"So how did you come to this decision?"
Buckle up: it's a vocation story, and not a short one
In my last post, I shared the joyful news that I was accepted into the Daughters of St. Paul as a postulant.1 Since then, one of the most common questions that I’ve been receiving in this time is how I got to this point, or some variation of it. What led you to this decision? How did you decide to do this? It’s a really good question, and one that doesn’t have a simple and snappy answer. I usually respond with, “How much time do you have?”
So today, I hope you have some time, as I would love to share with you this story here:
In the summer of 2018, I thought that I was living not only ‘my best life’ but also the life God had planned for me. I started a very prestigious national radio internship with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). I had just come out of a great academic semester and was in great physical and mental shape. About a month into the internship, I started dating a fellow intern and that seemed to be going well. It felt like God was finally answering all my prayers. Life was going great.
That is, until it wasn’t.
As the summer continued on, the dream of working in journalism was starting to turn into a nightmare and the relationship went south really quickly. By the time the fall semester rolled around, I was very unsure about pretty much everything: whether or not I should change programs (again, for the third time), whether or not I even wanted to work in journalism anymore, and most painfully, whether or not I would ever find someone who would love me for me.
Fall turned to winter, and my advisor bluntly told me that I had too many credits. What could I do with my time instead? she asked me. The thought of working casually with the CBC made my head hurt, but I knew that not doing anything would look even worse.
As it happened, Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) was running a mission trip for alumni to World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, which was in January. Despite being nowhere near graduation, I applied for the mission. And thanks be to God, I was accepted.
The thing about World Youth Days is that they are traditionally held in the summer months. January was unusual, but from the moment I was accepted, I knew that something special was about to take place.
Since it was at the beginning of the year, I had a “new year, new me” approach going into it. I wanted to give God a blank cheque on my life, or as close to it as possible. I add that caveat because in hindsight, I was holding a little back from Him. I wanted to know His will for me, as long as I had some say in it. So this “blank cheque” sounded a little like this: “God, please show me what my vocation is… as long as it’s marriage.”
And hey: I was going on an international pilgrimage for young Catholics from around the world. If we assume about half of that population is men, and half of the men are eligible, single men, we should have no problem. Right?
I was mostly joking, but I think deep down I was a little serious. After coming out of a deeply disappointing relationship and wasting a lot of time on dating apps, I wanted to be more intentional about pursuing a relationship that would lead to marriage.
In the end, I left Panama feeling deeply inspired and struck by a vision of what seemed to be my own wedding.2 The vision was so profound that I took it as a sign that marriage is what I was called to. But to my disappointment, I wasn't leaving with a special guy.
Because I took the semester off, I returned to Vancouver with a lot of time to contemplate and reflect on the whole experience. Immediately upon my return, I felt compelled to do two things which would later prove to be extremely beneficial:
Literally the day after coming home (February 2), there was a mass held for World Day for Consecrated Life. There was no reason for me to go, but I had nothing better to do, so I went. It was here that I came face to face with many of the women religious in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, some of whom I now call great friends. It was also here where I reconnected with the priest who would eventually become my spiritual director.
About two weeks after this mass (February 15), while I was downtown, I walked past the Cathedral on my way to the Skytrain. It was about time for evening mass, and at this time in my life I only went to mass on Sundays. But something compelled me to stay. I stayed for mass and noticed two navy blue veiled heads. One of them, at the end of mass, made an announcement that she and her companion would be in the entrance of the church selling books. I spent about a half hour perusing the books and eventually left with one. As it turned out, these two sisters were Daughters of St. Paul visiting from Toronto. I had never heard of this community before, but in God’s providence, this certainly would not be my last interaction with them.
As I mentioned, I started 2019 with the desire of being more intentional with vocational discernment. I found out very quickly by my spiritual director (who at the time was the vocations director for the Archdiocese) that this would mean giving religious life a fair chance, especially since I wasn’t actively dating anyone at the time. He gave me a copy of the book Discerning Religious Life by Mother Clare Mathiass, CFR,3 and sent me on my way. I’m a little ashamed to report that I didn’t *actually* start reading the book until much later on in the year.
