1985 Final Vow retreat group in Napa Valley, CA. Group assembled from all over the world for this retreat.
Prior to making final vows in 1987, I was asked to make a 30-day retreat in the Napa Valley with 50 other individuals mostly my age. That was a fantastic experience that I have appreciated all of my religious life. Imagine being with 50 people your age all engaged in a similar commitment, sharing for a month your dreams and aspirations. I was at the Christian Brothers Retreat Center in Napa from the middle of June until the middle of July that year. I am still in contact with a few of the people who attended. It was a very exciting experience and one that really inspired all of us as we prepared for final vows.
By 1987 I was teaching full time at our community high school, St. Mary of the Valley and loving every moment of it. The youth who attended were 99% excellent students who were capable of great things. They might not have thought so at the time, some of them, but they were, and they have gone on to become excellent citizens and contributors to society. I can say I have positive memories of all of the youth I taught and came into contact with.
Imagine being called to a life/vocation where your goal is to make Christ known to others and you are constantly inspired by those you come into contact with! Religious life has been such a blessing to me in so many ways. I thank God often for that call, the commitment to live it out and for the gifts He has given.
1983-84 School Year, Teacher at St. Mary of the Valley High School (Later to be named Valley Catholic)
I had already graduated from Oregon State University prior to entering the convent in February of 1980. I had my teaching degree and was ready to start. I was fortunate the community had a school system, St. Mary of the Valley at the time and was later named Valley Catholic when we went co-ed in 1991.
Life of Christ was the main class I taught, however, I also taught art, stagecraft, photography and yearbook. Coaching softball was a fun after school activity in my early years, quickly replaced with administrative duties in the near future.
I cannot express the joys of working with youth in a school situation. The personalities were delightful to work with and I was at a perfect stage in my life to do that work. You have no idea the impact you may have on young people, so striving to bring your very best self to work each day is extremely important.
I did not always succeed in bringing my best self and I am sure most teachers will agree. But striving to do it every day helps make it happen more often than not.
There are various ways religious communities live out their prayer lives. The rituals of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon include Morning Prayer also known as The Divine Office and the Prayer of the Church. This prayer is said in common each morning before Mass and again each evening as the day comes to an end.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows morning prayer where we are fed by the Word of God and Body of Christ as we prepare for our daily ministry. It is a fortifying way to start each day and I am always impressed by the consistency of the Sisters. We are also asked to get an additional hour of contemplative prayer in during the day or evening.
“Prayer is being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who, we know, loves us – Saint Teresa of Calcutta
My Mom and my Grandmother were the two biggest influencers in my religious life. My Mom was a convert to Catholicism and had been raised in the Church of the Brethren in Indiana. Many of my family members from my Mother’s side come from various Protestant faiths and I have a lot of respect for their devoutness. They are great people and I love them very much. I make a trip back to Indiana to visit every year.
I remember being a little girl and staying overnight at Grandma’s on a few occasions. I remember seeing her go to her room to go to bed and she got down on her knees and prayed the Rosary. That image is still in my mind and I am sure I will carry it with me all my life. My Mom, likewise, would read to us at night and made an effort to find good Christian reading material like the Bible. I remember when she read a series from the Crusades. Mom and I often talked about religious topics.
If you read one of my earlier short stories about the Holy Names Sisters teaching us our summer religion classes in Grass Valley, you will know I had set my mark to do what they were doing. Mom knew I was interested in religious life as a young girl and I am amazed and grateful that she did so much to make sure I had the opportunity to see what it was all about. When I was invited to a vow ceremony for example, she would make sure I got to go and often drove me the 3-hour journey to get there.
Looking back, my Mom was nurturing a vocation and she seemed to be doing innately. She had no training in vocations, but the love of a Mother does those things. She wanted me to know what opportunities existed for my life.
Two and a half years after entering religious life with the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, I wrote a handwritten letter to the Superior General, Sister Fidelis Kreutzer to ask permission to make first vows. My request was granted and on August 15, 1982, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, my friends and family joined me for a very special day in my life.
These temporary vows, commonly called first vows, are canonically binding for a particular length of time, often ranging from one to three years. During this time, the sisters engage in ministry and live in community. At the end of this period, the vows can be renewed.
After my first vows, I continued to teach at St. Mary of the Valley High School (Later named Valley Catholic). I was still taking classes at PSU and classes in Formation. Life was great. I was getting into the groove of education and I was very busy. I enjoyed learning and I enjoyed teaching. Life of Christ was the religion class I taught, and sophomores took my class. I started helping Sister Catherine Hertel on her high school retreats. I was quickly getting involved in activities and I liked it. The students at the school were great people from wonderful families. I felt blessed to work there.
During my canonical year, that streak of fun came out in me and I couldn’t help myself. I had tasks that required me to go between the men’s shop and the garage. There was a garage door opener in the men’s shop and I often had it in my apron as I took wood back and forth. One day, one of the elderly sisters was standing near the garage door and I showed her how I could kick the drainpipe and the garage door would go up. Actually, I was clicking the clicker in my pocket. She was thoroughly amazed. After I had my fun, I went on my way just as one of the more boisterous Sisters drove up to the garage. Sister Thomas called me back to show Sister Elma what I could do. I was all too happy to go back and do it again. I kicked on the drainpipe and up went the garage door. Kicked it again and down it went. Again, thoroughly incredulous at this demonstration.
