Are you attracted to serving God and others, and no matter what you do, you can’t stop thinking about living a religious life? This feeling is both scary and thrilling. These are the same feelings the Sisters of the Humility of Mary had as young girls. We share their stories here to inspire and encourage you to listen to God’s calling to you.
I was raised by my grandparents who emigrated from Poland during the First World War. They were members of Madonna of Czestochowa Parish. We lived in one of the Polish neighborhoods in New Castle, PA. I attended the parish grade school under protest since I had to forego my jeans and put on a dress! To say that I was a tomboy is quite an understatement. I climbed trees, played baseball, basketball, football, flew kites (made from dry cleaners’ bags) with the kids in the neighborhood, mostly boys. When my grandmother couldn’t find me, I usually was under the car with my Dad or some neighbor kid’s dad. I liked tools of all kinds and could actually build things, but I was better at taking things apart, I had to know how they worked. One of the greatest compliments that my step mother ever paid me was that I was a better plumber than my Dad; I thought that he could fix anything.
I seemed to have a gift for music. I had toy drums, saxophone, ukulele, and harmonica and made my musical debut at age 5. I sang, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” for the Christmas program at school. Singing became important as did humming and whistling but it was time for a real instrument. At age 6 I began to take accordion lessons. Music and sports weren’t my only interests.
My uncle was a great outdoorsman who taught me to fish and hunt. Fishing became a passion and I even raised my own worms! I flunked hunting since I couldn’t shoot the bunny or Bambi, but show me a rat and I was right on it! I took up archery and bowling when I was in my teens and continued to fish when I could.
As a teenager, I felt that God was nudging me toward religious life. But in the tumultuous 60s, I was being pulled in so many directions that it couldn’t possibly be God yanking on one of the strings! What was I going to do with my life? So, high school was followed by nursing school which offered some insulation for what was happening in the world. The Vietnam War, women’s lib., sexual revolution, Vatican II, racial inequality, protests, sit-ins, riots, and the space race only added more confusion to my teenage years. God and church were not a part of my world.
I began my nursing career as a psychiatric nurse in a community hospital. We were never at a loss for patients, and I saw my share of folks that had bad trips on LSD or fried their brains on other drugs. I enjoyed the work but felt that I could be doing more. With the Vietnam War raging, there was a need for nurses, so I applied to the Air Force. My uncle was a career Airman and thought that it was a good fit for me. I anxiously awaited my acceptance letter since the date was selected to begin training in Texas and I had my Lieutenant bars. The letter came and I was “rejected”-no explanation given! The recruiter and his superiors tried to find out the reason for the rejection. After 6 months, I received the call from the recruiter telling me that all the nurses in the eastern part of the U.S. were rejected; the officer in charge had a breakdown. I was asked to reapply but I said, “No”. There still wasn’t any God in the picture.
After a couple of years, I concluded that my chance for advancement was slim to none at the small hospital where I worked. The head nurse was in her mid-30s and wasn’t going anywhere for a long time. So, I applied for a position at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. I knew that it was a large facility and my parents received good care when they were patients there.
I began working at St. Elizabeth’s and my coworkers were three Humility of Mary Sisters-one RN and two LPNs. The supervisor was a sister as was one of the evening supervisors. There were sisters everywhere: dietician, social worker, pharmacist, dietary assistant and many nurses scattered throughout the hospital. They were real people! I had Holy Spirit Sisters in grade school and Sisters of St. Francis in nursing school but these sisters were different. They seemed to love life, were happy and really cared for people. Over the next 6 years, sisters came and went but mostly they went! God kept nudging as I worked, bowled in 2 leagues, played league softball, took classes at YSU, maintained a house and kept an eye on parents, grandmother and a widowed aunt. “Leave me alone God, I’m busy, go bother someone else” became my mantra.