But while the book was actively burning a hole on my bedside table from not reading it, God had another plan. In an afternoon in May, I received a call from Sr. Helena Burns, who I had been following on Twitter for years. I remember choking on my water and attracting all the wrong attention while at Subway. “THE Sister Helena Burns?” I exclaimed. “From TWITTER?!”
Sister laughed and said yes, from Twitter. But also, as it happened, she was a Daughter of St. Paul—the same blue-veiled sisters I met a few months earlier at the Cathedral.
We chatted for a bit and then came the big invitation. In September, a few months from now, the Daughters of St. Paul would host a retreat called a Come and See for young women. It’s completely free to attend, and all the retreatants would need to do is take care of their transportation to and from Toronto. Would I be interested?
In the moment, I wasn’t sure. I had just been accepted into the Honours program with SFU’s School of Communication, another way of prolonging my degree because I still had no idea what I was going to do after graduation. The retreat, which was a weekend at the end of September, wouldn’t take me away from any classes but it seemed like a hassle to go. Plus, this seemed like active recruitment for a vocation that would take me away from what I really wanted, which was marriage.
But my spiritual director’s words rang in my head, and the book still remained unread. To my surprise, I found myself saying to Sister, “Would you be able to send me more info?”
I travelled to Toronto in September 2019 for the Come and See. I will be completely honest and say that I don’t remember much of what happened. But, I do remember feeling very at home and at peace in the environment, enjoying the company of the other young women and enjoying the company of the sisters even more. I was so excited to learn about the mission and apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul: how they worked in and with the media to advance the Word of God. I loved their “visits” with Jesus, or hours of Eucharistic Adoration, which is central to their life and was central to my own story of reversion. And if that weren’t enough, I found myself so attracted to the joy that these women had and shared with each other, a joy that I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt or ever seen in anyone else.
At the close of the retreat, I had a one-on-one conversation with Sr. Emily, the vocations director for the Daughters of St. Paul. After some initial conversation, I asked how I, too, could become a sister. I was ready to leave my Honours program now, graduate in October, and enter. Could I apply now? How long would the application take?
In her wisdom, Sr. Emily asked me to take some time to decompress from the experience and pray about it. I was disappointed, but wanted to practice obedience. How much time should I decompress for? I asked her.
We decided to connect after 6 months.
6 months after September 2019 was March 2020—and we all know what happened in March 2020.
I spent the 6 months deeply focused on my research for my Honours thesis. As time went on, I kept thinking about my experience in Toronto with the sisters. I wasn’t sure if that was what God wanted for me, but there wasn’t anything else in my way at the time. So when the world shut down due to COVID-19, I started to wonder: Was this a clear sign that this wasn’t the Lord’s plan for me?
As I worked to finish and defend my thesis, a different opportunity popped up. Every year on Holy Week, the Daughters of St. Paul host a retreat at their Motherhouse (or headquarters) in Boston. Due to the pandemic and given the Daughters’ familiarity with working in the digital environment, the retreat was presented online, allowing women from all over the United States, Canada, and the world to participate.
Throughout that first online retreat in Holy Week 2020, I felt another invitation to ‘come and see’—but it would be months before I could do so in person.
Between April 2020 and October 2021, I participated in nearly every online offering the Daughters of St. Paul had, including a second Holy Week retreat in 2021. The pandemic was still very much alive, but it provided me with an incredibly ‘monastic’ environment. It also forced me to take a hard look at my life so far and what—or who—I was living for. I couldn’t really get out and date even if I wanted to! So in a unique way, through these retreats and monthly meetings with Sr. Emily, I kept walking in the same direction that the Lord had invited me into.
It was slow. It was painful. Until it wasn’t.
Almost two years after my first Come and See with the Daughters of St. Paul, in October 2021 I was finally able to make a trip to spend time with the Toronto community. At first, I was very anxious about the trip. What if all of this is a huge mistake? What if the pandemic has changed me for the worst? What will I do if this isn’t it?
But soon I saw that these fears were unfounded. Despite the shocking amount of tears shed over the 8 days, the entire visit was a grace-filled time. I felt more at peace and more myself than I had in a while. I loved spending time with the sisters and learning more about the apostolate, charism, and work they do. Armed with the experiences of this visit, I deepened my resolve even more to work towards entering the community.
