Sunday, February 25, 2018

Charity in Action

This coming Tuesday, February 27, I am traveling to D.C. to take part in the Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers.  Along with 30+ other women and men religious and 100-200 supporters, I will do civil disobedience in the Senate rotunda, and I will most likely be arrested.  I wanted to share with you:

Why am I choosing to do this?  What will happen on Tuesday?  What can YOU do to support?

WHY: My experience with immigration:

As you probably know, I’ve worked with migrants for more than a decade.  I’ve walked with hundreds of beautiful immigrants and learned the ins and outs of our complicated, broken system.
During my sophomore year at the University of Dayton, I traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border, and my eyes were opened to the human beings at the center of our country’s debate about immigration.  As a senior, I returned to the border to write my honors thesis about the reality of women immigrants.  I also traveled to Honduras and Peru, and after college, I spent two years living in Ecuador as an international volunteer.  First hand, I saw the “push factors,” why people choose to leave their home countries: unimaginable poverty, violence, lack of education and job opportunities, abuse, political oppression, and much more.  My heart was broken and moved to do something.
While discerning religious life, I spent three years in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico.  I ministered at a shelter for migrants, a Catholic parish of Latino immigrants just a few blocks from the downtown border crossing, and our Sisters of Charity Proyecto Santo Niño center for kids with special needs in Anapra, Mexico.  On the U.S. side of the border, I met beautiful families fleeing for their lives and for the futures of their children.  In Mexico, I met beautiful families living in dire poverty, able to see the U.S. through the border fences from their tiny lean-to houses on dirt roads, but never able to cross into its prosperity.

Back in Cincinnati, I volunteered at Su Casa Hispanic Center and the Free Health Center in Price Hill, where I began to meet local immigrant families.  I worked in the Catholic Social Action Office where I taught about immigration and helped to organize for justice.  Now, I’ve been the Bilingual Pastoral Minister at Holy Family Parish for two and a half years.  Our congregation is more than half Guatemalan.  These immigrant parishioners are amazing people – beautiful, tight-knit families, so dedicated to their faith and communities, and yet living every day in uncertainty because of their legal status.  I’ve traveled to Guatemala and met the family members that our parishioners had to leave behind.  I held Guatemalan mothers who will probably never see their children again, and I felt their tears drop on my shoulder.

Through all of these years and experiences, I’ve grown to know the U.S. immigration system inside and out.  I know that people can’t “just come the right way.”  For most immigrants that I know, there is NO legal way for them to come to the United States.  I’ve learned about the treacherous journeys moms, dads, and kids undertake to escape their desperate situations: saying goodbye to their loved ones, maybe forever; riding on the tops of trains; getting assaulted and raped; walking through the desert for days with nothing to eat or drink.  They do this for thousands of miles.  If they make it to the U.S., they live in falling-down apartments in dangerous parts of town.  They work back-breaking jobs with long hours and unfair wages.  People judge them, discriminate against them, and target them for crimes.   I’ve learned about the winding court cases people deal with for years, often only to get deported at the end.  I’ve watched pregnant mothers walk around with ankle monitors, and I’ve watched Immigration Customs Enforcement tear apart families through deportation.


Over the last few years, I’ve followed the journey of the Dreamers, immigrant youth granted temporary status in the U.S. through D.A.C.A. (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  These are young people whose brave parents (the people I’ve been talking about) brought them to the U.S. while they were still small children.  They have grown up in the United States, and now they are in high school, college, and beyond.  They are studying and working while often serving as the breadwinners and chauffeurs for their families since D.A.C.A. allows them a work permit and a driver’s license.  Most of them don’t remember their home countries.  They are Americans.

In the fall, President Trump announced that he would cancel D.A.C.A., putting our beloved immigrant youth at risk of deportation, back to countries that they don’t even know.  He said it was up to Congress to fix the program by March 5th.  The courts have since blocked his action, but we can’t count on a resolution.  Our immigrant youth need protection, without legislation that would harm their families and other immigrants.

