The Clarke Family: A Sister's Story
Just before my junior year of college was due to begin, my seventeen-year-old sister asked if I would take her to visit St. Cecilia Motherhouse in Nashville, Tennessee. I agreed; she made the arrangements; and two weeks later we were pulling into the driveway and being greeted by the Vocation Director. Though it was my sister who was interested in the community, and it was she who had made all the arrangements for our visit, the Vocation Director, the Postulant Mistress and the Novice Mistress still had an interest in my discernment. They asked what seemed like ordinary questions: “How long have you been discerning?”, “What attracts you to religious life?” and “Why do you like the Dominicans?”—but I couldn’t help wishing they wouldn’t ask me anything. My sister was the interested party; I was the kindly older sister/chauffeur… but yes, I had been discerning since World Youth Day in Toronto, and yes, the other-worldly joy of the religious life attracted me, and yes, I certainly favored Dominicans for their love for the Divine Office and zeal for souls… but no, I was inwardly muttering. No. This is not for me… at least not yet.
I had arrived in Nashville considering myself “open” to a religious vocation, but it was a highly attenuated openness. Reserving the right to be “open…but not yet,” I was closed to the present moment’s graces—the only graces which could make me capable of responding to the Lord's desire for the vocation I so hoped was somewhere in the future. The confident joy I witnessed in sister after sister was a refreshing contrast to my fear. Their life of common prayer spoke of the origin of their strength, and their desire to share the Gospel testified that they had encountered the Lord. But their freedom was almost too much for me. To have the freedom they did, I would have to let go of the terms I had set for my discipleship. Afraid to put out into the deep, I tried to downplay the attraction I felt to the sisters' joy. I tried to assume a skeptical attitude towards their joy, but I knew it was God’s own gift. And so, since I could not dismiss them, I tried to dismiss the other idea in my mind: the idea that their questions came because they saw one that wasn’t the product of my own planning, readiness, or goodness, but a free gift of mercy.
Realizing that the Lord wanted true openness from me, I turned to Him. In the months after my visit to Nashville, I stepped back from my preconceptions about myself, my plans, my “vocational timeline,” and let God show me what He wanted to show, when He wanted to show it. On Halloween night, as I was praying at the Dominican House of Studies, He showed me what He always shows us: love. But that night I saw again how his love calls for a total response. I knew that, for me, a total response was consecrated life. The months after the January Vocation Retreat continued to draw me out into the open: I found myself ready to accept my vocation on his terms—terms which are infinitely kinder than what I would ever have imagined.
Sister Beatrice professed her perpetual vows in July 2012.
Below image used with permission of the Province of St. Joseph.