Sister Kateri Pablo Vasquez-Weber — Novice
The first time I consciously thought about religious life was during a National Catholic Youth Conference in Louisiana in 2008. At the end of one of the speaker’s talks he said to all the youth present, “All those who feel called to religious life, come up to the stage so we can pray over you.” I didn’t know exactly what was happening inside my heart, but I knew and I felt that I had to walk up to the stage. I was embarrassed because I had never considered myself someone who could be called to something like that, and I wasn’t sure of what my peers or friends would think. I that time I had just finished my sophomore year in high school.
After that moment and after returning from that youth conference, my life did not make a dramatic change, although I continued being involved with the youth ministry at my local parish. I kept learning more about my faith, and gradually drawing closer to our Lord, but this thought of becoming a nun never became more than a passive idea in the back of my mind. I was not running away from it, but neither was I actively pursuing it. I was at a standstill when it came to praying about and discerning possibilities for my life, and hearing which one God had for me. I understood as much as I could that the Lord might be calling me to be a nun or a religious sister, but I wasn’t aware of discerning or what it meant to ask God to share with me His Plan for me. From time to time I would mention this idea of becoming a nun to a spiritual mentor or to my close friends of the same faith, but no real fruit came from those conversations because I never took my vocation into prayer before the Lord. He had something to tell me, but I didn’t know how to listen.
I graduated from high school with the idea of becoming a religious sister being more forgotten than remembered, due to peer, familial, and societal pressures about dating and marriage, but I was clear about one thing: growing closer to God. From my experience on yearly youth retreats from my home parish, I knew I had found something during my time being served by my peers and serving the Lord on those retreats. I had found God to be a river that never runs dry, and I could never tire of drinking from it. I had finally found what I never knew I had been searching for.
It was on an undergraduate fall retreat at the university I chose to attend, Boston University, put on by the Catholic Center at this university, that I heard and felt again a stirring in my heart about discerning a religious vocation. This retreat occurred at the end of September of 2011, in the first semester of my sophomore year in college. What was different about this moment was I had grown a lot spiritually after one year at Boston University. Through meeting with one of the campus ministers a lot of healing and teaching was brought into my life, and what I would say was one of the most important things that happened was that I began a prayer life. I began talking to God, praying to Him, sharing with Him my sorrows and desires, and as time went on during the summer of 2011, I learned how to listen to Him, and be with Him, accepting Him and Loving Him when he wanted to share with me His own Sorrows and Desires. This was possible only through many hours before the Most Blessed Sacrament in Adoration. I had to learn how to still my own thoughts and heart, so I could hear and feel His thoughts and His Heart.
So during that fall, I was more formed spiritually, and had a beginning grasp on Listening to Him. That was all He needed. It was during one of the talks that the speaker said, “So, you know that thing that you don’t want to talk about, and every time it comes into your mind, you just push it out, but then it just comes back even stronger?” I felt at that moment within me a message from Jesus of, “Let’s talk about this again,” referring to discerning a religious vocation. That fall semester I was going through a time when I decided I preferred marriage because I would be able to marry a man and live the dream I thought I had always seen fulfilled all around me, in family, in peers, and in the media. However, on that retreat I decided to begin a serious and official discernment of what my vocation was.
The next thing I had in mind to do at the end of that retreat was to begin going on discernment retreats. Through a friend, I heard about a discernment retreat for the new community that Mother Olga was founding. The retreat was in mid-October, just a few weeks after the end of the Catholic Center retreat I attended. I decided to go on the retreat to really begin a sound discernment of religious life, and I unexpectedly found myself in a sea of peace and simplicity the entire time on the retreat. I felt as if I had no place else to be. I learned about Blessed Charles de Foucauld, the ministry of presence, and our role as Children of God to accept and to love unconditionally each one of our neighbors. I felt like I was hearing about something that had already been forming within me, and I saw it taking flesh in this new community. I wasn’t putting on a different skin with this community, but living deeper in my own skin.
However, that spring of 2012 I had already arranged to study abroad for one semester, and so Mother Olga and I discerned that it would be best for me to continue with that plan and take advantage of that opportunity of an intense discernment. God absolutely took that time to form and mold me—I would actually call it a spiritual “boot camp.” Throughout my semester abroad both Mother Olga and I received confirmations from the Lord about my entering into this community, and so when I returned to Boston after the end of my semester abroad, I was officially received into the community as an Aspirant.
