Imagine if you will, my joy at delivering a healthy baby girl! Lauren Patricia was pure miracle, a gift from God, and on the day she was baptized I boldly returned her to Him. As she grew, I recognized her strength, wisdom and a keen desire to know the truth. Lauren loved to listen to/read stories of the saints at bedtime. But it wasn’t until she attended a “ Life in the Spirit Seminar” her sophomore year in high school that I noticed a significant desire to grow in her faith. Almost three years later during the summer of 2010, I noticed another change. Although she was working two jobs, Lauren would often spend part of her lunch break in Adoration.
As the summer progressed, I watched in amazement as my 19-year-old daughter researched congregations of women religious across the U.S. Often Lauren would call me to the computer to share a charism or practice that excited her. I supported her whole-heartedly, but my mother’s heart was filled with a mixture of excitement and terror.
Lauren decided to visit the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George with a friend that following October – only to discover that the friend had scheduled a visit to a different Franciscan order. So, Lauren went to the discernment retreat alone. She returned from that Veni Si Amos (Come if You Love) Retreat a different person. Her eyes told me a change had occurred in her heart as well. She told me, “I have scheduled a return visit for four days in November.”
Realizing that religious life was a real possibility, Tom and I began to ask deeper questions about the order. How did the congregation serve our Lord? (Teaching and nursing.) How often could we see her? (Two weekends a year, plus a home visit every other year) Could we call her? (No) Email? (No) Text? (No). Were these rules just for her postulancy/novitiate? (No)
Lauren started the application process in spite of our question, “Couldn’t you just finish college first?” I felt the strength of her conviction and her excitement all the while wondering what this would mean for our relationship, and her relationships with her dad, Josh (her only sibling) grandparents, cousins, etc.
Eleven months after her first visit, Lauren left her computer on her bed and her phone on her nightstand. (She had already given away most of her clothes.) The four of us drove to St. Louis and spent a night and the next day there before we drove to the Alton Franciscan’s Convent to drop her off. Leaving her that evening was a gut- wrenching experience. I had come to trust the sisters, but did we really know them? It felt like a great door had closed, with me on one side and Lauren on the other.
Weekly letters were a much-needed point of connection – both those I wrote and those I received. Hearing her voice during her phone calls (every six weeks) was like a soothing balm and weekend visits, although very structured (which felt somewhat artificial), gave me the luxury of extended time with our daughter. Another source of comfort was getting to know the other sisters and their beautiful families.
Certainly a learning experience, definitely a sacrifice. I consoled myself by reasoning (1) that this order had been forming young women since the late 1920’s. They knew what they were doing and that the sacrifices that all of us were making would bear good fruit. And, (2) Lauren was more herself and more appreciated than perhaps she had ever been. Isn’t that what a mother dreams of? I resolved to trust, and keep praying.
Lauren was formally received into the community after that first postulant year. I know that every Mass is a foretaste of heaven, but I had never felt heaven so near. Our veiled daughter, walked down the aisle and heaven shone from her face. The sisters making final profession lay prostrate before our Lord while the Litany of Saints blessed them. Lauren was made new and had a new name – Sr. M. Gemma. In order to respect her as God’s new creation, I quickly switched to calling her Sr. M. Gemma. (Perhaps too quickly, lately I have felt the need to call her Lauren and she has likewise felt that need to be called by her baptismal name, in private.)
Two years of novitiate passed quickly (maybe because I returned to part time work). I watched Sr. M. Gemma became more and more joyful, and confident in the person God created. Her letters and our visits told me that her sisters knew her and loved her deeply. The rhythms of their prayers and community life were blessing her abundantly. She was able to articulate her Catholic faith and morals in such an inviting manner. How could I not rejoice?! In August of 2014 Sr. M. Gemma made first vows – a beautiful surrender in a sea of love.
Well, loss/grief was a season I finally had to deal with. I missed my daughter, and I was angry. I had some catching up to do and it took many nights of prayer, journaling and tears in front of the Blessed Sacrament. My husband drew me closer and upheld me with his love. I also sought the help of a Catholic counselor (who happens to be a member of a Benedictine Order). All these efforts helped me to move through denial towards health and wholeness. Nor do I discount the prayers of my daughter and her sisters, life saving prayer. I know I will need to continue to plum the depths of my emotions as my daughter deepens her surrender to her loving Spouse. I praise God for this opportunity to deepen my own surrender to His loving plan, and be a part of this supernatural call. Sometimes I just praise Him through tears.
Sr. M. Gemma was recently home for a 10-day visit. I think I learned something during this 4th visit. On previous visits I worked hard to make everything – every visit with family or friends, meal, game, interaction, outing, etc. – PERFECT. Now, that puts a bit of pressure on all concerned. J This time I journaled about the upcoming visit hoping it would be an ordinary visit. You know what? It was. Not every minute was planned which allowed us the freedom to just be, to hang out, waste a little time. Best visit ever. I’m learning.
Any parent can tell you their child is also their teacher. Sr. M. Gemma is teaching me how to love Jesus more deeply in the Eucharist. Through her example I have also come to love time spent with Jesus in Adoration. And, her letters teach by example how joyful faith is lived day by day in service and humility. She often shares books or spiritual insight that meet questions of mine that I have yet to voice. Are we really separate, she and I? Or, are we moving towards deeper union with each other as members of the Body of Christ? Both are true; it depends on the day. By the grace of God I hope I can continue to grow through the losses and gains of mothering Sr. M. Gemma.