Recently, I’ve done all I could to support the movement for justice that brave Dreamers are leading across the country: call and visit my legislators, join rallies, write op-eds, and participate in an Ohio letter campaign that collected 17,000+ letters.  Our elected officials are not listening.  Protecting our immigrant youth should be a no-brainer, and yet Congress fails repeatedly to do their job.  I'm ashamed and outraged by the immoral inaction that holds Dreamers and their families in limbo.

WHY GET ARRESTED?  Deciding to do civil disobedience:

A few weeks ago, friends at Faith in Public Life called to see if they could fly me to D.C. to participate in nonviolent disobedience in support of Dreamers.  I knew I had to take the invitation seriously, and I felt drawn into deep discernment.  Of course, I felt strongly about the issues, but was God indeed calling me to risk arrest?  Did the action make sense strategically?  Would Dreamers support us doing this? I spent much time in prayer.  I felt the tug of words from our Sister of Charity Vision statement: "We will strive to be persons who...risk being prophetic in church and society.”   I had conversations with trusted friends and mentors: partners on the ground in D.C., sisters who have participated in civil disobedience and those who have chosen not to, and, most importantly, José Cabrera, my sister Andrea’s co-worker who is a Dreamer.  They all helped me to sort through motivations, hesitations, passion, and prayers.
In the end, the call became clear.  I must put love in action.  The Gospel tells me that everyone is my neighbor, my brother, my sister.  As a follower of Jesus, I cannot sit idly by while our country oppresses young people and uses them as bargaining chips.   I’m sure of it: God is urging me to stand with other Catholic leaders to tell Congress, again, that if they want to be on the right side of history, they must protect our immigrant youth.  Our Dreamers aren't giving up the fight, and I want them to know that we won't either.

WHAT will happen on Tuesday:

On Tuesday morning, 2/27, all of us participants will begin the day in a private Mass with Lexington bishop John Stowe.  At 10:30a.m., we will have a press conference outside, across from the Russell Senate building.  At 11:00a.m., we will begin our prayerful action.  Those of us risking arrest will stand in a circle in the middle of the Russell Senate building rotunda.  The supporters will gather in a circle around us and on the balconies.  Bishop John Stowe will bless us, and then we will join in song and praying the rosary.  All Catholic Senators and Representatives have received invitations to the demonstration.

Because we are drawing attention to ourselves and making a scene in a public place, the police will be called.  They will ask us to move, and we won’t, so they will arrest us one by one and take us to local police stations to process.  We’ll each be charged with “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding,” a misdemeanor.  We have the option of “post and forfeit,” which means that we can pay a $50 fine, and our charge will be dropped to something minor.  We won’t go to court, and we won’t have criminal charges on our records.  We’ll sit in jail for probably anywhere from two to six hours.

We hope to draw media attention and raise awareness of the urgency.  It is our hope that this large, collaborative effort among Catholic faith leaders will prick the consciences of our legislators and people across the country.

When I risk arrest, I will carry in my heart the hundreds of immigrants I know and love dearly.  I will stand for José, all Dreamers, and their families.  I will stand for my fellow parishioners at Holy Family Church who live in daily uncertainty because of our unjust immigration policies.  I will stand for Maribel Trujillo and all the families that have been torn apart.  And I will stand for all those who have given their energy to this movement across the country.


I need you to know why I am going.  I need to you to know that this issue is important enough to me to risk getting arrested.  And, most importantly, I am asking you to do a few small things to help our effort be successful:

1) CALL your legislators!  Please, really, call.  Even if you have never called before.  It takes less than five minutes.  Call at least twice, once Monday, once Tuesday.  If you can call every day until March 5th, that’s even better!
·         Monday: TOMORROW is the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ National Call-in Day for Dreamers. 
o   Call 855-589-5698 to reach the Capitol switchboard, and press 1 to connect to your Senators. Once you are connected to each Senator's office, please ask the person on the phone to deliver this simple message:
"I urge you to support a bipartisan, common-sense, and humane solution for Dreamers:
§  Protect Dreamers from deportation and provide them with a path to citizenship.
§  Reject proposals that undermine family immigration or protections for unaccompanied children.
§  As a Catholic/person of faith, I know that families are not "chains," but a blessing to be protected.
§  Act now to protect Dreamers, our immigrant brothers and sisters.
o   Please call 855-589-5698 a second time to reach the Capitol switchboard again, and press 2 to connect to your Representative. Once you are connected to the Representative's office, please ask the person on the phone to deliver the same message as above.