Sister Faustina Kolbe Burda — Novice
I grew much closer to God following what doctors acknowledged as an unexplained healing. I hemorrhaged when I was 12 and lost a third of my blood supply. My mother prayed for Our Lady’s intercession to heal me. That experience strengthened my faith and my family’s faith – I realized God had a plan for me.
I knew if I followed God’s will I would experience true happiness and I felt God calling me to attend Boston University. I had a strong desire in my heart to help people and following my 2007 graduation I began my Master of Public Health degree while working at the American Cancer Society. It was also during undergrad at BU that I met Mother Olga and she became my spiritual director.
I went on retreat in February 2008 and in adoration we ‘Touched the Garment,’ which is taken from Luke 8:43-48 where the hemorrhaging women touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. This particular passage always meant a lot to me because of my own healing experience. As the priest and Jesus in the Eucharist stood before me, I touched the garment that was touching the monstrance. I felt this overwhelming sense of unconditional love like I had never experienced before. I also felt like I was truly touching Jesus’ cloak – the realization that I was in the true presence of Christ. I cried and was so moved by that moment of divine grace. While I continued to pray I heard a voice from within me, but was not my own, say “I want you.” I knew the “I want you” meant He wanted me to follow a religious vocation so that I would completely belong to Him and no one else.
I was upset and began to argue with Him – I had other plans of doing holy things to serve the Church. I was going to get married, have children, and be a strong Catholic voice in healthcare. Part of me wanted to forget about the experience, but it was so strong that I couldn’t let it go.
I met with Mother Olga and she was also surprised by my experience because we never talked about religious life before. She also shared with me that Cardinal Sean O’Malley had recently asked her to consider forming a new religious community. I know there is no such thing as a coincidence and that God’s hands are in everything, and this was very providential. Mother Olga gave me a discernment workbook to help me pray and recognize God’s will for my life. The book suggested some lifestyle changes such as the rosary, fasting, daily mass, and cutting out media and increasing silent time in order to better hear God’s voice.
God continued to call me closer to Him during the following three and a half years of my discernment, but there were many moments when I tried to push Him away and reasoned that I needed to “experience more of life.” I took up salsa dancing and dated. In February 2010 I realized I really needed to walk with the Lord during Lent – I had maintained, and still do, the lifestyle changes recommended in the discernment workbook. He spoke to me in the silence and it was time to give more attention to my discernment. Our relationship deepened and He continued to draw me into Him.
In May 2011 I went on my first discernment retreat with Mother Olga and other young women. I knew I had to take more serious steps and finally told my parents about my discernment. In June I spoke with Mother Olga and learned the community would live like the Holy Family did in Nazareth and focus on bringing Jesus’ loving presence to the world through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I felt filled with the Holy Spirit and on fire. This synced with my own spirituality and my desire to be a Catholic presence and serve people. Following a second discernment retreat in October and after much prayer, I discerned it was time to apply to be an Aspirant with the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth community.
I have felt drawn further into the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth’s charism and spirituality and that God has confirmed my vocation call. Even when I see other beautiful vocations and religious orders, Peter’s words come to my heart “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life” and I have truly drawn closer to the life-giving Christ with the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.
Sister Guadalupe Karol Quinn — Novice
I was raised Catholic and have generally always believed in the teachings of Christ and His Church, but Senior year of college was a time of dramatic change in my relationship with Him. I lived in an apartment dubbed “The Lodge” with 3 women from the campus ministry. Inspired by Acts 2:42-47, we prayed together daily, lived simply, shared a family meal once a week, and invited women from the campus ministry to stay with us for the Triduum, fasting and praying together. The two years I lived at the Lodge were among the most joyful, purifying, transforming years of my life. We loved each other as sisters and called each other on to holiness. During that time I found my home in Christ, in His Sacred Heart, and consecrated myself to Him through the heart of Our Lady. Not only did the Lord draw me into a deeper conversion through that experience, but He also planted seeds of my Vocation and specifically of the charism of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.
After graduation I worked as an Engineer for about 4 years. There were many things I enjoyed about my job, but I felt a growing restlessness and sensed that God had something more in mind for my life. Through prayer and discernment, I discovered that He was calling me to full time ministry and took the big step of quitting my job and becoming a missionary with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). As I sat in the Chapel at my first week of summer training, I was overwhelmed with peace. I could say for the first time that I was doing God’s Will. It was an amazing gift that allowed me to dive deeply into the mission. Part of my commitment to FOCUS included a fast from dating relationships for the first year.
