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A Personal Tribute to Mother Teresa: My Mystical Journey to Darjeeling

A Personal Tribute to Mother TeresaIt happened one morning during my High School English class when I was asked to select and write about my role model. Mother Teresa’s image with the iconic blue and white habit immediately came into my head. Looking around, I noticed that others were writing about Madonna, Sandra Day O’Conner, and Geraldine Ferraro, to name a few. And, I began to wonder why I had selected a woman so detached from this world living a life of self denial with a singular focus to care for the poorest of the poor. And so began my journey of self discovery.

Upon graduation from High School, I had no idea what I was going to “do” with my life. I knew college was the next logical step so I dispassionately applied, registered, and found myself choosing a major and was still puzzled by what I was going to “do” with my life, a quandary I heartily laugh at now. As a wife and mother of five with a counseling business, I never have to ask THAT question. Thank God!

I settled on a Fine Arts degree with a minor in English. And, upon graduation, I worked in retail stores to begin to tackle the student loans, all the while neither certain of my calling, nor how to identify a calling. I was lonely, lost, and confused for most of my 20’s. I now see this time as a gift that gives me gratitude for the challenges I now face. But at the time, it was painful.

I was living at home and my mother received a letter from a former elementary teacher of mine who was also a friend of my mother’s and a Dominican sister. She was on a temporary leave of absence to care for her ill family members and she made a detour to spend a few days with us. She was a petite bundle of joy and she made me feel like I was important and that I had “gifts” and she set me on my mission. After the visit, she sent me information on a particular discipline that she thought would be a perfect match for my interests and my “gifts,” which I neither saw nor appreciated.

What I didn’t realize, when I set out to explore and ultimately pursue this new discipline known as Art Therapy, was that I was being put on a path towards service to the poorest of the poor in my community. I had two habit wearing women devoted to Christ seemingly pointing me in the direction of service. And, I started to panic. Am I being called to the convent? My immediate reaction was, NO! And, I felt guilty. It took me years to understand that a calling is a message joyfully sent and joyfully received. A calling is not a life sentence. And, I knew in the quiet of my heart that I always wanted to be a wife and mother. So, perhaps what I was hearing was, as Mother Teresa said, a call within a call.

Upon graduation from graduate school, I was employed as a home based therapist. This is like boot camp for counselors. I thought, what have I gotten myself into?! I had to travel to parts of my city I didn’t know existed and wish I didn’t know about now. I entered homes that were filthy, smoke filled, and teeming with rodents and pests. I encountered people that I would never have met had I not set foot on this path. And, there I discovered my gifts. I had a high tolerance for this sort of chaotic mess. And, I could see ways to help, however small, to relieve some of the suffering; to quench His thirst, as Mother Teresa described. My heart began to break for what broke His heart. And, now that I had encountered these souls, I couldn’t rest until I was somehow able to help.

Shortly into my life as a home based therapist, I met the man of my dreams. He brought me joy and filled my life with experiences and people that my introverted self would never have experienced. My primary calling became evident and we married and set out to start a family. Through the gift of our sacramental marriage we experienced an inexplicable increase in zeal for our once lukewarm faith. And again, Mother Teresa helped to give me direction. If I wanted to help others and bring about world peace, I must “go home and love my family.” So, I had the great joy and freedom to stay at home with my children for just over 13 years.

But that persistent “call within a call” led me to seek opportunities over the years to continue my work with those suffering in my community. It was a challenge to balance this with family and I kept Mother Teresa’s words in my head, “charity begins at home.” My family always comes first. My husband fully supports this and recently encouraged me to start my own counseling business. I felt completely unprepared and lacking in the skills to do this. But, then I thought of Mother Teresa’s train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling where she left the comfort and predictability of the convent and demonstrated courage, initiative, and tenacity in pursuing her call within a call. And, I did it.

I am forever grateful to God for giving her to me as an example of self denial and a life of service to others. Who knew that this could be the source of the greatest joys in my life? She continues to inspire me and when I am discouraged, I think of her and I find the strength to go on. I raise my morning cup of jo to this powerhouse of a woman. Saint Teresa, pray for us.

Advent Domestic Church Dominican Sisters Holy Orders Molly G Religious Sisterhood Spiritual Growth Vocations

A Doctor, Teacher…or Sister?

As parents, we have heard the conversation a thousand times.  Our little ones talk about what they want to be when they grow up.  We usually hear ‘teacher, doctor, animal helper, mommy, ..’ and other similar choices.  It often changes and day by day they want to be 500 different things. It is always fun to see what they will say next. You just never know what will come out of the mouth of a child.

