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Taking a step to live in God

Posted By September 19, 2013 | 1:05 pm | Featured Article #1
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By Tanya Connor

STILL RIVER – The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who staff Immaculate Heart of Mary School, have three young women in the process of becoming fully professed Sisters.
“There are a lot of vocations out there that are not fostered by their environments, so it is hard to get vocations,” says Sister Katherine Maria, prioress/superior of the Sisters. “The social structure is so shredded … Our girls are the exception because their families are practicing Catholics and foster vocations for the children.
“We’ve had several girls try out in the last few years through postulancy,” then leave. “To have three all at one time is great. I have some Sister friends in Boston and they’re envious.”
Those interested in joining the congregation, and not already familiar with it, start as aspirants, Sister Katherine Maria says.
Up to a month later, if they are still interested and the congregation approves, they can become postulants.
Six months after that they can become novices and start classes with the congregation.
After two years of prayer, study and work as novices they can profess temporary vows, a state that lasts three years, until final profession. They renew their vows each year during that time.
Aug. 15 one of the young women became a postulant, and one a novice. The other is in her second year of novitiate.
The congregation’s charism is the True Devotion to Mary of St. Louis de Montfort, Sister Katherine Maria says. Their apostolate is evangelizing, through any medium, including the school and the magazine “From the Housetops,” which they use for street ministry, she says.

‘Not looking back’

STILL RIVER – Sleepovers turned into moving in. But not before some drifting away.
That’s part of the story Sister Marie-Celine (Erin Kelly), 19, tells about joining the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
She said she was born in Boston and grew up in Hopkinton and Harvard. She attended Immaculate Heart of Mary School for grades 1-12, and the Sisters’ vocations weekends for girls in grades 7-12, she said.
“I started coming in seventh grade,” Sister Marie-Celine said of the vocations weekends. “I guess at the time I wasn’t very serious about religious life. It was just kind of a fuYOF Banner-3-webn sleepover with the other girls. In ninth grade that’s when it kind of struck me. I thought about it for awhile. As the high school years went on, I fell into a little bit of a rut, where that idea kind of drifted away.”
For graduation, her parents gave her a week-long trip to Ireland, she said. And her father suggested she get a good job. She worked at Clinton Savings Bank in West Boylston, taking a year off to save for college and figure out where she was going.
“I was having a great time,” she said. “I was making money. Great people around. I definitely enjoyed the feeling of independence. I’m an only child.
“Meanwhile, this whole time I was drowning out the idea of religious life. One day at work this thought kept coming in my head: ‘What am I aiming for in life?’ The idea of religious life came back from ninth grade.
“I started praying again; I had become lax even with daily prayers,” especially prayers for a vocation. “I tried to get to Mass more often.” She’d stayed in touch with the Sisters.
“Finally one day I just made up my mind: ‘It’s now or never.’ I talked with Sister Katherine right before Christmas. I couldn’t come out and say it: ‘Can I join?’”
So she said, “I have something to ask you.” Sister Katherine Maria asked, “You want to join?”
This year on Feb. 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, she became a postulant.
“It definitely brought on a wave of peace, knowing that this was the place I was supposed to be,” Sister Marie-Celine said. “It’s like this is what God wanted me to do.”
“She belonged here; you could tell,” put in fellow novice Sister Mary Imelda.
Aug. 15 this year, Sister Marie-Celine became a novice. Postulancy is for discerning if this is your call, “in secular terms, the dating period,” she said. “Novitiate is the engagement, for closer union with our spouse. And then profession. … We’re all striving for complete union with Christ in heaven. That’s our marriage.
“Going through the postulancy, you’re leaving the world, everything that you know, completely giving your liberty to God. The novitiate really kind of solidifies.… ‘He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom of God.’ (Lk 9:62) Even if it’s hard, we’re not looking back.”

‘Dream come true’

STILL RIVER – A dream come true. A happy life.
That’s what Sister Mary Imelda (Mary Katherine Duffy) says it’s like being part of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The 19-year-old is in her second year of the novitiate with them.
But she’s not new to the congregation. Born in Worcester and reared in Leominster and Shirley, she attended grades 1-12 at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, staffed by the Sisters and their male branch, also called Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “I can remember from my earliest years being around the Sisters, having examples of religious life with the Sisters and Brothers,” she said. “And also, my parents greatly encouraged my siblings and myself to pray and discern God’s will” about marriage and religious life.
As a little girl she thought about religious life, but in high school thought about it seriously, prayed and sought guidance from her parents and the Sisters, she said.
After she graduated from Immaculate Heart in 2011, she spent a semester at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., she said.
In January 2012 she became a postulant with the Slaves, and, in August 2012, a novice. She’s in novitiate classes, but won’t go back to college unless her superiors feel that’s needed, she said.
“When I did join, it was like a dream come true,” she said. “It was what I always wanted to do, and it was what God wanted me to do, most importantly. I had always been around the Sisters. I had always seen what a happy life it was. …
“I was correct that it is a happy life, consecrating ourselves entirely as slaves of Our Lady. Whatever we do, no matter how poor the results may seem, we know that as long was our intention is giving it to Our Lord, Our Lady will take care of the rest. … It’s a sense of liberty, knowing that, whatever we do, Our Lady will be right there with us.”
How did she discern that this was God’s will?
It’s like asking a woman how she knows her fiancé is the man for her, Sister Mary Imelda replied. She can’t say more than, “I’m in love with him.”
“Our Lord has called us and we know we love him, but more than that, it’s hard to explain,” she said.
She said it was a change going from the world to the convent. But her background of being with the Sisters and having good religious formation at home made the transition smooth. Going from postulant to novice was also a smooth transition, she said.
“I was already at home,” she explained. “I wasn’t leaving. I was staying in the place I loved, going deeper into religious life.
“We encourage all young men and women to think seriously, and, more importantly, to pray about what God wants them to do in their lives, because only if they’re following God’s will, will they be truly happy in this world and the next.”