In January of my first year on campus, I went on a weeklong retreat at the Theology of the Body Institute. The question of Vocation quickly came up, and in my prayer that week I experienced Jesus, the Bridegroom, inviting me to Himself. As the days went on, I realized the deep desire I had in my heart to respond to His invitation, to be united with Him in Consecrated Life. His call and my desire continued to grow in the months that followed. That summer my Spiritual Director and I determined that it was time to visit communities. At that time, I also found out that I was going to move from serving at the University of Connecticut to serving at Boston University for 2011-2012. I knew that Mother Olga had served at the BU campus ministry for many years but didn’t realize why she was leaving. (I had met her for the first time at the TOB retreat that year.) My Spiritual Director told me she was going to start a new Religious Community.
By the end of the summer I was felt discouraged after visiting communities and not feeling called to any of them. I decided to contact Mother Olga. We had a very peaceful conversation and agreed to meet up once I moved to Boston. That Fall I went on a discernment retreat with her. Throughout the course of the weekend, I felt a continuous peace and docility of mind and heart. As details were shared about the charism, prayer life, formation, and apostolic work of the new community I felt more and more at home. The Community’s devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts resonated deeply in my heart and Bl. Charles’ ministry of presence and hospitality reminded me of the Lodge. In my prayer I felt that Jesus was holding out His hand to me and asking if I wanted to come with Him on a journey, the adventure of entering this community. It was a strong contrast to the visits I had experienced with other communities where I had always tried to fit myself into the mold. I came home peaceful, joyful, and excited. Through prayer and spiritual direction I made the decision to apply for Candidacy and it has been an amazing time of grace ever since.
Linda Russo — Postulant
“Come and hear, all you who fear God, while I recount what has been done for me” (Psalm 66: 16). As I look over my story with the Lord, and the many blessings He has given me, it seems as though the general tone of each pope’s pontificate corresponds with each season of my own faith journey. It is not that I have been consciously influenced by the popes; perhaps the graces given during each pontificate overflow into the whole Body of Christ. Saint John Paul II was pope when I was born, and his pontificate extended to when my relationship with God became a two-way relationship as a teenager at Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), offered through the Archdiocese of Boston. At CLI, we were taught by people who loved us and believed in our futures. Whatever problems we came from back at home, we began to experience healing. We tapped into something tremendously invaluable. We encountered Christ. While I would never want to oversimplify Saint John Paul II, it seems that his joyfulness and energy summarize well what was happening in my own life during his pontificate.
During summers home from college, the Lord brought me to a young adult group for college students at a local parish. God poured out some of the greatest riches of the Church and gave me solid mentors who showed me what it looks like to live a Catholic life joyfully and authentically, even if it is not always easy. Likewise, it was at this time that Pope Benedict XVI was elected and I began to learn what makes our Catholic faith so unique. Through this college young adult group and the Master of Arts in Ministry Program at St. John’s Seminary, I learned more about the teachings of Catholicism, why we believe what we believe, and why it matters. It was also at this time that I began working for the Archdiocese of Boston, which provided me with the opportunity to attend daily Mass and to go to confession regularly. I began to pray the rosary with much more regularity, and with a deeper contemplation, and made my consecration to Jesus through Mary on the Feast of the Visitation in 2010. The year of my consecration was also the year when I experienced a real sense of belonging in the communities in which I participated, including the Salt & Light Community (now The Second Watch) at the Catholic Center at Boston University, and also yHope (Young Heralds of Pauline Evangelization), part of the Pauline Family. During all of this, the possibility of a call to religious life emerged as a suggestion made to me by a mentor. My response was quite varied; I felt a mix of fear, excitement, panic, and peace. I did not have an answer, but the idea stayed with me.