·         Tuesday: We are urging people to call in solidarity with our action!  Call your Senators at 1-888-410-0619; call twice to reach both your Senators.  Call your Representatives at 1-888-496-3502.  Tell them that your friend/relative is participating in the action at the Senate, and tell them to protect DREAMERs.  Continue to call these numbers every day until March 5th!

2) SPREAD THE WORD: Please feel free to forward this blog.
·         On my Facebook page, I’ll be posting a video that you can share. 
·         On Tuesday, you can watch the action LIVE on PICO Network’s Facebook page:  Please share that video as well.  We need thousands of people to know this is happening and call their legislators!
·         You can follow #Catholics4DREAMers on social media.

3) PRAY:  I go to D.C. in hope that through our action, the Holy Spirit may change hearts. I count on your prayers, for us, for DREAMERs, and our legislators.

Thank you!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Before I write, I want to make sure you know that our vow ceremony will be live-streamed this Saturday.  Even if you can’t be present physically, you can watch online from wherever you are!  Just go to at 4:00pm EST.  The live-stream should be right there on the homepage.


                What a special time this is!  I can hardly believe that I’ll be professing my first vows in three days!  Of course I’m filled with all kinds of emotions, but deep in my heart, I know:  I’m ready. Andrea I and have spent the last year in prayer, reflection, and conversation about the vows that we are soon to make.  It’s time!

You’ve probably heard the vows named: poverty, celibacy, and obedience.  But what do these vows mean, especially in today’s world?  If you’re at all like I was early on in my discernment process, you might wonder why anyone would want to make these vows!  My perception of the vows was a sort of black and white list of No’s.  You know the sign, “No shirt, no shoes, no service”?  I imagined a sign on the convent door: “No money, no sex, no freedom.”  Debbie Downer, right?!

Obviously, there is much more to the vows than loss and sacrifice, if women and men have joyfully built their lives upon them through the ages!  The theology of the vows has evolved with the time, but a whole-hearted commitment to God has always been at the center.  And that loving God to Whom we vow has always been there, calling and accompanying and loving, giving women religious all they need to live out their vocation.

Let me share with you a bit of my understanding of the vows.  It is, of course, far from complete, but it will give you some idea of what is in my heart when I say "yes" this weekend.

The vow of poverty expresses itself externally in that we sisters share all things in common with our congregation.  We don’t own property or have personal bank accounts at our disposal.  Any salaries earned go directly to central checking, and each local house community makes a budget for what they need from the “common purse.”  However, this vow is about much more than money.  Through our vow, we try to create a community in which everyone has what they need.  We attempt to model a system based on collaboration, sharing, and generosity instead of the prevalent culture of consumerism, greed, and getting ahead.
Beyond our community, we vow to work for the common good of all and to align our worldview with those people living in economic poverty.  We try to “live simply in a complex world,” interiorly and exteriorly.  Perhaps even more profoundly, this vow calls us to single-heartedness with God as our focus and purpose.  We vow to recognize our own poverty and weakness and our need for dependence on God and one another.  We vow to be deeply grateful for all that God has blessed us with, knowing that all is truly gift.

The vow of celibacy, of course, involves that we choose not to live life with a romantic partner but instead in community with our sisters and associates.  I rejoiced when doing reading about this vow through the year that the word “love” was mentioned so often!  Rather than being a vow that cuts us off from love, it calls us to love widely, embracing the whole human family and all of creation!  The vow of celibacy frees me to respond to the needs of the world.  The vow of celibacy means that we sisters aim to be in healthy, loving relationship in community, ministry, and personal lives.  We treasure friendship!  We treasure being members of our religious congregation and the whole world community of women religious!
The vow of celibacy says that our hearts are oriented to God above all else and to the whole human family and Earth through God.  Because my primary focus is not on a spouse or family, I vow to focus my energy in a unique way to be an instrument of justice and peace in society.   Although not sexually active, celibate people are called to give life and love in many ways!  Sisters are some of the most creative and generative people I know, channeling their sexuality into building the kingdom of God and giving of themselves generously.  In the words of Simone Campbell, I vow “radical availability” when I vow celibacy.

