The story of God’s extraordinary work in an ordinary human life is a mystery—words can only tell a fraction of the story. In my case, the voice of the Lord was not heard in any dramatic way, but rather like Elijah, through gentle, persistent breezes—so gentle that it took me years to notice their Divine source. My journey to the convent was primarily an intellectual one. I had a healthy curiosity about the world and a desire to experience all it had to offer: education, adventure, friendships, travel and work. Through all my worldly pursuits, God spoke to me through what I love most—ideas and work.
My upbringing in a devoutly Catholic family prepared me to hear God’s call and respond to it. My family is from Goa, a Portuguese part of India evangelized by St. Francis Xavier in the 16th century, where a strong Catholic identity remains the hallmark of the culture. My grandparents and parents journeyed from India to Kenya, Uganda, England, and Wales before settling in Canada where I was born. I am the youngest of four and had a prayerful, joyful family life marked by daily Mass and daily rosary. While my parents never explicitly spoke of religious vocations, through their actions, they showed us that the most important thing in life was a relationship with God.
I had a keen interest in politics, religion and culture, and from an early age was deeply disturbed by the unrestricted state-funded abortion license in Canada. I was active in a pro-life youth group in high school and Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Life convinced me that the defense of human life was the most pressing issue of our time. I studied history and politics, then started a job with the University of Toronto. While I thought my professional future might be in education or politics, I had chosen and settled on a specific career path. After a year in Toronto, through a stunning experience of God’s grace, I was offered the job of my dreams to work for the Holy See (Vatican) at the United Nations in New York.
I was privileged to represent the Church at several major UN conferences and participate in daily discussions on human rights, health issues and international development. My work allowed me to travel, enjoy the cultural delights of New York, and meet people from all over the world who became friends and mentors. I had a deepening sense of God’s hand on my life and wondered what He wanted of me. At the same time, I was reluctant to make any commitments, personally or professionally. I had accepted the modern mantra of keeping all my options open indefinitely and viewed commitment as restrictive rather than liberating.
Although I loved my job, I was dismayed at the refusal of most politicians to discuss the deeper moral questions underlying politics. Politics attempts to answer how human beings ought to live together, but the more important question of who is part of the human community is rarely discussed openly and sincerely through fruitful dialogue. I saw many battles between the culture of life and the culture of death played out very starkly at the United Nations. Human beings, especially the unborn, the disabled, and the poor were frequently spoken of as problems to be eliminated rather than human beings endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. With time, I became less interested in political activity and more interested in identifying the moral underpinnings required to foster a healthy political system.
I had heard of the Sisters of Life before I came to New York and was inspired by their charism. Through my love of books, I first visited their convent to use their extensive pro-life library, and after that encounter remained intrigued about them. I felt drawn to pray with them and began volunteering at heir Manhattan convent. Although I was attending daily Mass and prayed frequently, I was living a very fast-paced life, which prevented me from hearing God’s promptings. Every time I entered the oasis of silence at Sacred Heart convent, I experienced a mysterious peace that disappeared as soon as I stepped back onto the streets of Manhattan. The larger vocational question of what to do with my life remained just that—an interesting theoretical question to which there were endless possibilities. But around the same time, my older brother, who was in the seminary studying to be a priest, said something that stayed with me: one mission in life is better than a hundred options.
During the summer of 2002, three events pointed me more clearly toward my vocation. I attended a three-week seminar in Poland on the thought of Pope John Paul II. His proposal of Christian humanism as the answer to the 20th century’s attacks on human life prompted me to consider my own response to his call to build a culture of life. The Pope identified culture as the driving force of history, not politics or economics. As noble as a vocation to politics might be, I understood that the more urgent battle was a spiritual one—one of prayer that would heal our wounded culture, one heart at a time. At my brother’s priestly ordination right after I returned from Poland, I saw a profound joy in him resulting from his total surrender to God’s will. I desired that same serenity, and finding my mission in life rather than continuing to explore a hundred options became attractive to me. The next week, I attended World Youth Day in Toronto. In a crowd of 800,000 people, I felt the Pope was speaking directly to me when he told young people attracted to religious life not to be afraid to “walk the royal road of the cross.”
After that summer, I knew my heart had been touched by God’s love in a singular way, and that it was up to me to respond. During the next year, the call I had felt at World Youth Day persisted and I knew I had to slow down my life enough to carefully listen to God in prayer. It took me another year to actively discern the call to the Sisters of Life. On both the discernment retreats I made with the Sisters in 2004, I experienced “the peace the world cannot give.” I knew that I didn’t need to explore any more options in life or even other religious orders. “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” was the theme of the first World Youth Day I attended in Denver in 1993, just before I started college. Since I entered the Sisters in life in 2005, I can truly say that I have found that abundance of life promised by Jesus in the gospel of St. John.
Sister John Mary is a sister with the Sisters of Life. This version of her vocation story was originally published at the Sisters of Life website and is republished with permission.