Ordinary Question, Extraordinary Answer
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question we were all asked many times as we were growing up, and our answer probably varied depending on our interests at the time. My surface-level answers fluctuated too - storm chaser, doctor, astronaut, Olympic swimmer - but beneath them all, I knew what I wanted most was to be a Sister. And my answer never changed.
My vocation, like all vocations, began at my Baptism. On the Feast of the Epiphany, my parents brought me to our parish church where the priest who had married them joyfully baptized me, their first child. I was to learn years later, after I had already entered the convent, that as he was baptizing me, the priest prayed (unbeknownst to my parents) asking the Lord to give me a religious vocation.
My vocation began piously enough, but the years that followed were rather typical. The oldest of five kids, I had ample opportunities to cause mischief. One story my family likes to tell is of the time I put my younger brother into the dryer and turned it on. Amazingly, both he and I survived! One thing we did together as a family was swim. I started swimming competitively at the age of five. Swimming was something both my parents did, and they passed it down to us kids. When we weren’t swimming, we were camping, making home videos, or just playing outside. We lived simply; my dad worked full time at a local grocery store, while my mom stayed at home with us, and we were happy.
Having converted after she married my dad, my mom grew in her faith alongside us kids. She used everything at her disposal, the rosary, Advent wreathes, the Stations of the Cross, etc. to help us grow in our faith. For most of my childhood she was the sacristan at our church, and every day before school we, her little “church mice,” were given small cleaning assignments. As I dusted, refilled holy water fonts, straightened the hymnals, all in the silence of the church, I was naturally introduced to the quiet need to listen to God’s voice. Very often, when I wasn’t causing mischief with my siblings, I would talk with Him as with a friend as I went about my cleaning.
A big moment came when I was in 2nd Grade. The St. Cecilia Dominicans administered and staffed our parish school. Since kindergarten I had watched them from a distance and was completely mesmerized by their long rosaries and beautiful white habits, but most of all by their joyful faces. So at the start of 2nd Grade I was overjoyed to learn I would have a Sister for my very own teacher. Her loving presence in the classroom was an example that strongly influenced me. Attracted by her joyful witness to religious life, it seemed only natural to me that I too would one day be just like her. I was thrilled the day she brought in a miniature-sized habit for us girls to try on. (The picture of me dressed as a Dominican resurfaced around the time I was preparing to enter.) Another thing that made a lasting impression on me was our field trip to the Motherhouse. As I played on the grounds and walked through the halls, I knew even then that one day this would be my home too.
Perhaps sensing something of my budding vocation, Sister helped me along by introducing me to the lives of the saints, in particular that of St. Catherine of Siena, who herself responded to God’s prompting at a very young age and vowed herself to Him alone. Inspired by this, I remember telling God I would be His too, if He wanted. The thought stayed with me as I continued on in school and saw repeated examples, throughout grade school and into high school, of the Dominican Sisters happily giving their lives to God and to us their students.
My parents must have had some inkling of this too because when it came time to decide whether to send me to the local public high school or the all girls Catholic high school, they made a huge sacrifice and sent me to the Catholic high school, giving me a sound education and more time to grow and develop in my faith. The same Dominican Sisters who had taught me in grade school ran this high school as well, and to my surprise I was taught by some of the same Sisters I had known in grade school! Not only my parents and the Sisters, but other people too, people I hardly knew, saw something in me because more and more frequently instead of asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, they would ask, “Have you ever thought about being a Sister?” After getting over the shock that someone else knew my “secret,” I took these as little signs from the Lord.
Toward the end of high school, I faced the same question all my peers were facing, that of college. As I began the application process, many of the forms had essay questions or at least a box asking what I planned to do after college. The answer came simply enough. I still wanted to be a Sister. I remember driving in the car with my mom one day, after having by this time already completed several applications. At a stop light she turned to me and said, “Tell me, is there any point in us taking the time to fill out all this paperwork?”
Without directly asking me, my mom helped me take “the leap.” During January of my senior year I went on the annual vocation retreat at the Motherhouse. I spent five days praying and living with the Sisters. The experience was what I needed, and instead of filling out college applications, I found myself filling out the application for the Novitiate. A week before graduation I received the phone call announcing my acceptance and after a summer spent with my family and friends (who even threw me a Bride of Christ Shower) I entered on August 14, 2004, and became what God wanted me to be.
Sister Emma professed her perpetual vows in July 2011.