In this episode of Set Apart, Rocky shares her interview with Sister Mary Naccarato, PBVM. Sister Mary is a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she shares her experience of discernment, the call, education, and finding community.
Sr Mary Naccarato:
My name is Sister Mary Naccarato. I am my sister the presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from New Windsor, New York. In my current Ministry, I’m the northern regional coordinator for the Office of Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of New York. And, I really love my ministry at the moment. I am tasked with the charge of working with 161 parishes north of Yonkers, New York. So, I go from Yonkers New York all have to Saugerties New York, and all way west to Sullivan County. And so, the joy of my ministry is to be able to work with pastors and parishes to either begin or to evaluate and grow their current youth ministry programs. So, that’s one of the exciting things happening here at the office.
I grew up in Kingston, New York, which is about 90 miles north of New York City. It’s a cute little town. Now, I think our population is about 35,000 people. Everybody knows everybody. It’s kind of fun. I went to Kingston Catholic Elementary School in Kingston, New York. It was actually one of the beginning mergers in the ‘80s when we started merging our school. We were fortunate to have Presentation Sisters and Sisters of Christian Charity. From there, I went to public high school. I went to Kingston High [School], class of ‘85. From there I got my undergrad at Mount St. Mary's College in Newburgh, New York. And now, I’m going back for a Masters at Fordham University. It’s interfaith, which is kind of wonderful. I have become good friends with a Greek Orthodox priest from New York City. He’s taking the program. There’s a lot of young adults who are just beginning their ministry career in the church. And, there’s a rabbi who is in the cohort with us. So, a lot of wonderful dialogue and sharing of exchanging, and sharing of religious traditions and culture. So, it's really been a wonderful experience for me thus far.
I come from a good family. Both my parents went to Catholic school, but we didn’t practice our faith. So, when I was done with elementary school, I thought I was pretty much done with my faith formation. Until my senior year in high school, when I was bringing my great aunts to mass on a weekly basis. Then I began to really own my faith as my own. You know, prior to that, my faith was my parents faith, my family's faith, my academic faith. And then, at that point in time, I was really able to begin growing in my own personal faith and my personal relationship with Christ. You know, through weekly Mass, and liturgical observations, and all of those wonderful observations.
Right after I graduated, I did my first service project. It was actually 30 years ago last week. And, what a wonderful experience that was, not only of service but experience of community and a living faith. And, that really was a turning point for me, in my faith formation certainly, and in my relationship with Christ. I really began to own my faith as a young adult and begin to find ways to grow into it. And, you know, make it my own, not just make it a head faith but also make it a heart faith.
You know, I kept the lord waiting. I always felt the call. I probably was as young as elementary school. You know the song “Here I am Lord” by James Kilbane? There's a there's a line that goes, “I will go Lord, if you lead me.” And, I used to say, “I will go, Lord, if you need me,” because I really didn't feel that I was worthy enough to be a religious sister. I really felt that it wasn't for me. So, on and off throughout the years, I was very involved in my parish council, I taught in a confirmation program, and I was a youth minister of parish council. So, I was very involved in my parish, but just didn't really feel called to make that commitment. But, eventually, the Lord sat me down and said, “okay, you’ve got to make a decision here. What are you going to do? And, I think that I made the best decision. So, here I am.
When I first started discerning, on and off through the years, I would get on the computer and look on the Internet for different communities. And, in one of the first years that vocationmatch.com was out, I remember that I was up. . . You know, classic right? I was upstairs, in my room, with just a little light on a desk, you know. And, I lived alone. Like, who's going to see me, right? But, you know, like in the dark of night, I was scouring the internet looking for religious communities that I might be interested in. I did the vision match, and I got scared towards the end. And, thought that I had backed up before I did anything. And, when I woke up the next morning, I literally had close to 90 auto responses from religious communities saying, “hey, reach out to us.” You know, “it looks like you might be a good fit.” You know, all those wonderful taglines that they were sending. And, I'm like, “wait a minute, I'm not moving to Kansas. Check that one off. I don't do cold weather. So, not there.” You know. So, I think my biggest challenge, that I faced in the beginning, was that I didn’t have good discernment skills. You know, I really didn't know what it was like to properly discern the vocation. It wasn't until I began spiritual direction and having dialogue that I realized that, “oh, surprise. There was a process here.” You know, it's more than just a feeling. It's finding the right charism, the right fit, the right way of living religious life. Because, as you know, you have wonderful varieties in the church. You know, how we live our vows. So, that certainly was a surprise a and a big challenge for me.
