“If a grain of wheat … dies, it bears much fruit.” I often heard these words, but not knowing how such an apparent contradiction could be true, I never really understood them. Yet, these are the words that led me to the Congregation of St. Cecilia, where each day I witness the manifestation of this truth in the lives of the Dominican Sisters. This powerful example of the whole community as well as of individual sisters, who in their lives “bear much fruit,” makes me hope that one day I will have the honor of inheriting and passing on this heritage myself.
Growing up in Poland, I experienced the marvelous influence of the Catholic Church, which in the 1980s was strengthened and firmly established in the heart of every Pole through its struggle with the communist system. As a high school student, I was gradually led to believe that my response to my Catholic faith could only be fully realized in a religious community. Yet, before any of my plans could take root, my family suddenly decided to leave Poland. My call to religious life, then, remained unanswered as our immigrant journey led us through Italy to Calgary, Canada. I didn’t feel ready to leave my family in a new land where we had no relatives or friends. Gradually, in light of other personal goals and aspirations, the question of my vocation faded into the background of my life, and it wasn’t until the death of my parents that I decided to look into it one last time. I knew that if I didn’t consider it seriously, I would always wonder and ask myself, “What if…?,” regardless of the path I would eventually choose. When my search for an orthodox Catholic community in Canada proved futile, I decided to dedicate myself fully to a newly discovered love – special education.
Everything in my life, both on the professional and personal levels, might have continued developing smoothly and to my satisfaction were it not for a totally unexpected phone call from a Dominican sister in Calgary inviting me to a vocation retreat! The theme of the retreat, “If a grain of wheat … dies, it bears much fruit,” came alive to me as an invitation for a total and joyous abandonment of the controls of my life in order to let God’s will for me be done. During adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, I knew for sure that our Lord was waiting for me in some religious community. But which one? Having contacted all the Canadian orders that initially appealed to me, I didn’t feel drawn to them. Presented with my dilemma, a sister on the retreat suggested checking the “Catholic Digest” for advertisements of religious communities in the United States. Over the past ten years, I had subscribed to the magazine and so, upon my return home, I eagerly looked through a stack of old issues. While the Dominican Sisters in Nashville don’t advertise, I providentially discovered an article written in 1988 on the Congregation. Reading about Sr. Dominica’s daily trips to the chapel to pray for vocations, the community’s teaching apostolate and the rhythm of the day, I felt secure.
That feeling accompanied me during my visit to St. Cecilia Convent when I marveled at the total dedication with which the sisters preserve and cherish their Dominican heritage. I was particularly struck with one important component of the heritage – the Liturgy of the Hours. I was totally mesmerized by its beauty and the singing of the sisters, who in their white habits and flowing veils resembled celestial choirs praising the Lord. Yet, when asking to be admitted to this community of the daughters of St. Dominic, I did not hear angels singing, nor did I experience any spiritual earthquakes. What’s more, I felt scared – scared at the prospect of leaving behind my family and friends and of letting go of all the familiar and comfortable aspects of my life.
Today, I see that it was precisely by letting go of these “life-lines,” which I thought were sustaining me, that I could experience the realization that all along I was being supported, not by them, but by God, who was holding me and those dear to me “in the palm of his hand.” Amazingly, I’m finding that if a grain of wheat dies, it does bear much fruit, as the more I give control of my life to God, the more I can experience His all-embracing love in the treasures of each day – a warm smile offered to me by one of the sisters, the growing bond with them, or the presence of our chaplain, whose whole being emanates his love for this community. I am beginning to truly realize what a precious gift I’ve been offered. I hope and pray that as I live the vows I have made, my love for this community of contemplative prayer and joyful apostolate will mature into a life-long commitment to treasure the Dominican heritage and to “bring much fruit” in the spirit of service to God, my sisters and all those I will ever encounter.
Sister Maria Karol professed her perpetual vows on August 8, 2006.