Weekly trips for groceries included stops at the liquor store and the beer distributor. Milk was purchased in Pennsylvania and gas and cigarettes in Ohio, I wanted the most bang for my buck. God would show up every once in a while and I recited my mantra with confidence. I had money in the bank, bought a new car every other year and went on vacation every year, what more was there? Finally, God won the battle.
When I was at work one morning, I asked one of the sisters if I could speak with her. The look on her face was priceless when I said, “I think that I want to be a sister.” That look accompanied by: “You’ve got to be kidding” was repeated over and over by family members, coworkers, friends and team mates.
It has been over 44 years since I entered the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. What do folks say to me now? “You haven’t changed.” Religious life gave me the opening to work on becoming the person God wants me to be. I continue to grow personally, professionally and spiritually. I’ve had opportunities in ministry that were and continue to be beyond my wildest dreams. Music continues to play a big part in my life and ministry. So, to quote Bishop Robert Barron: “God, like the hound of heaven in Francis Thompson’s poem, comes relentlessly searching after us.” God is infinitely patient and waits for us to respond to an ongoing loving relationship by nudging, no matter how long it takes.
The southeast side of Cleveland, Ohio, was my home base. I graduated from public high school having prepared for a business career. For over three years, I was employed by an insurance company in downtown Cleveland. During that time, being active with the Young Adult Club and teaching fourth grade religious education classes at my parish were an important part of my life. Along with attending a few night college courses, dating and socializing were significant in discerning my life choices.
I met three Sisters of the Humility of Mary in 1963 during a Cursillo in Elyria. That spiritual weekend affirmed God’s call to live a Christian life where I was to witness to Jesus in the marketplace. Yet, having experienced three spirit-filled, joyful women in blue habits, black veils and wearing a round medal with an image of Mary, I could not let go of thinking, If that was religious life, I had to know more. Dedication to Mary may have been a factor because my mother taught many lessons of faith that included devotion to Mary.
Having the list of Cursillo participants, I contacted the Diocesan Vocation Office to inquire about the sisters’ initials and the name of the community. I learned that Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, was the location of the motherhouse. The name of a sister to contact in Cleveland was also given to me.
Fear of the unknown limited me as it took a long time to make the phone call. After conversation and a visit to the Villa, I was to enter in 1964. However, a relationship with a male friend also drew me toward marriage and increased my apprehension. Knowing more now about how God works in my life, time was needed to totally surrender to the call to religious life. My leap of faith happened in September of 1965, and I was blessed with deep inner peace.
My YES to God continues through personal and communal prayer and the support of numerous people. Being a member of the HM community brings abundant blessings for on-going enrichment and ministry. I served as an elementary educator and as a parish director of religious education for many years. The need for contemplation and action still guides me now as a staff member of the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center. Focusing on spirituality and ecological sustainability, I remain in wonder of, and in gratitude for, God’s Love. And insights about the meaning of humility are never-ending in relationship to all life communities and our expanding universe.
When I was in my mid-30s, I began drifting away from God. I did not attend mass nor receive the sacraments for several months. Then one day during Lent, I was watching the Zaffarelli movie, Jesus of Nazareth. At one point, there was a full screen close-up of the face of Jesus and absolute silence. I looked and was seized with the realization that JESUS LOVES ME! I could not contain the joy I felt at that moment and jumped off the sofa screaming, “He loves me! He really loves me!” My poor mother must have thought I was crazy.
I knew then that I wanted to give myself to Jesus and begin going back to mass and the sacraments. I was thirsting for prayer and a closer relationship with the Lord. This was a real annunciation moment in my life and changed my life’s journey.
I became acquainted with the director of religious education at my parish, who was a sister. Gradually, through her guidance and the Holy Spirit’s inspirations, I began investigating religious life. Like Mary, when she was asked to become the mother of Jesus, I too had no way of knowing what lay ahead of me. I prayed, trusted and accepted the invitation of God and knew this was the way for me to give myself to God.