This very scenario was playing out again at my dinner table about a month ago.  My girls were giggling, going around the table and talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up.  My second born said “dentist.”  My middle child said “chef.”  And we all laughed and chuckled when it was my 3 year old’s turn and her answer was simply “what?”  Then Reilly, my oldest, chimed in.  “I want to be a Sister,” she said.  The kitchen fell silent.  I turned to her and said, “What did you say?”  She repeated herself candidly. “I want to be a Sister when I grow up.”


I was a little surprised at my initial reaction.  It wasn’t negative by any means, but it was just neutral.  I always believed encouraging my children in their dreams, including entering religious life, but I just never imagined one of my children would bring it up.  I’m sure it has a lot to do with the personal interaction Reilly has had with some of the Dominican Sisters at her school.  Her former Principal was a Sister – a truly kind and generous person, and an extremely hard worker.  She knew every child’s name and lifted the school up to such a high level of love and respect.  Currently, one of Reilly’s second grade teachers is also a Domincan Sister.  She has many of the attributes of our former Principal.  She is generous, respectful and kind when you speak to her, has a great sense of humor, and you can tell she just drinks up the presence of the children.  She is truly a blessing to have in the second grade teaching staff.

I finally talked to Reilly about her statement.  I asked her if she was still interested in being a Sister.  She told me she was.  I told her maybe she should talk to Sister E (the second grade teacher) about her feelings and see what she said.  Reilly then thought for a long while.  She asked me “Mom, can you have children if you are a Sister?”  I told her “Well, no, but you can work with children by helping them or being a teacher, or many other things.”  She thought about it a little bit and then said “Well I will still keep my options open.”  (As you can tell, she is a little beyond 7 years old on the inside)

I laughed to myself.  Here was my oldest daughter, only 7 years old, contemplating some very serious life choices and commitments.  I turned to her and said “Reilly, you can be whatever you want to be.  Whether it is a Sister, or a teacher, or a mom… all vocations are important.  You are only 7 years old.  However, if you have a dream, or a calling from God to be a Sister, always stay open to it.  Do well in school, be nice to people, but make sure to leave your heart open so as you grow, God can make your vocational calling clearer to you. If it continues to be a desire to be a Sister, it is a dream you should follow.”  We finished up the conversation shortly after.

I think the important lesson from this conversation for me, was to always remember to have the faith of a child and as much as praying is important, to make sure I also listen just as diligently.  God writes on our children’s souls before they are even born.  He already has a plan for them, which He has designed for a specific reason.  Remembering this, if our children express an interest in religious life, whether a priest, Sister, or lay person volunteer, we should always be encouraging of these dreams.  We need children to grow up and want to be Priests and Sisters in order for our church to continue to thrive.  We need children at the very least to grow up realizing that fulfilling a religious vocation is something to be proud of, and is in fact, important.

I think the best thing we can do as Catholic parents is to never discourage those dreams or those passing thoughts.  Jesus always admired the faith of a child.  Maybe sometimes, instead of giving our ‘well thought out’ answer, we, as adults should resign ourselves to that child-like faith.  We should trust in the calling God has for all of our lives.  When it comes to our children, we should be working especially hard alongside them to help them realize those footprints God left on their hearts.

This Advent season, as we prepare for Jesus’ birth, it is a perfect time to reflect on how we give ourselves over to Christ.  It is a good time to listen to our children, and learn from them how we can better surrender to the season.  It is also imperative we help our children realize how they can keep an open mind and open heart to truly hear what God wants of them.  We should help them to take His hand, and follow the path He has made for them. What our children ultimately choose to do with their lives might not be the vision that we had for them, but if they listen for God’s calling and follow Him it will be exactly what God has chosen as their special path in life.

Just last night, my four older girls were having the all too familiar “what will we be” conversation…again.  When it got to Reilly, she hesitated and said “Hmmm.. well, maybe I want to be a Sister…..or a doctor? “ I just smiled.  I have no idea what Reilly will be when she grows up.  Perhaps she will be a doctor, or a teacher, or a mom.  But perhaps, God has put a little foot print on her heart, even at 7, and perhaps as she grows the Holy Spirit will guide her to a life in the Sisterhood.

 Until then, it is not my job to discourage her or steer her on a different path.  My only job is to learn from her – to ask God to let me have the faith of a child as she has already so outwardly shown me, and accept with a willing heart His will for her future in our lives.  And either way, Reilly will have one proud Mama by her side.