About that time the men came out of the shop and Sr. Elma motioned them over. She encouraged me to show them what I could do. I kicked the drainpipe and up went the door. The head of maintenance kicked it and down it went. He kicked it again up it went, kicked it again started to go down then overheated. Then he kicked in between all of the garage doors (6) to see if there were any similar issues. Then he started talking jack hammer to open up the area behind the drainpipe to see what was going on. Uh oh…I waited till everyone left then I went out to the shop and told Dave I had the clicker in my pocket and was fooling the Sisters. He hung his head, didn’t have to say a thing, and I felt bad I had sort of humiliated him.
OK time to self-report. I went to Sr. Fidelis and told her what I had done. She of course laughed and enjoyed the story and told me not to worry about it. Whew! The story made the rounds. About two weeks later, one of the Sisters was seen kicking the drainpipe trying to get into the garage. Sr. Thomas saw this happen and told me about it. Sister Dismaria had been watching from second floor of the convent out the window and surmised the garage door would go up if you kicked the drainpipe. She did not hear the rest of the story and figured it would not have been fixed yet. She just couldn’t seem to find the right place to kick!
I talked about “Formation” in an earlier piece as a time of discernment before making final vows with the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon. This process can take seven and a half years in our community. After finishing six months minimum as a “candidate”, I wrote a handwritten letter to ask to become a novice with the community. This then began a two year “novitiate” and for the first time, we were then referred to as “Sister.”
The first year of novitiate is generally referred to as a “Canonical Year.” This year is dedicated to prayer, studying all aspects of the vows and really learning about religious life and the unique charism or spirit of the community. The second year of the novitiate is often spent in furthering education or ministry. In my case, I entered after college but went on to get a fifth year at Portland State while teaching part time at the high school and engaging in formation classes at the convent.
I clearly remember the gift of my canonical year as I had the time to think, pray, work, study and come to really know the community. Some interesting aspects of the year included ringing the electric bell which reminded us hourly to say a prayer and turn our thoughts to God. The switch for the bell was located in chapel and I had to remember to ring it on the hour. I found a simple egg timer to remind me as it was well before I phones with timers!
Canonically, most of our time was to be spent at the Motherhouse and we could make few trips outside to do things. It was a year set apart, a special year and not one that was to be in competition with the distractions of the world. I did not listen to music, watch TV, or go to movies that year.
I cleaned the tables in the grade school cold and hot lunchrooms after their lunch each day which gave me an opportunity to meet people who taught or worked at the grade school. My classmate and I also led a rosary every day at 1:00 to pray for vocations to religious life. The elder Sisters would join us in the chapel.
We learned all aspects of setting up for Mass each morning. The Sacristan would teach us everything about the liturgical seasons, the rites and rituals and it was our job to carry it out. It was very interesting to me and I appreciated this knowledge.
There were many projects we were kept busy with during that year along with formation classes, writing papers on the vows and deepening our prayer lives. By the time the canonical year was finished, we had a sound foundation about religious life, the sisters, prayer, the ministries of our community and much about ourselves.
Before officially entering a community, a woman will spend 6 months to a few years while she and the membership get to know one another. Our community calls this stage “candidacy,” while when I entered it was called “postulancy.”
I entered in February of 1980 and wrote a handwritten letter prior to August 15, 1980 to request admission into the novitiate. Sister Fidelis Kreutzer was Superior General (leader) of our community at that time and was a very special person to me.
As a “candidate” I spent the next 6 months helping out wherever needed, was given a schedule of projects to accomplish and started at the very basic level of getting to know what this life was all about. I started wearing a black skirt and a white blouse. I did not wear a veil and I was not called, “Sister.”
I had a classmate, who joined with me and we were a team figuring things out together. She had just graduated from high school and me from college. Little did we know the exciting things that lay ahead for us. I was ready!
A former student texted me the question, “What qualified you for work at Boeing and why did you choose religious life over Boeing?”
Great question and one that many people in my situation may struggle with. Returning to that religious experience I wrote about earlier this week where I realized the importance of and shortness of a life, I reflected with Sr. John Therese about my decision to go to Boeing. In my mind I knew there was the possibility that once I got wrapped up in work and life at Boeing, the convent would become a thought of the past. Was it worth risking the opportunity and desire I had always longed for, to live a religious life? It did not take much wisdom from Sr. John Therese for me to see the value in making a decision to enter the convent.
The thought of working for Boeing as a college graduate was very enticing to me. My degree in Industrial Arts with studies in mass production and process management were particularly desired at that time and they contacted several of us at the University to consider working for them. I had completed the extensive background check and was ready to go! Fortunately, I made that trip to the convent.
I have often reflected on how grateful I have been to have worked at Valley Catholic, CYO and Camp Howard over the years. I have always considered the kind of work I do to be “heart work”. A work that fulfils the heart and gives meaning to life. God is never outdone in his generosity to us or the plans he has for our lives. We just have to be willing to trust him and say “yes”.