Women religious were no stranger to me. My great-aunt was a Carmelite nun. I was taught by the Vincentians at Saint Rita Elementary School and the Adrian Dominicans at Hoban-Dominican High School.
Toward the end of my senior year, I spoke with one of the sisters about religious life. She suggested I go to college first, so I enrolled at John Carroll University as one of the first coeds. After my evening job at the John Carroll switchboard, some of the guys would meet me and we would go to the hamburger place across the street.
I experienced three life-changing events during my junior year in Rome. The first one occurred during a theology class when the professor was discussing Romans 8: 22-23 and relating this passage to Teilhard de Chardin’s philosophy. “We know the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who are the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” I began thinking I am not a passive observer of life but an active co-creator of the universe with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The second experience occurred during Christmas break when we had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. After Mass, while I was walking back to our Jerusalem hotel, a woman with a small child came up to me begging for a bite of my orange. I was scared and hurried past her. I regret this now and wonder what became of them.
The third event that shaped me that year occurred in the northern part of Italy. Three of us drove to Milan to deliver a set of used encyclopedias to a poor parish school. After Mass, I was introduced to the pastor, who said “Ah Magdalena, are you the good one or the bad one?” That got me thinking about the remainder of my life. That year also made me disenchanted with the Western World’s infatuation with consumerism.
After I returned to John Carroll University for my senior year, I spoke with Fr. Owens, SJ, about my future. He asked if I was still interested in the convent. I told him I forgot about it, and with the Second Vatican Council’s (1962-65) emphasis on the laity, asked if religious life will survive. He said, “Guaranteed!” He called Sr. Bernadette Vetter and asked if there was a retreat at the Vila for those interested in religious life. A few weeks later, I boarded a bus filled with Lourdes and Magnificat High School girls.
While I was on that retreat, I realized I needed to seriously think and pray about this possibility. After a few months of meetings, prayer and discernment, I entered the HM Community on August 11, 1968.
Our good and gracious God certainly has a grand sense of humor. Who would have thought God would call me, a middle-aged southern, to minister in northeast Ohio as a Sister of the Humility of Mary. I am a native of Louisiana, where I received my undergraduate degree in elementary and special education, married my college sweetheart and began my family. I have been blessed with two wonderful children. Trey is an independent Baptist missionary serving in Kyoto, Japan. Michelle lives in South Carolina and is an announcer on a Christian radio station. I have been divorced for many years and understand that he is currently an Anglican Dominican friar, who has been ordained a priest.
In the mid-70s, we moved to South Carolina, where I completed my master’s and doctorate in educational research and measurement. I taught at the University of South Carolina and had a lucrative consulting practice. I was very involved in my local parish and in the diocese. At the same time I was feeling a call, a different call. This call was inviting me to a deeper commitment of my life. I felt that I was being called to the life of a vowed religious. After a year in discernment, the answer was clear but not exactly what I had expected. The answer was, “Not now!”
A week later I received a call from the Bishop’s office asking if I would submit my name for the position of secretary of education and evangelization and superintendent of catholic schools. It seemed that the Holy Spirit was leading me in another direction. After prayerful consideration, I joined the Bishop’s staff and enjoyed five growth-filled years in diocesan ministry.
During that time I made a new friend, who was also on the Bishop’s staff. She was from Ohio and was a Sister of the Humility of Mary. We collaborated in ministry, shared prayer and built community together. It was a wonderful opportunity to journey together in faith and for me to learn more about the life of a vowed religious. After five years, the call was, “Now!”
In 2000, I left South Carolina and headed north to enter the novitiate. During my formation years, I took classes at a local seminary, ministered to women in prison, accompanied the elderly through a Catholic Charities program and served as mission director for Humility of Mary Health Partners. In November 2005, after a year of candidacy, two years of novitiate, three years in temporary vows, an extended retreat in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and a pilgrimage to our community’s roots in France, I professed perpetual vows as a Sister of the Humility of Mary
….and God is laughing out loud!
