As the Vocation director for the Glenmary Sisters, I have been asked many times to share my vocation story. Therefore, I have chosen to share it with those who visit the Vocation Page of our website.
Looking back, I have to admit I first felt the call to religious life when I was in second grade and preparing for my First Holy Communion. The thought always stayed in the back of my mind, but by the time I started High School, I had begun babysitting and working at a small Dairy Store. While growing up, my family barely made it from paycheck to paycheck. There were 11 of us children and my dad only got paid once a month. Money was tight and there was no such thing as allowances. Now for the first time I was able to enjoy having my own money. In order to help my family, since my dad had passed away around this same time, I use my money to buy my school clothes and supplies. This still left me a little money to spend on myself. By the time I had begun my Junior year I was able to change jobs and I began working at a local supermarket where two of my brothers worked. I really enjoyed this job and began to put money aside for a car. That being said, as you can imagine having the pleasure of making my own money and saving for a car, the thought of religious life got pushed way down in my list of things I would like to do. I got caught up in the idea of buying new things especially since I grew up with hand-me-downs and used items. By my 19th birthday, I had purchased a brand new red and white Cobra II Mustang! I was extremely proud of this car.
As we all know, when God has made claim on our hearts, He is not so easy to forget us as we may be to forget Him. After the purchase of my car, I became so engrossed in working the thought of religious life, was a thing of the past, or so I thought. I enjoyed the work I was doing and I loved the people I worked for and with whom I worked. It is so easy to ignore that small voice inside of us if we busy ourselves with the things on the outside. Thus it was with me. I went along for the next 10 years ignoring what I was feeling and planning my life.
Then one day I began to feel this inner nudging again. No matter what I did to push it aside, it kept coming back. Now that so many years had passed since that first thought of religious life entered into my mind and heart, I could not believe that God would still want me. I also did not feel worthy to answer this call. I knew beyond a doubt that I was not the kind of person that God needed for religious life. So I felt very confused as to why this thought would not go away.
My best recourse I figured would be to go to the one person who I knew would side with me and help me put this out of my mind for good. Who was that you might ask? My confessor. I had been going to Fr. Jim for confession for many years. If there was anyone in this world who knew everything about me, I figured it would be him. I finally got the courage and made an appointment. When I told him what was going on; my doubts, my fears, and my concerns about not being “Good and Holy enough,” I was sure he would agree with me and say, “You are right Sharon, there is no way that God could be calling you to religious life!” I have to tell you, that day I got the surprise of my life. After I finished telling Fr. Jim all I had to say, he looked at me and smiled saying, “Sharon, if we all waited until we feel worthy of God’s call, there would be no priests, no religious, and no one doing any ministry in the church. The truth is none of us are worthy, but God’s grace will make up for any failing on our part! I think we need to look at this call in you.” So began my journey of discernment or in other words, the search for what God was calling me to do in and for His church.
I tell women all the time, once I wrapped my mind around that “yes” God was indeed calling me to religious life, finding the correct community was very much like trying find a new pair of shoes. When you need a new pair of shoes, the first thing you do is visit shoe stores. Then you pick our several pairs and try them on to see if they fit and if you can comfortably walk in them. That is what I discovered as I began to search out various communities. With Fr. Jim’s help, I visited several communities. None of these communities seem to be a good fit for me. When we had exhausted his contacts, he suggested I go to speak with the vocation director for the diocese.
I still remember that day. I remember walking into the office of Fr. Dennis and telling him that I believed I was being called to religious life but that although I had visited several communities, none of them seemed to be the right fit. He asked me a simple question, a question I have asked women with whom I have talked over the years. “If you could design a community to your specifications what would it look like?” I believe we all have different views of what religious life and ministry will entail. For me, my answer was simple, “I wanted a small community that stays right here in the United States, that works with the poor and those who may not know how much God loves them.” I also remember his response. “I wish all the young people that come into my office were as clear and articulate as you. Here you go. He gave me a copy of a book, A Guide to Religious Ministries, opened to the page for the Glenmary Sisters. The rest is history, in 2017 I celebrated my 25th Anniversary of my entrance into religious life and I know without a doubt, I am exactly where God has called me to be…and I will be walking in these shoes for the rest of my life.