Everyone is called by God to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in a unique way. I had to discover my unique way. And now I can see how it continues to unfold in my life in community. Reflecting on my personal vocation story renews my dedication and my sense of purpose in life.
As a child I was touched by the magazines that talked and portrayed the poor around the world. I thought that missionary work would be my calling. In high school, that awareness expanded to see the needs of people all around me in daily situations. In college I was attracted further to topics of faith and poverty, so I decided to major in Theology. The opportunity to be a missionary finally came to me when I was a junior in college. I heard a sermon about the U. S. mission territory in the Appalachian Mountains. Within a few months I was on my way to Kentucky for the first time.
That first experience led to others. I was drawn to that life. The service seemed to be about accepting people and sharing the simple joys of life while trying to help people attain the basic needs of life. Though all of this deepened within me what I now see as my Franciscan calling, I still had not met the Franciscans. My faith was becoming more important to me and religious life in general was real for me, but I did not think of joining a community. I was not attracted to any of the five congregations I had had in school as teachers or with whom I lived. I loved the individuals and what they stood for but was not attracted to what I would now call the spirit of their congregations. It never crossed my mind to go looking for the right congregation. God had to do most of the work for me.
The identification with the spirit of Joliet Franciscans came at a later time when I was serving full time in Kentucky. I knew that I did not have to be a religious to be active in the mission of the Church. However, when I met the Joliet Franciscans, I knew my journey took a new step.
Three Joliet Franciscans had come to volunteer for several weeks in the summer. I was not looking to grasp their spirit, but while they prayed together, played together and gave themselves to the people and the work, they had a joy that was special. Their spirit captured mine. There was a sense of being myself with them that I could not ignore.
The rest, as they say, is history. I look back at this part of the story and one of the things that strikes me is the naturalness of each step. I felt lead by life and by the Spirit. I was eventually called to high school ministry as teacher and campus minister for many years, both in Illinois and Colorado. In that ministry I was once again discovering that call to the poor in my work with youth, organizing with my coworkers many mission trips for students and service clubs and activities. I’ve also had opportunities to serve in congregation ministry and leadership, meeting sisters from all over the world and coming to know my own sisters and associates in new ways. Francis found what was his to do. I continue to find what is mine and what is ours to do. Each day this journey in poverty, in community, in service continues. The call is ongoing.