It wasn’t until writing this that I realized how everything came together in less than a year.
If you asked me at the start of 2022 if I thought that I would enter before the year was over, I probably would have laughed. But despite the outward laughter, at the back of my mind I would have wondered. What if this year was indeed the year?
The year started like any other. After Christmas and New Year’s, I was still working at SFU, working on the podcast, and living life. But something felt different, and plans soon fell into place for another visit to Toronto. And so, in the dead of winter, I went to Toronto in February to visit for 9 days. I had never felt such cold in my life.
But in the midst of the Ontario cold, the Lord was lighting a fire in my own heart. Seeds were sown for a potential trip to Boston as the borders started to re-open. And by the time Holy Week 2022 rolled around, not only was I booked and ready to go, I was set up to have an intimate and individual visit at the Daughters of St. Paul Motherhouse—just me and about 70 other sisters, on the holiest part of our year.
As we came into the Triduum, I found myself meditating more on the immense sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which we commemorate each year during this time. With His arms outstretched on the cross, I heard Him say to me, I wish to give you everything. You are my everything. At that moment, I looked down at my left forearm which bore my 6-month old tattoo that read totus tuus, or “totally yours” in Latin.
In that moment, I knew that I could never fully repay Jesus for His complete sacrifice on the cross. But out of love for Him, maybe I could start giving myself totally to Him through this vocation—the blank cheque that I had promised Him at the start of 2019. And suddenly, I saw that this wasn’t just something that I felt like I had to do. It was something I wanted to do.
When I got home, I requested an application. So kickstarted 4 months worth of medical appointments, writing and reflecting, awkward conversations and a lot of praying. I finally closed off the application at the end of July 2022 following a trip to Virginia.
I came home August 1. I was admitted to postulancy on August 4.
The final step to get to the starting line was the visa. Work started quickly to apply for it, and on August 15—the feast of the Assumption—I began a 54 day rosary novena4 with the intention of a speedy resolution to the visa process. And I kid you not: Exactly one month later, on September 15—the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows—I received the news that my visa was approved. I had barely crossed the midway point of the 54 days.
I shared the following quote from the founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, Blessed James Alberione, in my previous post: The Lord has moved heaven and earth for our vocation.
As I reflect on what had to happen in order to arrive at this point—the starting line of a new chapter of my life—this only could have happened with divine intervention.
There have been incredible highs but also deeply painful lows. But at every turn, the Lord has been incredibly faithful.
Towards the end of my time in Virginia, I heard the Lord say to me, Come and work with me. It was a simple invitation to a radical life: To give up everything and follow Him, withholding nothing and trusting in His providence.
I want to give you everything. This was never a question of good or bad; the Lord loves us too much to give us bad things.5 With the Lord, it is always a question of what is good and what is even better. And while we think that we know what 'better' is for us, the God of the universe desires to give us even more than what we can perceive in our greatest imagination. He wants to give us everything.
As mentioned before, this is only the beginning. But if there is already this much grace here, imagine how much more can be granted when we continually give our yes!
In the meantime… I appreciate all the prayers and well-wishes that have been shared. It has been overwhelming, but also very peaceful. Please let me know how I can pray for you, and please also pray for me and my family as we make the final preparations for this move!
In Jesus, Divine Master,
“Postulancy”, similar to the word “postulate” or “to ask”. It is typically the first stage of formation for women (and men) in religious life. While the stages are quite standard across congregations and orders, every group will have a variation on it depending on the needs of the community. The Global Sisters Report has a great general breakdown and explainer on these stages.
This is a story for another time. But if you’re curious, ask me about it!
When I finally did read this book, I couldn’t put it down. Discerning Religious Life is a really great book for women who are even remotely curious about religious life, as it is simple, straightforward, and cuts through many myths about discernment and consecrated women. It is essential reading for anyone who is considering religious life seriously!
Probably the most powerful prayer that I have ever prayed: The 54 Day Rosary Novena consists of five decades of the Rosary each day for 27 days in petition; then immediately five decades each day for 27 days in thanksgiving, whether or not the request has been granted. Here is a PDF to learn more as well as how to pray it.
See Matthew 7:9-12 (NRSV): “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone? Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”