And, challenge? I think, a big challenge for me, a big challenge for a lot of other young women and men who are new to religious life. . . You know, I was an older vocation. I started discerning in my 30s, and I didn't enter a Presentation life until I was in my from my 40s. So, I think the biggest challenge was the process. You know, as good as the process was, going to community gatherings was always a grip for me because of the span of age groups. You know, an 18 or 19 year has much different needs than 30 year old, or 40, or 50 year old. So, those were some of my greater challenges in the discernment, formation piece. But, you know, the grace of God and good dialogue skills, you know, they’ve got me where I am today. I did a lot of visiting, which was fun. And, you know, you go to different communities and get some vibes, if you would. Like, “this was good. I like this part. Oh, they have a very mature formation program, the get where I'm coming from. This is kind of nice. They work with young people, and that’s what I want to do. This community is really cool, but they wear a habit. I don’t really feel called to do that.” You know, I tell people that I’m kind of an undercover nun. And, you know, hopefully, I'm living my vows well enough, you know that I'm a woman religious. So, trying to figure out all of those different things, and visiting, doing the online research, and my personal search. When I visited my congregation, the Presentation Sisters, I was a dialogue with our vocation director for quite some time. I was in another community prior, and it didn't work out, for various reasons. Again, I didn’t have good discernment skills, and it just wasn’t a good fit. So, I come home and had taken a job in the Treehouse for Young People, actually the Family Ministries and Garrison. And, it was at that point that I crossed paths with our vocation director. And, you know, obviously, the folks on the staff there, two of them, had told Mary Catherine that I had been in religious life and came home, you know. So, she engaged me in conversation, we went out for a walk in our free time, and she gave me her card. And, I was being polite. And, after we parted ways, I threw the card into the woods. You know, because I'm like, “alright, God. You had your one chance, and you blew it. This isn't for me. I'm done with the discernment piece.” And then, a few weeks later, Sr Mary Catherine called me and said, “if you’d ever like to talk, I’d be happy journey with us you, and help you look at other congregations.” So, that's actually what I did. Imagine the audacity, right? I would travel to all these other congregations, and then call Sr Mary Catherine up to talk about what I saw, and what I felt, and what I liked and what I didn't like. And, finally, she invited me one time to come to our congregation’s annual assembly. It's a couple of days of a year where we gather, and we evaluate where we are and where we're going as a congregation, and we will talk about our ministries and what have you. And, I will tell you quite honestly, Rocky. I walked into this room a of hundred and forty women religious, and I never felt more at home in my life. There was a sense of peace. There was a sense of welcome, and as I continued to visit with the congregation, and share in celebrations, and funerals, and prayer, and community. I felt more and more at home every time I visited. I felt like, “wow, this is exactly where I'm invited to be.” Now, this doesn't mean that I didn’t have challenges and difficulties along the way. But, you know, I kind of knew. You know, anyone who has ever fallen in love before, you know. You just know. And, all the important criteria just kind of falls into place.
My my greatest . . . I think for me, my greatest joy is just living my vocation, as corny as that might sound. Yeah. I mean, to me that that’s my greatest joy, that I can get up every morning and go out and minister as a Presentation Sister, wherever that is. Whether I'm in the parish, or a Catholic youth camp, or in my family, or in community. That's my greatest joy. And, you know, that's certainly my happiest and most alive, when I’m actually with young people in a programmatic format. Seeing young people grow in their relationship with Christ is great joy for me. And, when I'm working with the parish and the beginnings ministry program and, you know, it’s like a toddler kind of wobbling in the first few weeks, first few months. And then, at the end of the year, to look back and evaluate the growth that is happening, and to identify the obstacles and opportunities for the coming year. You know, it gives me great joy.
I think the role of women religious today is to continue to live our vows with integrity. I think that we are called to continue to live the charism of our congregation with hope and courage. You know, at a time when people might see the lack of numbers in congregations, and we are having to restructure residences, and restructure ministries, and you know deciding where our resources will be spent. So, I think that our role, and I certainly feel my role, today, is just to continue to live my vows with joy, and zeal, and energy, and excitement. And, to share that with others, and invite others to be a part of that. Whether it’s for . . . We certainly hope for vowed religious life, but we also, you know, are thrilled as men and women join us as partners in ministry and associates. You know, it's people who, as alumni, who are living our charisms and spreading that in their families, and in the vocations, and in their ministries. I think that’s our role just to continue to live our call with hope, and zeal, and integrity, and joy. It's simple. Yet, complicated.