And last but not least, we vow obedience.  Our dear sisters gone before lived a very different model of obedience than that which has emerged since the Second Vatican Council.  Obedience in the past meant following the orders of the “higher-ups.”  Sisters would receive what was called a mission slip telling them where they would be going to do ministry (sometimes to do something they absolutely did not want to do) and when they would leave to go (sometimes the very next day!).  The way we live it has changed, but at the heart, obedience is still about vowing to do God’s will, personally and communally.  It is a commitment to listen deeply to God’s voice, in our hearts, in our sisters, and in the whole world!  Personally, when discerning ministry, it is now a much more mutual process.  Instead of being told what to do, a Sister discerns God’s call with the help of peers, mentors, and a membership of the Leadership Council.
The vow of obedience, however, goes far beyond individual ministry decisions.  As a congregation of women who vow obedience, we promise to listen together as best we can to make decisions, choose our direction, and be a presence of Love.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the central mandate of our lives.  We vow to follow Christ and try to do as he would do in the current times.  We vow a life of faithful discernment and of saying “yes!”

I am humbled and proud when I think about the women who have made these vows through the years.  What courage, what commitment, what love they have brought to the world!   These vows are indeed the way I want to give my heart and my life.  I am grateful for your prayers as I profess them on Saturday.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to let me know!  And if you’d like to read more of my and Andrea’s thoughts on the vows (some of these same thoughts fleshed out in different ways), check out these 3 articles:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Some "Splainin"

"What are all these
steps for?!"
This blog is mom-inspired!  As she and I talked about vows last week, she shared that it might be a good idea to write about the different steps of the journey I’ve been on and about what it means to make first vows as a religious sister.  Considering that I knew almost nothing about the process before I entered, I imagine that many of you, too, might be wondering about all the steps and would appreciate a little “splainin.”

The process of becoming a sister varies from congregation to congregation, but many of the elements are the same.  I’ll tell you about the process we follow as Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, and I’ll try to relate it to more familiar dating terms.  Of course, you understand that this journey is very different and can’t be compared exactly to the development of a romantic relationship.  It can help to frame and clarify.

The Sisters of Charity outline this process on our website here.  I’ll use some of that language and then add my own.

Step 1:  Pre-entrance “is a period of preparation…which enables the individual and the Congregation to become acquainted and mutually discern her call and readiness for affiliation with the Sisters of Charity.”

To compare it to a romantic relationship, this is like the time when two people are into each other but not formally dating.  They spend time together to get to know one another, and there is clearly some mutual interest.  A woman in pre-entrance is interested in the Sisters of Charity.  She has a contact sister from the congregation with whom she talks on a regular basis to learn more about the community and explore her possible call.  The length of pre-entrance varies from person to person but is usually six months to two years.  I did my pre-entrance in New Mexico in 2012.  It only lasted three months because I had already lived with the Sisters there for eighteen months as a volunteer.

Step 2: Affiliation “is a period of gradual involvement in the Congregation. As an affiliate a woman lives in a Sister of Charity community while continuing to work and discern her readiness for further commitment.”

Affiliation is like “going steady,” or whatever the cool kids call it these days.  The woman has decided that, yes, this is the congregation she wants to discern with.  She formally enters the congregation and moves into our Affiliate House in New Mexico, where she lives for a period of one to two years.  This is an important time in which she learns what day to day life is like as a Sister, participating fully in the house community and doing ministry.  In most cases, she is still financially independent.  She meets bi-weekly with her Affiliate Director to reflect on how God is calling her.  Andrea and I began our Affiliate year on June 24, 2012.  We will always count our years in community from that date; we’re almost to three! :)

Step 3: Canonical Novitiate is a special year in which the novice’s focus is “to learn more about religious life, to deepen her connection to the Congregation’s roots and history, and enable her to develop an integrated apostolic spirituality.”

