My Joyful Choice: Stories of a Call to Vocation

Many people have felt a call to help us in our mission, and for that we are grateful. Not only those who want to join the Sisterhood, but volunteers helping in our ministry have joined us in a number of capacities. Here you will find stories of Sisters and those who have been a part of our lives in meaningful ways.

     

     

SISTER ROSEMARY STANTON

At the age of 19, I entered the religious congregation of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur.

I was born in Fort Worth, Texas into a Catholic family and my father worked hard so that we could go to a Catholic School. Ever since I was little, I loved going to church and participating in church activities.

I was very involved in high school as a cheerleader, played on the basketball team and enjoyed parties and dating. Weekdays were full of school activities and the weekends with friends and social activities. I prayed every night before going to bed and often prayed the rosary, participating in Mass sometimes early in the morning before school. Although I was very involved in my social life, I still felt that something was missing. I loved being part of all the activities yet felt the need for and loved being alone, in nature, and was probably praying without realizing it at the time.

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When I was a junior in high school I had the opportunity to go with a Sister and some other young women to teach religious education classes after school once a week in a very poor area of town. One summer I worked in the Head Start Program in that neighborhood. I was very struck by the poverty and became aware of my many blessings. I felt I wanted to give to others some of what I had received; not just material goods, but to give something of myself for them, because I knew that I had received so much from God, my family and the Sisters who had taught me.

I often wondered what God wanted me to do in life and the wondering was a way of praying about it. I would have loved to marry, to have a family and raise them as good Christians, yet also felt the call to perhaps follow the call to religious life. It was only after a year of college that I decided to enter the Sisters of Saint Mary.

Since then, my life has been full of many people and experiences that God has permitted to be a part of my life. As a young Sister, at the age of 22, I was part of an international formation community of our congregation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I lived with Sisters of different nationalities and I learned there something about the universality of the Church and the service of God’s Kingdom in the world. In all, I spent eight years in Africa and 26 years ministering with our sisters in the northeastern part of Brazil. My many years in different countries and among peoples of other cultures have made me a sort of global citizen who knows from close-up about the beauty, the human richness, great material poverty and unjust situations in these places of the world, and my religious life is different because of this.

Presently, I serve on the SSMN international congregational leadership team and locally minister in the diocesan high school in campus ministry. Throughout the years there have been joys and also difficult and sorrowful moments– but that is part of life–no matter the path God calls us to follow.

The vow of consecrated celibacy has brought into my life a larger family than I had ever dreamed of as a teenager. This “family” is made up not only of my own family and the Sisters with whom I committed my life to live together our faith in Jesus Christ and to transmit it, but also with the many people in different parts of the world among whom I have lived and to whom I have ministered. These people are forever a part of my life.

One thing I am certain of is that all of this would not have been possible without prayer. Since I was a child and throughout these years I have prayed in different ways. As I continue the journey through life, I am constantly seeking to grow in my relationship with God. Without prayer and without the help of holy and wise persons to help me recognize God’s presence, I would not have been able to come this far in my religious life. The living out of my religious vocation in different parts of the world has given me an awareness of the reality of our brothers and sisters in the underdeveloped areas. Their presence in my heart and life make me hear a continuous call to live in solidarity with them, their hopes and needs and a call to be a bridge-builder between cultures and peoples.

Although religious life is the “road less traveled”, it is worth the journey.

REYNA CASTELAN, OBLATE OF SSMN

What a journey this “day” has been! In 1989, working at the Catholic Center, I met Sr. Gabriela Martinez — bright eyes, charming smile, embracing me. As I met more Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, not unlike on the road to Damascus, but little by little, my life changed!

1991- Sr. St. John Begnaud (may she rest in peace) volunteered me to “Come and see… Tarrant County AIDS Interfaith Network” where the people concerned with the welfare of persons with AIDS lived. I was part of their Board of Directors from 1991 to 1994 and in 1996 became a volunteer. I did the AIDS Walk from 1992 to 2010.

1992– Sr. Bernice Knapek called me to “come and see where the Associates lived,” and I became an Associate of SSMN.

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1996– Sr. Frances Vuillemin called me to “come and see where the prisoners lived,” and I became a volunteer in the prison.

1998– Sr. Donna Ferguson (may she rest in peace) sent me to New York City “to go and see”…and learn how to help priests, seminarians, and Sisters with their immigration process so that they can come to work in the U.S., and later obtain their citizenship.

2005– Sr. Cecile Faget showed me the way to “where the Oblates lived,” and I became an Oblate of SSMN.

