I believe God can call you to religious life at any age, in any way. He began calling me when I was only seven. I said yes. And it’s made ALL the difference in my life!
Jesus used the sisters who taught me in grammar school to first attract me to the religious life. Everything about them fascinated me. Even though I was too young to understand many particulars about their life, I did intuit the most important thing—they were in love! These women genuinely loved the Lord, and through him, everyone and everything else he had created. It was all mysteriously beautiful to me. I wanted to be a part of it. Somehow, I knew that this strong desire was not my own idea, but God’s. Yes, God had put it into my heart. That made it even more awesome.
I was a second grader in 1964, just before the close of Vatican II. Although I could tell that there was much more to being a sister than wearing special clothing, I wanted to imitate the sisters in any way I could. The teaching sisters at our parish belonged to a Franciscan congregation. Their habit was a challenge for a seven-year-old to reconstruct, but I tried hard. Every day when I got home from school, I hurried to my room and shut the door. There I donned my “habit” –a long, white bath towel (I couldn’t find a black one!) pinned over a white hair net, cardboard headdress and matching cardboard collar. The towel held out fine, but the cardboard soon showed signs of wear and tear. One of my aunts, an expert seamstress, came to the rescue. She began attending Sunday Mass with the sisters in her own parish so as to observe them before and after Mass. In a few weeks she surprised me with a miniature habit. I was thrilled! I wore it every day for as long as it fit me.
Months stretched into years. The idea of giving my whole life to Jesus as a sister persisted. My family was sure I’d “outgrow” it. My friends though I’d change my mind. But the thought just wouldn’t go away. I admit that sometimes I tried to push it into the background. But it had a funny way of popping back out at the oddest times. And…it kept growing stronger. It was as if nothing else in life would be enough for me.
The Park Bench
Most of the kids at school thought entering the convent was a very weird thing to do. And so by seventh grade I was keeping my desire a secret. Then I met Denise. She guessed what I was thinking and confided that she too wanted to enter religious life. We became a real support for one another. Toward the end of eighth grade, we decided that we needed more information on religious life. We scoured our diocesan newspaper for vocational ads, and then divided the addresses between us so that we ended up writing to all the congregations listed. At first, we made the mistake of revealing our age—thirteen at the time. Some congregations didn’t answer. Others wrote back telling us to contact them after we’d completed college. After that, we never mentioned our ages unless someone specifically asked. Soon invitations to visit convents all over the country began pouring in. Of course, transportation and parental permission were real problems.
Then came the memorable day. In reply to one of her letters, Denise received a phone call from the vocation directress of the Daughters of St. Paul. Sr. Sharon Anne was going to be visiting another girl in our area. Could she stop over at Denise’s house to meet her and her family? Of course not! Denise’s parents, like mine, didn’t even know that we had been writing to nuns. In a panic, Denise told Sr. Sharon that she’d have to call her back. Hanging up, she immediately called me—right in the middle of lunch. “I told Sister about you, too,” she confessed. “Now what do we do?”
“Well, she can’t come to my house either,” I answered adamantly. “Just tell her to meet us in the park.”
The large city park located halfway between our homes seemed a safe enough place for this important meeting. And so, a few hours later, under a light drizzle, Denise and I found ourselves sitting between two young Daughters of St. Paul on a bench facing the duck pond! It was the climax of our vocational search. The sisters were unruffled by the setting. We took turns firing questions at them. They patiently listened, smiled a lot, and gave us some intriguing answers. I could have never imagined the new direction my life would take after getting up from that park bench.
First Impressions of a Convent
The following year, the sisters invited Denise and me to their Boston convent and house of formation for a vocational retreat. By that time, I had gotten up the courage to ask my parents to drive us. They did. It was great. We prayed with the sisters, worked side by side with them in the apostolate rooms of their publishing house, and asked more questions. Thirty-six years later I can still remember the greatest impressions that visit left on me: 1) the sisters were very happy, 2) I felt I was home. It was the first of many visits to the large brick convent.
My attraction to religious life never interfered with my life as a normal teenager. I continued to argue with my two younger brothers. I loved being with my friends. I enjoyed music and pets, especially my cats, guinea pig, and parakeets (I didn’t have them all at the same time!). I was active in several high school organizations, wrote for our local newspaper, and worked part-time giving guitar lessons, using some of the money I’d earned to travel twice to Europe with a group from school. I also attended the senior prom when I was a junior.
Beginning an Adventure in Love
I entered the Daughters of St. Paul ten days after graduating from high school. It was the beginning of an adventure in love, one that continues to challenge me every day. Two things especially drew me to our congregation—our blending of the contemplative and active lives and our profoundly Eucharistic spirituality. The deeper I explore our Pauline charism, the more I realize that I’ll never fully understand the mystery that is my vocation. As a Daughter of St. Paul, I’m called to surrender my mind, my will, and my heart to Jesus, so that his thoughts, his desires, and his love can gradually replace mine. I need to fill myself with Jesus so that I can give him to others, just as Mary did. It’s a vocation that reaches far beyond me to the thousands of persons whose lives I’m called to touch, in imitation of Paul, as an apostle of the Master. People today are starving for the love, hope, and peace that only the truth of the Gospel can bring. What better and quicker way to bring them to Jesus and his Gospel than through the media?
At the mention of religious life many people immediately think about giving things up. It’s true; there are very real sacrifices and troubles in religious life, just as there are in every state of life. But there’s also the “hundredfold” Jesus promised to those who leave everything to follow him. I’ve been blessed with the deep peace and joy that come from knowing I’m doing God’s will. I’ve gained nearly 2,400 sisters of every age and nationality. My “homes” have continuously multiplied and are now spread across fifty-one countries, since every convent is home. The spiritual formation I’ve received has rooted me in the Eucharist and Scripture, helping me to center my life on Jesus. My vows free me to follow the Master in a more radical way than would have otherwise been possible for me. And participating in our media apostolate has allowed me to place whatever gifts and talents I have entirely at the service of the Gospel. I’ve found special joy and fulfillment in helping to draw children closer to Jesus through the books I’ve edited or written for our publishing house.
It was a long journey from that park bench to the convent door. But I’ve discovered here the fullness of life and love. (So has Denise.) It’s a beautiful fullness. One that I wish for you.
“Glory be to him whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” (Eph.3:20)
Sister Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSP