Written with Sister Vicky Segura
As a girl I never felt a yearning to get married and have babies. I didn’t daydream about my wedding or choose the names of my unborn children. It just wasn’t part of my vision for the future.
What was hardwired into my DNA was a desire to be a doctor, like my mother and like her father. The other automatic was Catholicism. It was part of the air we breathed in the Philippines, where I grew up. Everyone was Catholic.
I was 24 when I immigrated to the U.S. I had just graduated from medical school and was beginning a residency in Ohio.
My study of pathology was demanding, but I found time to contemplate my future. As I pored over the microscope, squinting to detect disease in a tiny piece of tissue, I felt a yearning within. I didn’t want to just be a physician; I wanted to dedicate my entire life to service. I wanted something more.
One day I was flipping through a trade magazine for laboratory medicine and my eyes landed on a boldfaced headline “women who care.” It was an ad for a religious community of women, the Sisters of Bon Secours, who are dedicated to care of the sick, bringing Jesus’ healing touch to people in pain. I felt a flash of recognition. I cared! And since I cared, was being a physician sufficient? Was I giving my all? I tucked the magazine away in a drawer, filing the idea away but never discarding it from my mind.
I went on to work as a pathologist and a hospice physician, and I was pleased to provide a valuable service. I enjoyed my life. I was never bored. Work challenged me, and New York City was nearby whenever I wanted to go out with my friends or cousins.
But I was still longing for something more, a fuller commitment to a higher cause, something that extended beyond 9 to 5 and encompassed my entire life. I began to research and visit the Sisters of Bon Secours, whose charism or mission was to bring compassion, healing and liberation to those they serve. They have been doing it since 1824, and I saw a place for myself in that honorable tradition. I felt comfortable with the Sisters. I felt at home.
I entered the community when I was 38. I made vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience. At the onset, I didn’t really understand those vows or how they would be lived out. With each passing year, I appreciate them more and the way they support our simple, faith-centered lifestyle. By living with other sisters and experiencing the give-and-take of community life, I have grown in profound ways, becoming more patient and compassionate. I don’t cast judgment as quickly as I once did. I really look for the good in others, and when you search earnestly, you always find it.
At age 71 I am a virgin. Always have been, always will be. I’ve never felt deprived by my vow of celibacy. I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on anything. I don’t have a burning, unanswered curiosity about what sex is like. I’m a doctor. I’ve read about it, I understand. Celibacy is part of the life I chose, and it’s a good life that nourishes many close relationships, people who know me and love me well.
When it comes to physical touch, I’m a private person. I don’t get massages or pedicures. My preferred form of relaxation is gardening, sinking my fingers into soil, planting seeds of beauty.
I’ve never felt lonely. I have no regrets. I don’t have kids, but I’m making a difference in my own way, and religious life enables that. Working in hospice can be exhausting, yet I see it as a gift. What a privilege to care for people during their final days and to comfort their families! What a blessing – and a daily challenge – to reflect God’s love to others! It is a driving force when I rise each morning. I get up at 6 am, eat breakfast and pray with Sister Annemarie, a fellow Sister of Bon Secours, in the den of our three-bedroom Arlington, Va., home. Morning prayer is centering – simple words of praise to God the Father.
I play classical music on public radio in my Nissan Sentra during my 20-minute commute to work. It seems to foster a calm, focused demeanor. I arrive at 8 am and leave at 5 pm, and the work day zips by – reviewing plans of care, signing off on changes in medications, caring for patients and collaborating with nurses. Together we are transforming care. Hospice can be a sacred service. When I get home from work, it’s time to unwind. Sister Annemarie and I catch up on our days, make dinner and watch “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.” In the winter months, I glance out the backyard and dream about my buried garden – where I’ll plant the day lilies, the coneflowers, the azaleas. Come spring, I can’t help but grab my SLR Canon and snap pictures of their delicate petals. There are graces all around me, and I want to share them with others!
After dinner I relax with a glass of Merlot and an episode of “NCIS” or “Castle.” Evening prayer brings my day to a natural close, and at 11 pm or so I climb into my full-sized bed and pick up my Kindle, alternating from mystery novels to time-management guides. By the time my head hits the pillow, I feel tired and fulfilled. My day is filled with purpose, with people I enjoy and with a quiet, unshakable peace. God has been so good to me!