Jordan, Kenya, Italy, parts of Canada and the United States.
In 1993, my life changed dramatically with the loss of my job. My inability to find work threw me into a depression because not only did I lose my job, but I became aware of some unresolved deep personal pain as well. Seeing that I had no prospects in my career, I attempted to get a Cognitive Science degree.
Unfortunately, I found the computer sciences courses too much for me. Eventually I finished with an honours degree in Linguistics. This was a very hard, tumultuous period in my life but, in the end, I do believe it was a blessing. Although I was very bitter against God for the mess I found myself in, He was healing me of my life’s pain. Because of this healing, I believe I was able to hear the renewed call to religious life. If I had entered religious life when I was younger (and debt-free!!) I would have left or, as my spiritual director said, the community would never have allowed me to take vows. I didn’t know how deeply wounded I was until I went through these hard times. It was the Year of the Holy Spirit when life took a new direction.
I was praying the Divine Office of Evening Prayer when the antiphon, “You can’t serve both God and Mammon” seemed to be directed at me. I sat on the bed and I couldn’t continue with the Office. I knew that daily, I compromised my faith and I was doing so because I didn’t want to be drawn into any battles at school. Consequently, my faith was becoming lukewarm and slipping away. After this gentle but firm wake-up call from the Lord, I went to the hardest confession of my life. But that confession was the beginning of my new relationship with the Lord. My new relationship was rooted in the call to a greater intimacy with Him. My prayer life changed and I found myself being drawn deeper into contemplative prayer, that is, I spent more time just being with our Lord. Also, by grace, I found I had a thirst and hunger for the Eucharist that I didn’t have before coupled with a greater desire to be immersed in the Lord.
Once again, I found myself looking at religious orders. Being older I found even fewer doors opening. I looked into being a consecrated virgin, but our Archbishop doesn’t allow it. I looked at secular orders and none appealed to me with the exception of a Carmelite Secular Institute in Italy. I did consider applying but, in the end, I felt this community was not my vocation. Later, for four years, I was in formation with a Private Association called the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. This was a lay association of modern day penitents that followed the original third order rule for lay Franciscans written in 1221. Unfortunately, this association disbanded in August 2002. During this time I felt displaced, very unfulfilled and terribly discouraged.
I became a lay member of the Institute for Religious Life in 2001. In 2002, at their annual general meeting, again I felt the Lord calling me to religious life. I contacted Sr. Joseph Andrew of the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist after I saw them at the meeting. I went to Ann Arbor for a retreat with the community and, although I didn’t feel called to this order, Sr. Joseph Andrew and I became friends. She helped to guide me in my discernment and she affirmed my religious vocation as well. One day I wrote to Sr. Joseph Andrew about my heart’s yearning for a life of prayer and greater intimacy with the Lord. She suggested that I might have a calling to the contemplative life. She suggested the Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary in Buffalo.
I was skeptical because I didn’t believe I had a vocation to the contemplative life but out of respect to Sr. Joseph Andrew, I wrote to them for information. I thought that I wold write to them, they would reject me and I could say to Sister that at least I tried. I visited them in May 2005 and instead of being sent away, Sr. Rose of St. Mary encouraged me to consider an Aspirancy and she set up a meeting with the Prioress, Mother Mary Gemma.
Mother Gemma said I should keep in touch and next time meet with the Council. I returned in November during American Thanksgiving and met with the Council and they voted to allow me to make an Aspirancy. I spent three weeks with the sisters in February and March of 2006. I felt at home at the monastery and I felt that after all these very bitter years, I found where I am called. I completed and submitted the application and I was accepted.
My vocation walk has been a long and sometimes bitter walk. When I received the rejection from orders because of my age, I bitterly complained to the Lord as to why He didn’t open the doors sooner. Well, despite what my inflated ego thought, I was not ready for religious life when I was younger. My view of religious life back in my early twenties was simply a community where I could do ministry. The community would supply the necessary spirituality and the opportunity for me to do ministry. In many ways, God was secondary.
Now, after the purifying fire of the loss of employment, debt and other humbling experiences, the Lord has created in me a heart that desires Him and Him alone. Now, for me vocation and religious life is about Love. I feel the desire to give myself completely to my Beloved and allow Him to do with me as He pleases. From this view, the last twelve years have been a gift.