Their joyful spirit is what attracted me to the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. As de Chardin wrote, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Although I was privileged to know three other orders of Sisters, it was the HMs which drew me.
I experienced the joy of the Sisters teaching at my parish in St. Louis, Louisville, Ohio. Then, when I later attended Canton Central Catholic (Mt. Marie division), I again saw how happy those Sisters were. So it seemed God called me to join them after graduation from high school. I entered in January 1950 and have never regretted my decision.
After the death of my last two siblings in February and March 2013, I returned to the Villa to live once again. Although I greatly miss my two sisters, Carolyn and Lillian, I am so thankful to have so many loving Sisters here at the Villa along with everything I need.
God has indeed been good to me!
When I was in fifth grade, I remember very clearly a talk we had on vocations. After that talk I knew (as clearly as a fifth grader can) that I was going to be a sister. That never changed. What I did not know was the community. Through the years, I looked at several communities, and the Sisters of the Humility of Mary was not one of them. When I was a sophomore at Lourdes Academy in Cleveland I was kneeling on the hard, wood floor praying during our retreat and began to cry and did not know why. I cried for over an hour, after which time I got up, not really knowing why I had been crying and what I was going to do next. The Lord led me to one of the sisters, who was one of my teachers, and I said to her, “I want to be a Blue Nun.” Until that moment when the words came out of my mouth I did not know. Even on my way to her I did not know why I was going. And the rest is history. I entered 53 years ago and have not for a moment been sorry. It has not all been rosy but it has all been blessed.
Every spring my sisters and I would roller skate outside. We sometimes went to St. Sebastian’s school, church and convent sidewalks because they were made from smooth slate. Whenever we got to the convent side, the dining room windows would be opened to let in the warm air. We would hear laughter and talking coming from that room. It always impressed me that the sisters were so happy, I wanted to share in that happiness, too in some way.
We also on occasion peeked into the laundry room windows and watched them roller skating. When it was winter time, the lodge across from the school, known as Forest Lodge, would be flooded. Young and old could ice skate there day or night. During our noon recess time, some of the Sisters would dawn skates and take some of the children with them to spend the recess period skating. What fun we had.
In the mornings while waiting for the children to arrive for school, each grade had to go to the lunch room and sit on long benches according to grade. And each teacher had to be there with them. When I was in the fifth Grade, my teacher, Sr. Lucy was sitting next to me one morning. She looked down on me and said, “Mary, have you ever thought of being a nun?” My response was, “No, but I’ll think about it.”
At that time we lived only a block away from school. It was school policy for those who lived close to school to go home at lunch and return in time for the school bell to ring. I remember running all the way home.
When I arrived home and went looking for my mother, I found her in the back yard hanging up the wash. I did not take the gate through the rose trellis, but rather jumped the briar bushes and yelled, “Mother, Mother I am going to be a nun when I grow up!”
She responded, “Oh, that’s nice. I’ll pray for you.” And eight years later her prayers were answered.
As a vowed member of the HM Community for the past 58 years, my question is not, “Why did I come?” but, “Why did I stay?”
I can still hear my friend repeating that question over and over again when she told me of her decision to leave the church because it was too painful for her to stay. How could I express to her that which is so profound and that which became clear to me as part of what we shared. Like Doubting Thomas, we had asked the questions together. We tore apart books on theology, Biblical exegesis and religion in culture. We made retreats and attended workshops in spirituality. With her family, we hiked the trails of the metroparks and experienced God’s beauty in the changing of the seasons. We would stand in awe at her children’s bedsides and be overwhelmed at the innocence of a sleeping child. We saw the Green mountains in Vermont and heard the roar of the waves against the Outer Banks as we sat in silence together, engulfed by the presence of our Creator. And we would return, each to our own homes, to face the commonness of everyday living, to the daily annoyances of other people’s idiosyncrasies, ours included.