Novitiate is a period of two years that could be looked at like engagement.  Novices move to the Novitiate house community on the Motherhouse grounds in Cincinnati.  At the beginning of the novitiate, women forgo their financial independence and assume the title "Sister."

This first year is a sacred year rooted in prayer and solitude, allowing for time to deepen one’s relationship with God.  There are a few days of classes each week on spirituality, theology, congregational history and values, Church history, and more.  There is one day of ministry and one day for prayer and reflection.  During this time, novices participate in the life of their local house community and the congregation at large, getting to know Sisters in the Motherhouse and Mother Margaret Hall, our nursing facility.  Novices also meet each week with their Novice director to process the journey.  Andrea and I began our canonical year in June 2013.

Step 4: Apostolic Novitiate “is a time to integrate full-time ministry or study with living religious life in a local community.”

This is a continuation of the “engagement” process with more focus on a novice’s call to ministry as well as preparation for vows.  An apostolic novice does ministry a few days a week; I’ve been at the Catholic Social Action Office at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  The novice meets with the novice director bi-weekly, and there is still a day for prayer in the week, allowing for deepening spirituality and balancing work, community, and prayer.  This year also encompasses what is like Pre-Cana for women religious.  Andrea and I read various articles about the vows and reflected on them with our house community and other sisters.  We wrote about our experience of each vow and kept them in our hearts through the year, aware of our evolving feelings, questions and joys with each one.  Andrea and I began our apostolic novitiate last June, 2014, and have just a few weeks left until…

Step 5: First Vows!  For the first time, a woman professes “the vows of poverty, consecrated celibacy and obedience.  [This] allows a woman to live as a Sister of Charity for a temporary period of time. During this time she discerns the call to life commitment as a Sister of Charity.”

When Andrea and I profess vows on June 27th, we will become consecrated women religious!  This is a monumental day that could be compared to a wedding; although we do not vow our lives to a person, we vow our lives to a purpose, to our God and God’s people, and to our congregation.  According to canon law, a sister must be under first vows for three years before she can profess final vows.  This doesn’t signify that first vows mean less.  The intent is not temporary.  No, on our vow day, we profess those vows because we believe that we are called to live them our whole lives.  If, within the three year period, we feel God calling us differently, we can leave the process more easily than if we had professed vows for life.

During this time, there will still be a flexible process of discernment and formation; we’ll each choose a mentor sister to be our companion.  For the most part, however, we will be living as vowed Sisters of Charity, ministering full-time and living community.  We will have a “voice and a vote” in the congregation.  After at least three years, if we and the congregation feel so called, we will profess final vows as Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, confirming that the commitment made this June 27th is one for a lifetime.

Hopefully that was helpful!  Please feel free to ask any questions you may have.  And stay tuned for another blog explaining a bit more about each of the three vows we will be professing.  I’m looking so forward to sharing the special day with those who can come, and I’m grateful for the prayers of those who will be here in spirit!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Birthday Blog: Begin Again

“Begin again.”

My orchid saying, "Happy birthday!  Celebrate life!"
These two little words bursting with Buddhist wisdom popped into my mind this morning as I awakened to my 28th birthday.   When I came downstairs, I saw that a third blossom had opened on my recently dormant orchid.  A birthday is always a good reminder of life’s goodness and generative possibility!  As I look back over the last year and give thanks, I am also grateful for the way life always lets us start over, reinvent, recreate.  I am humbled by God’s refreshing love and excited by the new being born in and around me.  I suppose the phrase is also appropriate encouragement for a negligent blogger.  Today I "begin again" with high hopes for more consistency next year in this Diary of a Sister-in-Training! J

Happy Novices after
completing our Canonical Novitiate
More than my birthday, this week also marks a new beginning on my journey of religious life.  Andrea and I finished our canonical novitiate last Friday and are now onto year two.  Just as a refresher, the canonical novitiate is a year-long process that all religious experience in their formation.  It is a time focused on solitude and prayer and becoming deeply rooted in God’s love.  Over the last year, we have had classes three days a week in Spirituality, Theology, Scripture, Church History, Sisters of Charity History, and much more.  On Tuesdays, we each served at a ministry site, and Fridays were set aside as our Sabbath Day – a time for processing, relaxation, and prayer.  We’ve also spent time visiting Sisters at the Motherhouse, participating in congregational events, and cultivating intentional community here at our home, Bayley House.