Teen knew from the age of 6 that she had a vocation

STILL RIVER – A “nun doll,” a “clothing ceremony” and a consecration led up to Clair Sonnier entering the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Reared in Batesville, Ark., the 18-year-old took the postulants’ habit here this summer.
“My parents always read saints’ stories to me,” she said. “When I was 6 years old, I told my mom I was going to be nun like Clare of Assisi. … I got a nun doll for Christmas. It made a big impression.
“I never grew up around religious. When I was 10 years old, a young lady from my parish joined the Carmelites in Nebraska.”  Miss Sonnier said her mother took girls to the clothing ceremony.
“It was so beautiful,” she said. “You didn’t see the Sisters because they were behind the grill. They started singing the Kyrie.” That added to the mystery; it was like angels singing, she said. The visitors did not see the clothing ceremony itself, just the priest blessing the habit and handing it to Kirsten (Sister Juana Theresa). “But then we saw her in the meeting room and she was glowing and it made a big impression, because it was someone I had seen before,” Miss Sonnier said. “She had gone to our church and she babysat me for a few minutes during Mass.
“I loved it, but I knew I didn’t want to be a Carmelite. I didn’t feel called to a cloistered life.”
She didn’t think more about a vocation until she made a retreat with girls from her parish when she was 14, she said. Their pastor took them to the Poor Clares monastery connected with the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in Alabama.
“We met one of the Sisters,” Miss Sonnier said. “Our priest gave some talks. I remember feeling like I could have a vocation. I didn’t really know anyone besides Kirsten, and I was 7 years old when she left. I didn’t really know what to do if I had a vocation.”
The priest was very encouraging; he told her to say three “Hail Marys” each night for her vocation, she said.
“I think that was the best advice anyone ever gave me, because it just put you at peace,” she said.
Miss Sonnier said she read St. Louis de Montfort’s book, “True Devotion to Mary,” and on Aug. 15, at age 15, made the total consecration to Mary with her mother and other women from church.
When she was 16, her mother sent her and her sister to Morning Star Camp, which their cousins had attended the previous year. The Brothers and Sisters direct separate boys’ and girls’ camps annually at Montfort Retreat, an extension of their Saint Benedict Center here.
“It was perfect timing, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Miss Sonnier said. She said she’d been working at a restaurant where everything was superficial and she saw so much evil in the world she wondered if God was real.
At camp she was impressed with the Sisters’ innocence and happiness.
“If anything was real, this was real,” she said. “This was true love. They work day in and day out, like for the summer camp. But they’re doing it for God, so they’re doing it with love and they don’t ask for anything in return. When you see someone who’s given everything, you know he’s real. He’s their only love. And then there’s a reminder there’s more to life than we see.”
She returned the next summer as a camper, and this summer as a counselor, she said.
“After that first summer camp I couldn’t stop thinking about the Sisters and what they were doing,” Miss Sonnier said. “I called Sister Katherine Maria and she invited me to come up.” During spring break she spent a week with the Sisters.
“It was so much fun,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was just incredible. There’s so much peace here.
“I was sitting in chapel at 6 o’clock in the morning. I never got up at 6 o’clock in the morning.” She remembered the Scripture, “I have called you by name: you are mine.” (Is 43:1)
“People ask me if it was a voice,” she said. “It wasn’t a mystical experience. It was a Bible verse I memorized.
“Your vocation, it’s not something you decide. It’s something God calls you to. … You realize God knows you by name and he has a dream for you. You can see that in the Sisters’ lives. They have a very personal relationship with Christ. I realized … all he wanted was my happiness and I was happy here.” She spoke of wanting to share the faith with others and wanting to join those who are doing that.
She asked her parents if she could join the congregation and they told her to finish high school first, she said. The Sisters would not let her join until she was 18 anyway, she said.
“I was praying to be able to join Aug. 15, because that was the day I made my consecration” to Mary, she said. This Aug. 15 she became a postulant.
“It was neat because now you’re living out your consecration,” she said. “All your goods … prayers … sacrifices you offer to the Blessed Mother. But in the community you’re living it out in I guess a more perfect way. It was like a dream come true. I was kind of floating on clouds.”
She said it is hard having her family so far away, but Sister Katherine Maria says, “Love requires sacrifice and you prove your love by sacrifice.”
“If you don’t have anything to give Christ, it’s not really love,” Miss Sonnier continued. “But if you’re giving him the best years of your life and you’re sacrificing your family’s love … actually you’re super-naturalizing your love. You get homesick, but it’s your cross.”
Her parents and six siblings all came from Arkansas when she entered the congregation, and were very excited for her, she said.
“I said, ‘I want them to see my new home,’” she said. “They can see why I fell in love with it.”