Her children grew up and we grew old. The changes in the church and in my HM Community evolved exponentially. My friend is no longer a Catholic and I am still an HM. She has since celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary as I celebrate each July 17th, the anniversary of my vows. Why did I stay? Why did we remain faithful each to our commitments? It certainly wasn’t her husband’s dirty socks or the numerous community meetings I have had to endure. Why did I enter and stay in the HM Community for 58 years? Because always deep down inside of my very being, there has been a hungering, a knowing love affair with this God of ours. It is so much part of my being that to deny this would be to deny the person I am.
Why I stay is a gift. My HM Community is God’s gift to me. It is within this community that I can sense the mysteries of my life. I look at sisters, associates, staff members, volunteers and friends. I see women, common ordinary women, and in them I experience Eucharist: my hunger is fed, my thirst is quenched and the road I travel has companions.
I experience a community struggling with the questions of sinfulness and brokenness in today’s world and I am immersed in the daily dying and rising of Christ. I am reminded of the question posed at the empty tomb, “Who are you looking for?” With Mary and with my HM sisters, I now know the answer I can only reply, “My god has done great things to me.” My god has given me the gift of church and of my community. I stay because of the people who I have come in contact with in ministry. I stay because God has gifted me with my call to religious life.
As a pre-schooler growing up with St. Paul’s North Canton convent behind our home, I was fascinated by the Blue Nuns who taught school there. I often wandered over by the convent, and one day Sr. Vida saw me and befriended me. She taught me my first prayer, The Angel of God.
Later, during my school years, I loved all my HM sisters, including my favorite Sr. Mary Elizia Kelly, who taught me in 8th grade. She was dearly loved and kept in contact throughout my high school years at North Canton High School. She, together with my faith-filled wonderful parents, had much to do with my vocation as an HM sister. God’s nudge was also felt.
I was blessed in my HM journey of 56 years with sister models, such as Sisters Camilla Witchner, Evangelist, Rosemary Murray, HM classmates, Susan Corrigan and Associate Darlene Morrison. These are a few of the many positive influences which helped to make this the best vocation ever.
I grew up in a family of three boys and four girls with a religious mother and father. My mother always had a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on her dresser in her bedroom, whom I knew she prayed to often. She attended daily Mass when she was able and took us with her since we were not yet in school. I knew I wanted to enter a religious community since the third grade because my third grade teacher was a religious whom I admired. I attended Catholic grade school and Villa Maria High School. When I went to Villa Maria High School, and met the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, I knew I wanted to be one of them because of their concern for all of us at the high school. They were very hospitable and kind to everyone. After graduation, I waited a year before I entered because my mother was the bookkeeper for my father’s business and I had a younger sister of three years of age that needed attention because my mother was very busy doing the bookwork and keeping the household going. When I walked through the door at the Villa, I knew that was where I belonged. I have spent 60 years working in the community as an educator in our schools, working in the finance department and now in the transportation department taking sisters to doctor appointments. As long as the Good Lord gives me my health, I will do whatever I can to serve Him and the HM Community.
The Sisters of the Humility of Mary taught me for eight years of grade school at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic School, and for four years of high school at Mt. Marie Academy, both in Canton, Ohio. They were my models and examples, especially Sister Anne Therese Stringer, my third and fourth grade teacher.
I believed I had a vocation to the religious life, but was not sure whether I should enter right away. The war was breaking out, and I thought perhaps I should help with the war effort through the WACS or WAVES. I talked it over with Father William Lawler during confession. He said if I felt like I had a religious vocation I should go right away.
Sister Mary Benedict (Marie Shea) asked her brother to take us to the Villa so I could talk to Sister Canice, the novice mistress. When I saw the Villa I just knew this was the place for me. I entered at Villa Maria on Sept. 8, 1942, the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I received the community’s habit on July 17, 1943, and made final (perpetual) vows on July 17, 1948.