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|St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Catholic Church||
Love at First Sight
It was love at first sight. On the first day of school I was sitting in my fourth grade classroom at Nativity Catholic School. Our new teacher was a young sister, dressed in a long white dress, long black veil, and a long rosary at her side. She exuded an otherworldly aura about her that immediately attracted me. I dreamed of being a sister when I grew up the way little girls today dream of being princesses.
My parents were delighted that we now had sisters teaching at our school. I remember my mother taking us kids over to their convent after school. We said the rosary with them. Going to the convent and spending time in prayer with the sisters became normal for us. In addition to Sunday Mass, we also prayed the family rosary at home daily, and participated in missions and Eucharistic processions when we heard about them. I also began accompanying my father on First Fridays when he would spend an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in the wee hours of the morning when everyone else was asleep. These were the seeds of my vocation.
After completing fifth grade, my family began going to St. Margaret Mary’s Parish. I began the sixth grade there and became familiar with two other religious communities: the Salesian sisters and the Sisters of Charity of Rolling Hills. Having joined the Sodality with the Salesians, I was able to continue to be around women religious with the other girls in the group. But my desire to become a sister had changed. I no longer had the same attraction to religious life that I had had a few years earlier. And, although I could not put words to it at the time, I had begun to realize that sisters are human beings just like everyone else. They too had tempers, were unkind at times, etc. And it really irked me when other classmates would jokingly call me “Sister Mary” at school. I really did not want to be associated with the sisters in that way.
On January 31, 1980, we celebrated the Feast of St. John Bosco. I was now in the seventh grade. It was customary for us to have a small carnival at school in the morning, and then a movie in the afternoon. The movie that we saw that year was “The Song of Bernadette” which I had never seen before. As I watched the movie, I heard something within me saying, “You will not be happy in this life unless you become a religious.” I recognized that this message was similar to the message that Our Lady told St. Bernadette: “I do not promise to make you happy in this life; only in the next.” But I couldn’t shake off the force of the message even though I had no idea where it had come from.
I decided to read the book on which the film was based. The very end of the book contained what I needed to know that perhaps God had spoken to me. I discovered that I had been baptized on the Feast of St. Bernadette—April 16th. That “coincidence” convinced me that what I had heard was a valid revelation of God’s will for me. At the same time, I really didn’t know what I could do about it since I was only 13 years old.
God took care of that as well. A few months later, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church celebrated the annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations. As my family went into the hall after Mass for coffee and donuts, I realized that tables providing all kinds of information on various religious congregations had been set up in the hall. My heart wanted to go over to those tables. But I didn’t because I hadn’t said anything to my parents yet. And although they prayed for a vocation in the family, it was kind of understood that it was supposed to be one of my four brothers. Being the only girl, my father dreamed of walking me down the aisle someday. But once again, God took care of my dilemma. My father came over to me and asked me if I wanted to go over and pick up some information in case I ever thought about becoming a sister. That’s all I needed to hear. I went over and picked up every brochure, sat down at my desk that very day, wrote letters to all the communities, and then waited for their responses.
As the responses came in, I began to realize that I was much too young for most of the communities. However, the Daughters of St. Paul invited me down to their convent in San Diego for a day of discernment. My mom and dad, myself, and my two youngest brothers made the trip one Sunday. As soon as I walked into the book store that they owned and operated, I knew that I was home. Their ministry of communicating the Gospel through all available forms of media really appealed to me. I had already recognized that I was very different from the other children with whom I went to school in terms of my faith. Therefore, this ministry coincided with my desire to communicate to others the gift that I had been given.
After spending a week with the sisters that summer, I had made the decision to ask my parents if I could enter the community in Boston and go to high school with the Daughters of St. Paul. My poor parents. At first they thought that my fascination with the sisters was a passing fad. Then I hit them with this request. Thank God, they took my request seriously and sought advice from a Jesuit priest at the retreat house where my dad made an annual weekend retreat. On the advice of this priest, my dad spoke with me about the various vocations that were available to me. When he relayed our conversation to the priest, my dad was encouraged to allow me to pursue what I believed God was calling me to. With this advice, my parents gave me their permission to enter the community of the Daughters of St. Paul at the age of fourteen.
That is thirty years ago now—and I feel tremendously blessed to have known what God was calling me to at such an early age. I have been able to dedicate most of my life to pursuing that call. I have been blessed to minister in the Church in the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Charleston SC, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Toronto ON (Canada). I have participated in the communications ministry of the Daughters of St. Paul as a typesetter, printer, tele-marketer, and sales associate in our book stores. I have presented media literacy education at numerous catechetical events, led dozens of multi-media youth retreats, and written numerous articles for BustedHalo.com. But above all else, I have been able to witness publically to the tremendous love of our God who calls each of us by name.
None of this would have been possible without the community at St. Margaret Mary’s parish. I am indeed indebted to so many of you who witnessed your own faith commitment to me, and who prayed for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I know that I would not have heard, discovered the community that God was calling me to, or been able to persevere in my vocation without your presence and prayers in my life.
~ Sister Bernadette Reis