“All the Desires of My Heart”: Vocation to Religious Life Encouraged at St. Mary’s in Hagerstown
Sister Isabelle Maina of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis of Penance, who made her first vows June 21 at Our Lady of Sorrows Monastery in Toronto, Ohio, says she began to feel the ripples of her vocation as a young at St. Mary Catholic School in Hagerstown.
She participated in Madeline Bender’s prayer group after school with about 200 other people, praying the rosary.
Sister Isabelle, 26, remembers a specific afternoon when she was in CE2. Her mother, Ethna, came to pick her up, and before they left, Bender approached.
“Our Lady has a finger on your daughter, and she has a special calling,” said the woman, whom Sister Isabelle describes as a “church grandmother.”
“As a second-grade Isabelle, of course, I was like ‘la la la la – I have no idea what she’s talking about,'” Sister Isabelle recalled. “But it meant a lot. … I didn’t know what the word ‘calling’ meant, but I think I was beginning to understand what it was like to be ‘set apart’.
She said there were other adults at St. Mary’s – including Pamela Ward, who still teaches there, and Father Collin Poston, who was assigned to St. Mary’s Parish as his first pastorate and is currently pastor at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Emmitsburg. and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Thurmont – who nurtured his love for prayer and mass.
“I have beautiful memories of contemplating the crucifix (at Sainte-Marie),” Sister Isabelle said.
The road was not perfectly straight and smooth. She described a Mount2000 retreat she took as a high school freshman; a priest treated around a crowded gymnasium at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg with the Eucharist in a monstrance.
“He stopped short in front of me,” said Sister Isabelle. “I knew religious life was something for me to consider, but I didn’t think it would be enough for me.
She had similar bouts of ambivalence as a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
“I definitely put my faith on the back burner for a while,” she said. “I was running away from my love for Jesus and filling it with love for my friends.”
She also had worldly ambitions; Sister Isabelle is an opera singer by training.
She moved forward in her life, aware that she was riding divergent paths.
“I could never be taken away from my Catholic faith,” she said. “I went to mass on Sunday, but I went to a party on Friday.”
Regarding the latter, she said, “I knew that wasn’t who I was; I forced it.
The reason, she added, was that “I didn’t believe that God was enough. I didn’t think he could satisfy my heart, especially as a woman.
A vivacious and ambitious young woman, she used an age-old strategy to get out of her enigma.
“Jesus,” she prayed in her second year, “if you want me to be your bride someday, then you must pursue me. Like any other man.
Somehow the ultimatum worked.
“That summer I fell madly in love with him,” Sister Isabelle said, “not as a distant God, but as a man.”
Sister Isabelle described a first discernment retreat – her first, and not with the Third Order Regular but with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who served in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida.
“I was surrounded by nuns for the first time,” recalls Sister Isabelle. It was in a small chapel, with a very small tabernacle. I heard the Lord speak to my heart.
“Open your horizons”: the words were typically simple and sincere but also – as they were pronounced by a young woman who was still afraid of closing herself off, a little, to the world – a little parodic.
She knew what he meant.
Sister Isabelle says she started asking questions about religious life “as a friend.” The Third Order Sisters Regular had a strong presence in Tallahassee, and one thing led to another.
“Now that I have lived the religious life for three years and am going through a fourth, I can confidently say that (Jesus) has fulfilled all the desires of my heart, and I am simply the luckiest girl in the world. world”, says Sister Isabelle.
Her profession of first vows marks the end of her novitiate period with the Third Order Regular. After taking their first vows, the sisters renew these vows for four to five years before taking their perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
“As a sister, I don’t give up my motherhood,” Sister Isabelle explained, noting that the Third Order Regular is an “active contemplative” community, with a lot of prayer. “All souls in the world are my children. Some I will meet in this life. Others are across the world and I will meet them in heaven.
Sister Isabelle is looking forward to her first assignment, which will see her move to Austria to serve as the music coordinator for the study abroad program at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
“I can make so much music!” she says. “I can’t sing on the Met stage, and I can’t wear a disguise, but I can sing for the Lord.”
Copyright © 2022 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops