Kate Gilday joins the Vocation Brisbane team in 2016. She brings to her role as Field Officer a deep passion for vocations and journeying with other young women as they discern their calling. Part of her role this year will be a "Convent Crawl", a journey around the Archdiocese, visiting the many Religious and Consecrated Orders and Congregations and hearing their stories. You can follow the #conventcrawl here on our Going blog, and on facebook and youtube.
The first question I ever asked a Religious sister was “What kind of face wash do you use?”
I was fourteen, and flabbergasted that anyone could look so luminous without makeup. The sister in question laughingly responded that a bar of soap was the sole product of her skin care regime.
Without exception, every nun I’ve met has looked at least ten years younger than she actually was. Sister Elisapeta Tevaga, sister superior of the Sisters of Nazareth at Wynnum, is no exception. Although she could pass for a fresh-faced postulant, Sister Elisapeta will next year celebrate the 30th anniversary of her first profession of vows.
As she picks me up from the train station, Sister Elisapeta asks if I wouldn’t mind running an errand with her on our way back to the convent. We stop briefly outside a small home and I wait in the car as Sister runs in to deliver the leftovers of their Sunday lunch to a family who, she explains, “don’t have very much.”
This small act of generosity, I learn over the next four hours, is simply second nature to the close-knit community of sisters, who all possess that rare combination of open-handed hospitality and self-forgetful humility I’ve come to see as characteristic of authentically lived religious life.
“People experience what you are,” says Sister Mary Lawrence Gibson, who entered the Sisters of Nazareth in 1962, “You never even stop to think about it, because you just keep receiving God’s grace all the time.”
Although the Sisters live busy lives nursing and caring for the elderly, their days are centred upon the Blessed Sacrament.
“Jesus is the foundation, the centre, of your vocation,” Sister Elisapeta tells me, “Some people begin discerning saying ‘I like the habit, I like community life, I like the work they’re doing’. And those things are important, but love for Jesus always needs to to be the heart.”
As always, when I meet Religious sisters, I’m eager to know their vocation stories.
“I didn’t go looking for my vocation,” Sister Anastasia Ho smiles, “I simply kept talking to Jesus. I remember when I was back in Vietnam, I would go into the church on Saturday mornings to clean – it was very dusty – and simply talk honestly with the Lord. He did the rest.”
“When you realise that God is love and that He will always be love, everything else falls into place.”
“We all want to live a life that we’ll be happy and content with, but sometimes we have no idea what that is. God will give you the grace; He will guide you and show you the means, because He is love.”
I explain to the Sisters a little bit about my own story, and how I’ve ended up on a #conventcrawl to open up the discussion about religious life with young women throughout the Archdiocese of Brisbane. Their joy is palpable.
“We want to help and be of assistance to any young person discerning their vocation – even if it’s not to our order. Whatever decision they make, it’s our privilege to help young people eventually get where they need to be.”
Their advice to me, and to every discerning heart, is to focus on the Lord: “Do anything you can to get to know God better. It’s like any relationship: the more you know the other person, the more you want to stick with them.”
“Get involved with like-minded people. There are so many things happening within the Church where you can find people you can talk to about what you’re thinking.”
“Taking a leap into the unknown can make you feel very alone – so find a sister or a priest you can talk to. Never be afraid to open up and share what the Lord is doing in your heart. From there, things grow.”
My camera runs out of battery far sooner than I’d have liked, but I’m too enraptured by the sisters’ stories to leave.
Sister Mary Lawrence is right – people experience what you are. In the three women sitting around the dining table with me, I experience true Brides of Christ; women on fire for a life lived to the full.
“I wouldn’t choose any other life,” Sister Elisapeta tells me, “Even on the days when there are struggles or I’m unhappy or annoyed. I know Him. I know Him who I am following, and I know who I am because of Him.”
My own vocation journey is still young, but I pray that I’ll be able to say the same every day of my life: I have found Him whom my soul loves. (Song of Songs 3:4)
The Sisters of Nazareth are based at Wynnum, where they help run Nazareth house, a care facility for the elderly. In addition to their apostolic work as nurses, the sisters live a life of prayer and community, drawing upon the Rule of St Augustine to strengthen their response to God’s call on their lives. Learn more about the Sisters on their website: http://www.sistersofnazareth.com/australasia/houses/19/nazareth-house-wynnum.
If you are interested in finding out more about #conventcrawl or getting in touch with a Religious sister, please contact Vocation Brisbane.