I want to start by saying the process of my daughter exploring and eventually entering religious life as a consecrated women has been one of the most blessed, and challenging stages of my life. It has taken me through a multitude of emotional, thought provoking, and life changing situations, that I never thought possible in such a few short years.
This journey was not just my daughter’s, but became mine as well. It asked of me, a level of unconditional love and support not yet required of me with her up to that point. It also asked me to evaluate my life both spiritually, and secularly and question where I was, and where my life should go from there.
So as you read on please know there is truthful raw emotion in the beginning of my journey that does arrive to an incredible level of joy and happiness in present day.
I saw the possibility of my daughter’s path to religious life years before she did. In fact, she did not remember me asking her “Have you ever thought about religious life”, one night in high school, a full 4 years before she would explore this path on her own. I can also now tell you, I had absolutely no clue what it would mean for her, our family, and me when I asked that question.
I can remember the night of our discussion about her entrance, after she asked for “Papers” (the start of the formal entry process), and I always will. Every time I ponder this event I still get quite emotional. We were standing in the kitchen and I asked Lauren, “So what does this mean, what will happen to us and our relationship?” I don’t know if she didn’t truly know at that point, or had not asked questions of that sort of her community, but the result was not a lot of answers for me.
As I stood there with what felt like a lump of glass shards in my throat, I tried to continue the conversation. As Lauren explained to me her call from God, and that she needed to answer it, I was in total shock at what was being asked of her, and me as her father. I know most people are aware of the concept of a call from God, and I certainly felt that I had a cognitive understanding, but in my heart of hearts I was clueless. However at that moment when I was in some of the most excruciating pain I had felt, I looked into Lauren’s face and saw absolute calm, and absolute peace! She became my consoler.
It was at that moment that I knew that this was not about me, but a true divine calling that my daughter was courageous enough to embrace. In my fog of shock, I received a moment of clarity where I knew this was about the unconditional love and support of a father, and that father was me!
A few short months later the Sister’s of St. Francis the Martyr of St. George formally accepted her for entrance in September. So she would finish the 2nd semester of her sophomore year of college, came home for the summer and then would leave for the convent.
Unbeknownst to us when this process had taken shape, we had already celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter as a family for the last time. Although we had suspicions as we were going through that period, we didn’t know, and didn’t ask. There were times during this transitional phase that we were trying to live normally, all the while having an overarching feeling that we were doing things for the last time. In the end you just have to live life, as you can’t make everything a special occasion.
As you can imagine taking her to the convent was a difficult day, and leaving the property was filled with tears and heartache. I also want you to know that by this time I had come to know many of the sisters of her community and had learned that they genuinely loved and respected her, and truly appreciated her for who she is. This was and is an incredible gift, to know that the sisters have embraced my daughter this way.
In my daughter’s (Sr. M. Gemma, FSGM) community the initial formation process is three years in length consisting of a Postulant year, and two years in the Novitiate. This was a time of transition and learning not only for my daughter, but also for my family and me as well. This is when I truly came to understand what our life would look like, for the next three years.
I found it helpful to look at short periods of time that I referred to as the “New Normal”. During this time we discovered when we could see her, when we could write to her, when she could write to us and when we could have a phone call. So armed with the knowledge of these intervals I set my calendar, both literally, and emotionally, to establish how I would maintain and grow the relationship with my daughter. This starts a rhythm, a back and forth flow of communications and visitation. The three years of the Novitiate has its own rules, and processes, that in her community change somewhat when she takes vows and becomes a Professed Sister.
Sr. Gemma took three vows, the vows of poverty, virginal chastity, and obedience. I often joked, “My daughter took vows, I didn’t.“ That is not what I believe today. I believe that in my unconditional love and support of my daughter, and honoring who she is as a consecrated religious, I have embraced the vows of poverty, and obedience especially. What I mean by this is, I have taken on the poverty of not seeing my daughter, not speaking with her when ever I want, having the majority of communication via “snail mail”, not having her home for the holidays, etc. I have accepted obedience to the community by adhering to their guidelines for contact, visitation, and rules. I will tell you that as her father I’m always looking for the loophole!
Over the years Sr. M. Gemma has moved from the Novitiate, taken first vows and has been renewing them annually. God willing, she will take final vows before too long. She has been sent back to school and will complete her BS in Nursing soon, and serve her community of sisters and the local public in their hospital.
Since her entrance I have witnessed the blossoming of my daughter as a woman, and a sister. I have seen her discover the woman, and sister that God has called her to be. I have come to know and love many of the sisters of her community and feel deeply, that they are my family too! As they say a “Dad can never have enough daughters!”
My wife, son, and I have progressed through this phase of our lives differently processing things in our own way, and in our own time. I have come to realize that the dreams I had for my daughter, though different than what I envisioned, have come true. I always taught Sr. Gemma to set goals and follow her dreams, I taught her to never compromise, I taught her that anything was possible, and never give up! I wanted for my daughter a life of happiness, health, love, fulfillment, and to discover who God wanted her to be.
While these elements are being realized, the dream I had formulated for her as her father has changed, a dream that was never guaranteed. I am blessed by my daughter, blessed by her community, blessed by her vocation, blessed by her sacrifice, and blessed by her love and prayers!
A humble and blessed father,