Since I last wrote in March, we’ve followed the above rhythm with just a few additions.  In May, we participated in the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon with other religious in the name of Peace, Justice, and Vocations.  Later in the month, we went on a week-long silent retreat at Milford Jesuit Spiritual Center.  On Memorial Day, we participated in a Choral Reading about the Sisters of Charity who nursed in the Civil War.  Throughout June, we finished up with several evaluations that encouraged us to reflect on where God has led us throughout the canonical year. 

Andrea and myself go back to the 1860's with some of the
other participants in the Civil War Commemoration Service
Sisters and future Sisters at the
Flying Pig Marathon, May 2014
It was a year filled to the brim with wondrous learning experiences and people who shared their gifts and love with us.  It was also tough.  The time and space spent in prayer lends itself to much introspection and reflection, and lots of “stuff” quite naturally can arise.  Externally, I have been fed by the wisdom and love of my Sisters.  Internally, it’s been an intense journey, but one that has taught me more about God’s incomprehensible love.

I do feel ready to begin again!  We are a few days into the second year of Novitiate, called the Apostolic Novitiate, which will also happen in Cincinnati.  Not all congregations have a second year; it isn’t required as the canonical year is.  Our congregation has found it to be a helpful time of discovery and transition into full-time ministry.  As you probably guessed, the word "Apostle" comes from the idea of being sent, so the apostolic year is more focused on being out in the world.  The year will center upon ministry and discovering further how God calls us to serve as Sisters of Charity.  We’ll also still have a Sabbath Day to continue integrating the gifts of contemplation and action.  If God keeps the call comin', we’ll make first vows next summer, so we will also spend intentional time in vow preparation throughout the apostolic year.

God has stirred up some exciting opportunities in ministry for next year!  I’ll be working as an intern at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Social Action Office.  Each year, the Office offers this position in conjunction with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ anti-poverty campaign.  I’ll be helping to administer CCHD grants, supporting local grassroots groups making change in their communities, educating about Catholic Social Teaching in parishes, working for immigration reform and care for creation, and perhaps other things!  I’ll also be writing a once a month for the Global Sisters Report, a project of the National Catholic Reporter.  Three other young Sisters and myself make up the Horizons column, a place for newer religious women to share their thoughts, reflections, and experiences.  You can read my first two (and future) columns here.

When Dan and Patty Kemme first held me in their arms on June 30, 1986, they could never have predicted that I would be here on my 28th birthday!  This gift of life is full of God’s surprises, and all of them way better than we could’ve conjured up on our own.

Bayley House with Novice Director during the last
night of Canonical Novitiate: Sisters Andrea, Donna, Tracy, Nancy,
Maureen, Terry, and Carol
During the closing of the canonical novitiate last Thursday night, we prayed with a reading that was included in the Opening of Novitiate Ceremony one year ago:   For this reason I bow my knees before the Creator,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that God would grant you, according to the riches of God’s glory, to be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner self,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3: 14-19)

 As I embark on a new year of life and a new step toward becoming a vowed Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, I am reminded that all of life is really a love story, leading each of us more profoundly to the heart of God.  It is God’s love that brings us into being, that sustains us, that calls us forward.  It is God’s love that wakes us up each morning with opportunities for new growth and new birth.  A fellow Sister gave me a card this morning that reads, “Today is the beginning of the best part of your life.”  True dat, Sister.  This day and every day, God, give me the grace to “Begin again!”

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sister: Who, me? Yes, you!

It’s a funny and wonderful thing, being young and being “Sister” in today’s world.  Take this scenario for example.

