Sister Deborah Gaughan knew in first grade that she wanted to be a Sister. Her journey took many unexpected turns, but she made it.
Sister Deborah refers to herself as a “middle child” with two older brothers, an older sister and a set of younger twin sisters. She experienced a strong Catholic upbringing – her mother is Polish, her father, now deceased, was Irish. Gaughan’s family life was not an easy one with more than a few challenges along the way. Sister Deborah attended Catholic grade school and a public high school and was bullied in both. High school was particularly hard as her commitment to her Catholic faith was the reason behind the bullying.
Sister Deborah graduated from Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. It was during this period in her life that she realized the family challenges she has been part of during her earlier years. The realization caused her to doubt her faith and she left the Catholic Church. She visited churches of other faiths – Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist – but nothing filled the need. Even with a good job, a condo and a car, there was something missing. Sister Deborah decided to try the Catholic Church again. If you ever meet her, you will notice she wears a small angel pin. She believes angels are always with us. As Sister Deborah walked into St. Mary Church in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, she noticed that there were angels everywhere in the church. “I was home!” she says.
As Sister Deborah looked through the church bulletin, she read a notice that asked “Did God forget you?” followed by a phone number. With nothing to lose, she called the number which belonged to the parish deacon, who was in charge of RCIA. The deacon asked if she had received all of the sacraments and Sister Deborah responded that she had. Although not an RCIA candidate in the true sense, she was allowed to go through all the classes anyway. At the end what she found was a loving, forgiving, personal God. At the end of the Easter Vigil that year, Sister Deborah recommitted herself to the Catholic Church in front of everyone in attendance.
Sister Deborah found herself getting involved again. She met Sarah, the youth minister of the parish, who got Sister Deborah involved working with young adults. She met Sarah’s husband, Paul, who helped her to move ahead even further by getting involved at Holy Family parish in Inverness, Illinois. The pastor, Father Pat Brennan, was the only priest in the parish and asked for the parishioners help in making Holy Family a vibrant parish. Sister Deborah became involved in youth ministry participating in retreats, fundraising and attending events of every kind. She enjoyed working with this age group. She eventually became the parish’s Young Adult leader and also served on the Young Adult Advisory Board for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The time had now come for Sister Deborah to make yet another turn in her journey. She heard God’s voice. He asked, “When are you going to do what I asked?”
Sister Deborah first confided in a friend with whom she worked that she wanted to be a Sister. Her friend was happy for her. Sister Deborah began her search. There were so many Congregations of Women Religious. Which one to choose? It was all so confusing. She shared with her friends, Sarah and Paul, who responded, “What took you so long? We knew.” “Why didn’t you say something?” Sister Deborah asked. And they answered, “You needed to know.” Paul immediately helped with the search. Sister Deborah visited over 50 congregations and had settled on one and was about to sign all the papers, when she was told that due to her earlier depression diagnosis, the fit would not be a good one.
At that point, Sarah put Sister Deborah in touch with Sister Dolores Zemont, currently the Joliet Franciscan president, but was ministering in a parish at that time. Sister Dolores gave Deborah’s information to Sister Barbara Kwiatkowski, who was then serving as the Joliet Franciscans’ Vocation Director. Sister Barbara met Sister Deborah at a Panera Bread café in Buffalo Grove, Illinois where she was living. She told Sister Barbara everything. Sister Barbara assured her, “We don’t judge.” Over the next year, Sister Barbara mentored Sister Deborah through prayer and suggested reading. She spent time getting to know many of the Joliet Franciscan Sisters. Sister Barbara brought her to the Motherhouse Chapel on the grounds of the University of St. Francis in Joliet. As she sat in the chapel, Sister Deborah asked God, “Is this the place for me?’ She needed a sign – a big one! And a rainbow appeared in the pew in which she was sitting. IT was nowhere else in the chapel, just where she was sitting. It was the most beautiful rainbow she had ever seen. It brings her happiness when she thinks about it.
Sister Deborah made her first vows in 2012 and renewed them in 2015 while she finished working towards her Master’s in Social Work. About religious life, she says, “You have to want this every day. You have to give up what you had planned and follow God’s plan for you. God has a plan for me. That’s where I will go.”