Sister Sisters: The Sister Series Part II
November 12, 2020
These beautiful Sisters are Sister sisters; biological sisters and religious Sisters! Sr. Anne is a Salesian novice, and Sr. Léonie Thérèse is a Sister of Life. I have known Sr. Anne for a few years, and reached out to hear each of their stories.
Sr. Anne shared, “My sister just professed her first vows as a Sister of Life and her religious name is Sr. Léonie Thérèse, SV. Her baptismal name is Maura. She is six years older than me and taught in a Catholic school after graduating college. She taught 5th grade for one year and 1st grade for four years. As much as she loved teaching, she was very drawn to the pro-life movement. She was involved in the Pro-Life club at our all-girls high school in St. Louis, and when she was in college she helped start the pro-life group on her campus. When she began to feel that God was calling her to religious life, she resisted a little bit and told Him that she would only consider it if there were a religious order that did specifically pro-life work. The same day that she prayed about that, she was out with some friends and one of them out of the blue asked her if she had ever heard of the Sisters of Life. She went to visit the Sisters in New York for the first time in November 2015 and loved it and began to think she might enter.
“My own journey of discernment happened simultaneously but separately. I was a freshman in college when I began to feel that God was calling me to be more open to His plan for my life. I had thought about religious life in high school but then became very closed off to the idea and really wanted to date and get married. The summer of 2015, because of the invitation of a friend, I participated in a program called Totus Tuus in Kansas where I got to travel with a team of three other young adults to different parishes, staying at each place for a week and teaching the kids and young people about the Catholic faith. It was an incredibly busy and exhausting summer, and I loved every second of it because it gave me a taste of community and prayer life and mission. With that, I was now able to be open to the possibility of a vocation to religious life. I wanted to start by looking at orders that did education, since I was studying to be a teacher. One day, one of my friends texted me and invited me to come and visit the Salesian Sisters in New Jersey with her and her friend. I went in August 2015 and knew I had found my place, and it was just a matter of figuring out when I might enter (I thought I had to finish college first).
“In the spring of 2016 I had just returned from a semester abroad and was feeling restless, just like I felt as I traveled around Europe to all sorts of awesome places. In fact, in my semester abroad, the only time I really felt at-home was during the three days of my fall break that I went to stay with the Salesian Sisters in Scotland. Throughout the spring semester, back at my own university, I started changing some of my plans. Maybe I would just get my degree in biology instead of doing the masters in education so I could enter with the Sisters sooner. Maybe I would take a gap year and volunteer with the Sisters in Scotland for a year after graduating and then enter. Finally, I sat down with a Carmelite Sister I know well for spiritual direction, and the very first day she told me it sounded like I just needed to get my application and enter with the Salesians without worrying about finishing college first. That was a big shock, but I also felt at peace with it because it seemed to be what God was asking of me. When I called my mom to tell her the news, she said, “Oh wow, you and Maura will be entering at the same time!”
“I took one more year at school (because I already had commitments for that year) and prepared to enter as an aspirant. That same year, Maura went to visit the Sisters of Life again and asked for her application. By the spring she received her acceptance and was able to tell the school she was teaching at that she would not be returning. Throughout the year the two of us were able to share a little bit about the preparation journey, which was a great support for both of us. During the summer we spent special time with family and friends and we had a garage sale together to sell some of our extra belongings and to make a little money so that we could buy what we needed to bring to the convent (like our prayer books).
“At the end of August 2017 the family packed up the minivan and drove out to the east coast together. We spent a couple days together in New York. Then on September 2 my family dropped me off in North Haledon to begin my aspirantate. A week later they dropped Maura off in the Bronx to begin her postulancy.”
Sr. Léonie Thérèse said, “I grew up going to a Catholic school in St. Louis, Missouri. My family has always practiced our faith, but I myself wasn’t so into it when I was in school. I was more focused on my grades and my friends. I did always consider myself very pro-life, especially when I made the connection that my birthday (January 22) is on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. My mom brought me to my first March for Life when I was in eighth grade, and I was involved in pro-life groups in high school and college. I felt personally invested in the pro-life movement, and as I grew older and learned more, I became more passionate about the issue.
“It was in college that I really began to take ownership of my faith. I found some solid, faithful Catholic friends in the little Catholic Student Union group on my university campus. Those friends helped me not to lose my faith in college, and I am so grateful to them. To this day, they remain my closest friends back home!
“Throughout high school and college, I had really not an inkling of a thought about religious life. Sure, I attended plenty of vocation talks, but I pretty much assumed I would eventually grow up and get married, “like most people do.” (I used that phrase often to assure myself that I probably wasn’t called to religious life, because what are the odds?)
“It wasn’t until the year after I graduated college that I started to experience something . . . new. I was substitute teaching that year, and my mom had suggested that I sign up for a middle-of-the-night hour at our parish’s perpetual adoration chapel. Since I had a flexible work schedule, I went ahead and took the 3 A.M. time on Tuesdays.
“One hour a week, one-on-one with Jesus. It changed everything. I began to sense an invitation, one that I kept trying to ignore. I spent several years trying to shove that invitation away and pretend I had never heard it. But part of me kept coming back to it; I had no idea where to begin discerning a religious vocation. I wasn’t even familiar with any religious communities.
“One day, my friends and I were participating in a rosary procession in front of Planned Parenthood. As we passed the abortion clinic, a strong desire welled up within me, and I thought to myself, ‘If only there was some sort of pro-life religious community . . . I might consider that.’
“A few hours later, I was walking with a friend, and out of nowhere she mentioned a newer religious community she had just heard about . . . the Sisters of Life.
“At that moment, I knew God had heard what I thought I was saying to myself, and He had answered promptly.
“As I visited and got to know the Sisters of Life, I was struck by the depth of the charism which resonates so deeply within my own heart. The value and dignity of each human person, the unrepeatable masterpiece that each one of us is . . . the charism is so much richer than I could have known how to articulate, and I am still learning new things about it. What I’ve come to know is that it is Life Himself who has drawn me here, and my joy only deepens as He draws me closer to Himself in this way of life.”
Personally, I am so amazed with their stories. It is so beautiful that they had each other to turn to. At the end of the day, even though they entered different orders, God is still calling both of them to be His in an extraordinary way. We are all His, but they are called to be Brides of Christ and to have that special relationship with Him. It is so beautiful when women enter communities, ready to give their lives to God.
Sr. Léonie Thérèse professed her first vows on Aug 4. Sr. Anne will profess her first vows on August 5, 2021.
Check out the Let Love podcast from the Sisters of Life!