This is my first blog post with SisterStory, so I figured I ought to share a bit about myself before you are subjected to my ramblings. My name is Sister Desiré, and I am in my annual vows with the Sisters of Saint Felix, otherwise known as the Felician Sisters. I have been with my community for a little over seven years now and am less than two years away from making final vows.
It feels as though I've been with the Felicians my whole life! It's almost as if I've never known anything else.
Here's how my adventure in religious life began.
I was attending the University of New Mexico -- I grew up in Albuquerque -- and was taking courses in Spanish as a heritage language. My courses focused on Spanish within the context of culture, so many of us at least grew up hearing Spanish, if not speaking it.
My professor at the time was only a few years older than me, and we became friends soon after the semester ended. She asked me one day if I would be interested in walking this pilgrimage she had gone on the year before. She explained it as a wonderful cultural experience where we would be immersed in the beauty of our New Mexican heritage. I had never heard of pilgrimage before, but it sounded great so I agreed to go. However, I did not discover the true purpose of this pilgrimage until I attended the orientation for new walkers a few months later.
"This pilgrimage," they explained, "is a pilgrimage for vocations."
I could have laughed right then and there. I had thought about religious life off and on for years, and now here I was, unknowingly signed up to pray for vocations. It was beyond ironic.
I told my friend how pleasantly surprised I was by the news and she said, "Oh yeah, and there are usually a few sisters who walk the pilgrimage too."
My eyebrows went up immediately. Aside from thinking about religious life ever since elementary school, I had always viewed sisters as celebrities. I went to public school, so on the rare occasion that I ever saw a sister, I typically lost my ability to speak. And now I was going to have the chance to walk 100 miles with some of these amazing human beings? Could it get any better?
Well, yes, yes it could.
During the pilgrimage I managed to spend time talking with both of the sisters on my route, and the two of them couldn't have been more opposite. One was a quiet Texan, very gentle and reflective. The other was a brown Californian, full of energy and music and laughter. I loved them both right away and knew that after our week on pilgrimage was over, I needed to continue the conversations we had started. I began spending time at their convent, and for about a year, I simply visited with the 20 or so sisters who lived just 15 minutes from my house. I continued my college education at the same time, but when I was close to graduating, I really made the effort to discern whether or not religiuos life was for me. I was dating a very attractive young man at the time. (I still think he's gorgeous!) But I decided to end the relationship so I could really pray about my choice.
It was not easy, but I knew I would regret it if I had never taken the time to consider a vocation to religious life. Now here I am, seven and a half years later, and happliy continuing the journey.
So far the journey has taken me to: Pittsburgh, where I spent one year as a postulant; Enfield, Conn., where I spent two years as a novice; Pomona, Calif., where I taught at an all-girls high school for four years; and now to Coraopolis, Pa., where I have begun to work with our vocation ministry team. I definitely miss my students in California, as well as the sisters and everyone I had a chance to fall in love with, but what I get to do now is also exciting and full of blessings.
Teaching was difficult for me only because of the structure. I had structure at home with our schedule and then went right into structure at school, and it became too rigid for me. In my new ministry I am constantly on the move. Honestly, the chaos is just what I needed. The structure at home gives me a nice rhythm and an important sense of groundedness, but the never-ending travel and new projects keep me on my toes and stir my creativity. I am so grateful to be in a community that understands how different we all are. I saw it even when I met my first two Felicians on pilgrimage; they were so different, and yet they were in the same community. It told me that there was room for everyone here, and it still holds true. Not an introvert? That's great, extroverts are welcome! Need less structure? Sure, try something where you can create your own schedule! In a way it invites a sort of harmony by acknowledging each of us as individuals but connecting us more deeply as a community.
Religious life is nothing like what I thought it would be. It's actually better. I thought it would be like a slumber party every day, where we always had tons of fun and ate snacks together in the middle of the night. That does happen, but what also happens is a whole lot of growth. I feel like I've grown tremendously since the time I entered. I believe 100 percent that I would not have become the woman I am without religious life.
As I look forward to making a permanent commitment in a couple of years, I acknowledge the many sisters who came before me and the ones who are with me on the journey now. Their response to God's call has fortified and encouraged mine, and I will be forever grateful. I also see us growing as a community. We have turned our faces toward the future in hopes of understanding the evolving needs of our world, and I couldn't be more proud of the work my community has committed to in order to fully enter this discernment process.
So there it is, the adventure thus far -- but stay tuned because I'm sure the best is yet to come!
- The friend who invited me on pilgrimage is still one of my very best friends, and I was able to attend her wedding just last month.
- The two sisters I met on pilgrimage who helped foster my vocation are currently serving on our General Council in Rome.
- This summer I was able to walk the Pilgrimage for Vocations again after a seven-year hiatus -- that's the photo you see above!