“What do you mean, honey?  You work for the Sisters of Charity?” the receptionist asked.

She looked at me with questioning eyes, and I could sense both of us growing impatient.  I had just moved back to Cincinnati and needed to find a new doctor’s office.  Here I was, trying to register at the nearby practice and finding it more complicated than expected.  The confusion started when I handed the receptionist my insurance card and told her that the policy is under the Sisters of Charity.

The first incredulous look. “The Sisters of Charity?”

“Yes…I’m in the process of becoming a Sister.  I live right up that hill.”

“Wait a second.  Are you employed by the Sisters of Charity?  Or are you a student at the College?  What are you telling me here?”

“Well, no, I’m definitely not a student at the College.  And I’m not technically employed by the Sisters…” (I rolled my eyes inside.  My feelings in a hashtag = #youngsisterproblems).  “I’m here because I’m in formation to become a Sister.  Like, I am going to be a Sister of Charity.”

"You don't look like a Sister!"
Disclaimer: Although the expression is
similar, this is NOT the actual doctor's office
“Hmm…we have lots of Sisters that come in here, and they don’t look like you!”  She squinted.  That’s when she asked again if I meant that I worked there.  I agreed to let her hold onto the card and “check on it” while I filled out the paperwork.

I thought to myself in disbelief – Do you have a history of young women coming in here and claiming to be nuns?!  Honestly!

Of course, when she checked it out, she discovered that I was not a Sister-impostor (nunpostor? J).  This time, she smiled at me with a kind eyes and a fascinated grin.  “Glad to have you with us, Sister!”

I winced a little bit, my feelings shifting from aggravation to discomfort.  I felt this urge to have my identity understood and well-received, but I was so not used to hearing the title.  Maybe I was confused about who I was, too.

 It was just a few weeks since I went from being Tracy to “Sister Tracy.” Andrea and I won’t make our first vows until summer 2015, but the title change coincides with the beginning of Novitiate.  In the months leading up to the ceremony, I felt joyful anticipation for what the new prefix would represent.  It seemed to express well the serious step I was taking, and I was ready!

Once it happened, it seemed surreal.  The Sisters around the Motherhouse enjoyed playfully addressing us with our new titles that week.  It was a thrill and at the same time quite strange. From one day to the next, this identity that I felt burgeoning within over time was articulated quite decidedly in the reality of 6 letters.  Surely an automatic transformation didn’t accompany the momentary change that allows me to put “S.” before my name.  “Sister Tracy?” I said to myself sometimes, swishing it around in my mouth to see how it felt. 

It's sort of like how that flashy red shirt looks great on the rack but feels a little different once you're staring at it in the mirror on your body.  I didn’t expect all of the questions that arose in me along with becoming “Sister.”  What does the word bring with it?  What implications does it have on my sense of identity?  What does it mean to adopt such a title?    I suddenly became unsure of how to introduce myself.  

Many of our more experienced Sisters grew up in a world where it was normal to be Sister ________.  These women are often comfortable being known as that, and I am comfortable addressing them as that.  In some cases, the title “Sister” is used almost as if it replaced the religious woman’s first name and comes usually with respect and love:  Thank you, Sister.  What do you think, Sister?  I find myself doing this in our Motherhouse nursing area (confession: especially if I can’t actually remember her name!)  

For myself, I'm hesitant to throw it out there and uncertain when it applies. Do I change my name on Facebook (funny and honest question)?  Do I write it on nametags?  I'm very comfortable with it in formal settings, when everyone is "Mr." or "Ms." or whatever.  I'm okay with kids calling me Sister Tracy when they are referring to other adults in the same way.  But there is lots of grey area.  In a ministry setting, it might establish appropriate boundaries, or it might make someone uncomfortable to share with me.  

A few times I’ve been called “Sister" in fairly casual conversations when others are called by their first names.  To me, that feels weird and like a reinforcement of old, erroneous thinking that religious are somehow different.  Why I am Sister Tracy if she isn’t Mrs. Ann?  I'm also hesitant to elicit special treatment.  I hope that I would be responded to with the same esteem whether I am "Tracy" or "Sister Tracy."  Unfortunately, that isn't always the case.  I would never want to perpetuate ideas that keep religious on an imaginary pedestal.

