Recently, I was reading a collection of vocation stories written by priests from our diocese. It made me think about my own vocation to religious life. As I reflected, I realized: Christ “proposed” to me when I was five. He invited me to be His bride at that tender age.
Of course, at the time, those are not the words that I would have put around it. What I experienced back then was simply a strong desire to be a Sister like my first-grade teacher — not because I wanted to be a teacher like her or dress like her. There was something about her and that something — or more accurately, that Someone — was drawing me. My heart was being drawn by Christ, to give myself totally to Him.
That desire stayed with me all through grade school. At the time, it was a common practice in Catholic elementary schools for any visiting priests or religious to ask any class they were visiting if anyone was interested in entering religious life. In first grade, we all raised our hands in response! But by my last year of grade school, I was the only one still raising my hand. The next year found me entering the order that taught at our school, as an aspirant (one who is looking to join).
At thirteen, I traveled across the country, far from where I grew up, in order to attend a private girls’ school where I boarded as a part of a smaller group of girls, the aspirants. This was quite a change for me because I come from a very small town, lived on a farm, and my best friends were my five younger brothers. Up until then, I had never traveled farther than a couple of hours from home, so it was quite an adjustment to find myself living right outside a very large metropolitan city, far from my parents and brothers and having to travel home alone for the holidays — an 18-hour bus trip.
This all happened in the throes of post-Vatican II upheaval in many religious orders, including the order I was aspiring to join. Through God’s mysterious providence (which I could only see in hindsight) I decided to leave after my sophomore year. (There was a significant decline in the order, not just numerically, but spiritually as well.) Upon leaving, I pretty much closed the door to that path for my life.
I dated in high school and college. Yet I would still periodically feel this tug at my heart from the Lord, but I had no clue what to do about it. During my junior year of college, I was having a conversation with a friend, a guy who was trying to discern between marriage — he was engaged at the time — and breaking the engagement in order to join a celibate brotherhood. As we were talking and he was sharing his desires for leaving all behind for God alone, it was as if that door that I had closed in high school was flung wide open again. I found myself saying internally: “This is what I want to do!” From the depths of my heart I was longing to be God’s alone, to be His.
I knew this is what I wanted, but was it what the Lord wanted as well? I spent months praying, talking, discerning, trying to seek His will. I still didn’t feel like I knew what it was; the only thing I knew was my desire to live my life consecrated to Him alone was consuming me. One day as I was praying in the student chapel, asking the Lord again what was His will, I sensed Him saying in my heart: “You can trust the desires in your heart and say yes to them.” I knew this was His answer to my prayers, and I knew what my reply to Him was: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
A couple of years ago when I celebrated twenty-five years of vowed life, I couldn’t help thinking not just of those words that I had sensed in my heart from the Lord many years before, but also some words He spoke to my heart around the time of my 20th anniversary of profession: “I am yours and you are Mine.” The desire He placed in my heart at five is still there 50 years later. It has grown and still consumes me, yet I know that His love for me is even more ardent. I have never regretted saying Yes to His proposal!
Sister Dorcee Clarey belongs to the Servants of God’s Love. This account of her vocation story first appeared at the order’s website and is republished with permission.