As part of my graduate program, I spent one year as an intern at the Catholic Center at Boston University, serving undergraduate students and experiencing a little of what it is to “sister” others. As that year ended, Mother Olga began speaking about the new community she had been asked to begin. I felt comfortable exploring this Vocation with her, and the ways the community would seek to help heal this hurting archdiocese resonated strongly with me. I attended the discernment retreats Mother offered, but I did not feel peace about entering at the time. A year later I attended a retreat on the Theology of the Body offered through Pure In Heart America. It was at this retreat where I heard a Vocations panel, where people of each Vocation would speak about their lives and their journeys. After the panel I felt a very strong pull to talk to one of the religious sisters. She listened and then responded, suggesting that I could very likely have a call to religious life. And for some reason, from her and at that moment, the suggestion resonated. Not even a month after this significant turning point, Pope Francis was elected to the papacy. As I listened to him, I realized that this humble pope could easily be a powerful instrument in teaching me how to live as a religious, how to live simply, and how to pray.
At a time when our culture sees a division between love on the one hand, and the truth as taught by the Catholic Church on the other, the Vocation of a sister can serve as a bridge between the two. The feminine gifts that women often have in abundance can serve as a healing salve for the wounds so many people bear. When I am with the sisters here, I love better. I am excited to continue this journey alongside them, discovering Jesus more in His role as our eternal love.
Othilia Kim — Postulant
Although one could consider me a “cradle Catholic,” I experienced profound conversion in 2001 that led me to back to the Faith. Through my time as a catechist at my home parish, I was introduced to a charismatic prayer group (Cunae). When I served charismatically for the first time in 2005, I encountered the love of God so powerfully that it was through this experience that the idea of becoming a nun or religious sister first entered into my psyche. Because this idea came upon me so suddenly and unexpectedly, I rejected it immediately. I already had a future in mind, after all. Staying single for the rest of my life was not part of my plan. However, I completely underestimated God’s gentleness, patience and mercy.
I spent the next seven years living out the joys and sorrows of my life and the seed of religious vocation quietly germinated underground. I would think about it every once in a while, but I never really took the time to get off the fence to explore.
I encountered Mother Olga for the first time in April 2012. She was at a local Church on a parish mission and I had decided to attend some of her evening talks. By that point in my life, I was getting ready to enter full-time employment as a marriage and family therapist.
I was profoundly moved the moment she started speaking. She talked about so many things that were already in my heart. When she spoke about the new community she was starting, its Nazorean charism and the ministry of presence, I remember thinking, “I can do more if I’m with her than what I’m already doing in a therapy room.” A small fear lodged in my heart at that thought, but I decided that I must meet and speak with her anyway, without any clue of how this was going to evolve.
After speaking with her, I visited their community that June and attended a week-long Theology of the Body retreat with them. Through the graces received from that retreat, I approached Mother Olga to share with her my desire to actively discern religious vocation.
As a result, while working as a therapist, I began a deeper, more serious discernment about religious life. I visited Mother and her Daughters again for a weekend in December 2012. When it was time to leave, I was shocked at myself because for the first time in my life, being with this community truly felt like “home.” I spent most of that drive back to New York pondering my reaction and what it meant.
My third visit with the community in September 2013 was an opportune time to finally unpack the feeling of not wanting to leave I experienced back in December. Everything about that visit felt so right and so natural the entire time. Spending time in retreat, and then helping prepare and witnessing the community’s first Novitiate Mass finally convinced me to take the next step in my discernment. Mother Olga also confirmed my feelings and encouraged me to enter into full-time formation with the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.
Despite the various challenges (familial and otherwise) that came up while I was discerning, I consider my entering the community as a great leap of faith. As I continue on this amazing, grace-filled journey with God as faithfully as I am able, I gratefully recall the words Naomi received from Ruth before they began their adventure: “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God (Ruth 1:16).”
Giovanna Maiello — Postulant
There was a day in my undergraduate years at Boston University when I found myself sitting in front of the Tabernacle in the Chapel at the Catholic Center. I was enjoying being alone with the Lord and I thought: “I wish I could stay here forever.” In that moment, I was at peace. I was totally content. And yet, I also I wanted more. I wanted “forever.” My spiritual journey took shape in this meeting of peace and desire, the desire for more, and the desire for a total and complete union with Christ.
By God’s grace, I became very involved at the Catholic Center at BU; learning more about the fullness of the faith and the whole, encompassing life that we are called to strive for as Christians. The campus ministers exemplified this life as they radiated an all-embracing joy, a deeply rooted faith and a pure relationship with God that seemed completely fulfilling. It was through their example that my “forever” desire found its invitation: a radical life for Christ.