Occasionally, instead of inflated admiration, the title could create other kinds of discomfort at the outset of a conversation.  People may (unnecessarily) worry about judgment and feel that they have to act or speak differently.  Or they may (unfairly) expect me to act or speak differently.

I do see goodness in using the title at times.  Especially because there are so few young religious, I want people to know that I have chosen this and am happy!  I like the shock value and the conversations that it can spark about the religious life or faith in general.  “You’re Sister?”  Yes!  And there are others like me!  And more on the way!  Calling myself  "Sister Tracy" can help put it out there forthright and whittle away at stereotypes.  Perhaps in the future young Sisters won’t hear:  Hmm…you don’t look like a Sister.  

So, there are complexities attached to the word.  I've only said “Sister Tracy” a few times when it seemed appropriate, like at a vocation dinner, or at the beginning of a formal presentation, or when another Sister in the conversation did so before me.  Many Sisters say that in most settings, they introduce themselves with their first name and then share that they are Sisters of Charity as the conversation progresses, much like someone might share their profession or how many kids they have.  I like that.  Hi. I’m me and you’re you.  It establishes an equal playing field off the bat.

Some of the amazing women I get to share this with:
Novitiate community mates (at our super-fun
Valentine Party!)
Of course, it's not only the title that comes with connotations.  The title is a symbol of the identity.  At some point, when it surfaces that I'm a Sister, any number of conversations, positive or negative could ensue.  So apart from the word, perhaps the most important question is:  What do I believe about being Sister Tracy?  Being “Sister” is a humbling, marvelous gift.  When I am introduced as Sister next to fellow Sisters who have celebrated Golden Jubilees and touched countless lives through the years, I wonder for a minute how I could ever share the same title.  Certainly, I am not as much “Sister” as they are, right?  If that is a doubt in me, I am never made to feel that way by my fellow Sisters.

Mostly, I feel like and want to be called Tracy, but there is a newness and a profound acknowledgment of the commitment I am making.  My heart skips a little joyful beat when I am signing my name on something official and remember that I get to add the “S.”  It is a jubilant reminder of what I am on the way to.  I am growing into it, as would be expected for a novice.  I imagine that those who graduate med school don’t feel like “Doctor” in a day; I imagine that being a “Mrs.” evolves and deepens through each passing day of marriage.  I’m figuring it out, just like the doctor’s office receptionist.   From time to time, there will be #youngsisterproblems, but mostly, there are #youngsistergraces.

Happy young Sisters!  Andrea and me with Tracey
and Arrianne of the Sisters of Providence
I can say, on this last day of National Catholic Sisters Week, what a treasure it is to be linked with a word, whether uttered or not, that carries such a powerful legacy.  If being “Sister” means trying to love radically, walk with those who are suffering, confront injustices, and respond to the needs of the times, as Sisters have done faithfully through the years, then how I desire to be Sister Tracy!   It is an honor to share this life form with so many inspiring women. 

It seems that titles in themselves are not so important in the end.   At times, I might shout it from the rooftops.  At times, I might say it only in my actions. When it comes down to it, I'm Tracy, y'all.  It's the witness of our lives that defines us (all of us!).  I am proud to be a young Sister, excited for the future of religious life, and so grateful for God’s call that got me here.

  Happy National Catholic Sisters Week!

Yes, you  
(by: me -- 3/13/2014)

Who, me?

Yes! says God.  It’s who
I call you
to be.

The ones gone before
made it up as they went,
I filled each woman with her Yes
Just as I breathe life

Be who you are -
It is written on your
Little Sister, you are becoming,
and you 
have more than made a start

Carrier of a wondrous history
Dreamer of a future hopeful and new
Change-agent in our world today
You are all of these: 
Yes, you! 

Claim your Sister-hood with Love
Live into your call

“Sister” isn’t a title
but a


after all.