2010– Sr. Gabriela Martinez asked me to “come and see where the Hispanic community in Arlington lived,” and I am still there.

As of 2015, I am at St. Joseph Parish in Arlington where I help with the bulletin in Spanish and with the Children’s Liturgy of the Word at the Sunday Spanish Mass. At the parish and diocesan level I help with presentations on prison ministry and the Catholic Social Teachings of the Church. I continue being a prison volunteer at FCI Fort Worth. A happy addition for me is to attend the Hebrew study group every week with Sr. Cecile Faget and Oblate Clarice Peninger, under the direction of Dr. Toni Craven.

To say that I am very grateful to the SSMNs is an understatement. For their support and prayers sustain me, and their charism permeates the way I live, study, pray, and work. Yes, my life has been blessed in ways I couldn’t imagine 28 years ago, when I first encountered the Sisters of St. Mary.

CONNIE GALAN VASQUEZ, ASSOCIATE OF SSMN

I met the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in the 1980s when I started working at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Fort Worth, TX as Director of Religious Education. At that time I did not know too much about working in a Hispanic parish. I went to the diocese to get some help and direction on what needed to be done. That is where I met Sr. Gabriela Martinez. I told her that I could organize and direct programs, but was not too sure what needed to be taught.

She suggested I go and take some pastoral classes at the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio and that the Sisters of St. Mary would help me with expenses. So I did that for several summers and got a Certificate in Hispanic Pastoral Service, 1993. During these years the Sisters were there to help me with their advice, prayers and support.

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Later in the 1990s I applied for a position at the Diocese of Fort Worth, TX. in the Hispanic Pastoral Service Department and again Sr. Gabriela Martinez helped me get this position.

I also decided to continue my education. When I could not pass my algebra tests, Sr. Mary Merdian came to the rescue by tutoring me in algebra, and encouraged me to continue working on my education. I was able to get my associates degree in 2003.

Later I got laid off from the Diocese of Fort Worth, and Sr. Anselma Knabe called me and asked me if I would like to work at the Catholic Renewal Center Book Store.

In 2008, Sr. St. John Begnaud (may she rest in peace) also asked me to help her at the federal prison in the Life Connections Program as a mentor to the inmates. I was not sure about that. However, I said yes and I still really enjoy working with the ladies.

Sr. Yolanda Cruz was selected to be the vocation director and she asked me if I would help her start a blog in 2009. We have been working ever since on giving information to possible candidates for starting a vocation with the Congregation.

I was also asked by Sr. Charles Marie Serafino and Sr. Mary Frances Serafino if I would like to become an Associate of the SSMN, so again I said yes.

I went to visit one of the Sisters while she was ill and I met Sr. Louise Smith, who was talking about her work as the archivist. I asked her if she needed help, and I have been doing that for a couple of years.

Sr. Charles Marie asked if I would help her with the Mission fund drive; we go to several parishes and ask for help. I do the talk in Spanish. We have done this for several years.

There is not enough I can say about the positive impact that the Sisters of St. Mary have had on me. I really enjoy helping them in whatever way I can. They have always been there for me and for many others. I thank God for putting them in my life.

SISTER GINNY VISSING, SSMN

My vocation story began when I was six years old and taught by Sister Mary Ann, a Sister of St. Mary. I remember being so mesmerized by her kind eyes, her gentle voice and her beautiful teachings about Jesus. She seemed to be an angel right out of Heaven. The memory of another Sister that year stays with me: Sister Cecile. She happened to come to our class one day to substitute for Sister Mary Ann. She led us in prayer and closed her eyes as she did so. I was so impressed as a little child because the look of serenity on her face could only mean one thing: that she could see God.

I was taught and influenced by many Sisters throughout elementary and high school years in Dallas at Cecilia's and Our Lady of Good Counsel Academy. The Sisters became for me not only educators but mentors and models of prayer. I developed a longing for a life like theirs, one that would bring me into communion with God always and everywhere.

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Through the grace of a Catholic youth conference when I was 17, I knew God was calling me to become a sister. It was not just an ordinary grace. What I experienced was a powerful infusion of God's presence and love for me. I felt that I was truly under the protective wings of the Holy Spirit. I entered the Sisters of St. Mary after graduating from high school.

The years have been blessed in more ways than I can count. I loved the years of teaching in the primary grades. I treasure the years of being in parish ministry as a Director of Religious Education for children. Music and sacred dance have given me so many ways to praise and worship the Lord and lead others in those expressions. My life as a sister has helped me become the person the Lord calls me to be. My favorite scripture is Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He assures her of living water, the grace of the Spirit to do whatever he says. I know without a doubt that this promise is true.