Though I had this great thirst for more, it seemed unattainable and soon enough the world pulled me into fleeting desires and false idols. I found myself focused on pursuing the other dreams and goals I had planned for my life. Yet, in all my attempts to “be happy” I was left disappointed. Nothing was fulfilling, nothing felt satisfying, and nothing worked out. I was fighting against myself; who I really am against who I wanted to be or thought I was.
By the grace of God, my faith life was continually growing deeper through humbling experiences that both made me realize my inadequacy and prove the love God has for me. Prayer became my consolation as God was showing me my heart and raising me to the woman He had originally intended for me to become. The Blessed Mother led me to her Son and I experienced His mercy, His love and an outpouring of grace over the next several years.
By Easter 2013, after experiencing a purifying and joyful Lent where the desire for religious life was an undeniable presence, my spiritual director suggested I begin to visit different religious communities. After having discerned the religious vocation in prior attempts and receiving no clear answer, God allowed me to understand the goodness of His perfect timing.
One of my immediate reactions was to contact Mother Olga Yaqob, who had become my confidant through her years working as a campus minister at Boston University. After we spoke, she agreed with the suggestion of my spiritual director to contact various religious communities to experience a bit of the radical life I had desired. She offered for me to visit the order she had newly founded, the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth. Seeing as it was so close to my apartment in Boston, I took the invitation to explore.
In February 2014, during one of my weekend visits to the Convent we had an evening of community formation discussing the spirituality of Nazareth: its simplicity, the daily intimacy of living with Jesus and the importance of being present. It was then I became completely captivated by life in Nazareth. After this initial experience, others followed that continued to draw me and confirm my desire to live a radical life for Christ with this community. A few months later, following a community Lenten retreat, God gave me the courage and grace to apply for Aspirancy to officially enter the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.
It has been the most incredible experience to walk this journey with the Lord. I am here completely due to God’s grace –He continually calls me to greater daily conversion, to a more thorough dying of self and for constant surrendering to His trust and power. I pray to God that I will preserve in following His will as closely as I possibly can.
Shannon Marshall — Postulant
When I was a sophomore in high school my mother asked me if I wanted to take a religious pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Herzegovina. I think I was more excited about the free meals and bragging rights of having travelled abroad than I was encountering Christ. Despite these distractions, it was there I first experienced a call to live radically for God. During a large prayer service geared towards youth, one of the priests asked anyone who felt called to live for God in a “radical” way come forward for a blessing. Immediately I began to feel my heart race, and my body grew hot. I confided to my mother that I thought I should go up, and although surprised, she encouraged me. At the end of the service I was met by some of the women from our group who surrounded me, and one of them confessed having desired to be a nun when she was my age. “Be a nun?” I thought, “but that’s not why I was up there!” But it was. Unknowingly, I had responded to a religious vocations blessing, and the seed had been planted.
Years passed and I quickly put the experience out of my mind, although occasionally my Catholic girlfriends and I would lament at the thought of “ending up a nun.” But even in the midst of our jests, I found myself oddly attracted to the idea. Needless to say I had a very long way to go in my understanding of what love truly looks like in Christ and His Body, the Church. Thanks be to God I experienced a series of deepening conversions that stretched over a period of nine years as I struggled to follow Christ and strip away the layers of “a false life” (as Pope St. John Paul II would put it). This time was grace-filled as the Lord healed and delivered me from many troubles, providing the Sacraments and many of His faithful servants to guide me along the way.
During this time I landed what I considered to be my dream job working as Artistic Director for a non-profit organization, Arts In Reach (AIR), which combined my enthusiasm for the performing arts with mentoring young women. I was also in a serious relationship, and knew it was time to start making some important life choices. I wanted so badly to be married, and yet this idea of being a sister would not leave my mind. And despite thinking I had “too many issues,” having struggled for so long, my heart would not let it go. Finally, I decided to take a leap of faith and seriously explore the call. I began visiting with the Daughter of Mary of Nazareth community regularly and was overwhelmed by the deep sense of peace, well-being and joy I experienced in their presence. The Lord began to open my heart to Him in a new way and I felt I had found The One to whom I wanted pour all of myself into. As St. Augustine writes, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you, O Lord.”
Working as an actor and teaching artist, I learned how deep is our longing for truth, beauty and goodness and how the search for security and loving human relationships drive our lives. I was able to tell these stories as a performing artist, but I found I could best live ‘the story’ as a religious sister.