I first felt the stirrings of a possible call to religious life when I was very young. My great aunt, Sr. Caroline, was a Franciscan Sister and would visit our farm every year. I remember seeing her and thinking, “Yeah, I could do that.” When we would visit her in the convent, I enjoyed “playing a sister” for the weekend and staying in the quiet of the chapel or the cells. All throughout middle school and high school I was graced to have a deep understanding that my life was going to be different from my peers. Looking back I can see that a deep intimacy with God was already being formed. However, one day in eighth grade, I remember telling a classmate, “I think I’m going to be a nun.” From her, I then received the litany of reasons why that
was a horrible decision. “That’s such a waste of a life, you’re going to be so lonely, you’d make a better wife and mother, etc.” At my age I took these things as truth and out of fear, I prayed that I wasn’t being called to religious life, even though the call was still strong on my heart. Later on in high school, I attended a Steubenville Conference, at the end of which there was an “altar call” for anyone to bravely come forward who felt called to religious life or the priesthood. I knew I had to stand up and when I did, I felt a new joy in my possible call.
When I went to college, I began to look at my vocation as something I just had to figure out. I grasped at it, wanting control, and it really suffocated me. Junior year, I had a profound encounter with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that launched me into a desire for prayer. As I started to really pray, I began to fall in love with Christ. I found myself wanting to spend extra time with Him in the chapel. Slowly, my white-knuckle grip on my vocation lessened and I began an authentic relationship with Jesus without the vocation question looming over my head. Between junior and senior year of college, I served as a summer missionary with Life Teen in Georgia working with teenagers. That summer radically changed my life and increased my love for God and my desire to bring souls to Him. My summer missionary formation was directed by Fr. Emmanuel, a CFR Friar, who introduced me to the CFR Sisters. I even found a vocational card of the CFR Sisters, and I remember being struck by how the sister looked as she was speaking to a crowd of people. I remember thinking, “This sister is in love.” My final year of college was really focused on Christ and serving Him in ministry. As my year came to a close, I didn’t know what was next for me. I wanted to enter religious life, yet I didn’t feel ready for that step.
My focus again went to how could I serve the Lord, and I applied and was accepted to be a full-time Life Teen Missionary at Camp Hidden Lake. I served there for two years, and during that time my life became centered on prayer, community and serving others. As a result of this, my desire for religious life grew more and more. Part of a new missionary’s formation is to go on an 8-day Ignatian silent retreat - something that seemed daunting, yet exciting. On this retreat, the Lord began to make His intentions more clear. I felt that He asked me to marry Him! I was filled with joy and some hesitation. I started asking many questions: “When was this going to happen and with what community?” To answer those, I sensed our Blessed Mother tell me in prayer, “September 29th.” I kept this date in my heart but didn’t want my whole discernment of communities to hinge on this detail. So the searching for my future family commenced, and I started to go on more intentional visits. I visited one community that seemed to fit, but then I remembered the CFR Sisters that Fr. Emmanuel told me about. I thought, “Why not go visit and check them off of my list?” Well, needless to say, I DIDN’T check them off my list, and I fell in love with them.
Initially I was drawn to the CFRs for their ministry with the poor, especially in a place where there is so much suffering. On my visit, I noted how the Sisters spoke about Jesus and how they cared for Him, even by giving the best they had to God by the beauty of their chapel. I was embraced by the warm family spirit of the community pervaded by immense joy and simplicity. Here in this community I found a place where I could be authentically myself while radically living out the Gospel – I felt at home. Over the course of my second year of mission, I kept in contact with the Sisters and finally applied, even though I didn’t have without-a-doubt clarity. The day I submitted the application, I had a phone call with the vocations directress and she said, “Now Natalie, I don’t know if I’ve told you the entrance date for this year, but it’s September 29th.” After hearing that detail I was in shock, as it was the same date Our Lady told me! It was a pure gift of reassurance, and I was moved to a deeper trust that my vocation is all in the Lord’s hands. The more I surrender to His Will for my life, the freer I will become. Life with Christ truly is a joyful adventure!