Religious Biographies | Diocese of Lansing

Religious Biographies

Vocations to Consecrated Life- Women’s Journeys:

Sr. Sarah Rose Dent, T.O.R.

Hello dear friends!

            My name is Sr. Sarah Rose and I grew up the third of eight children in a strong Catholic family. I was blessed to go to Catholic school in Michigan for both elementary and high school. Another immense blessing was graduating from Franciscan University in May of 2007 with my bachelor’s in Mental Health. God has done much in preparing me for this call to be His Bride. I just wanted to share with you a little bit of my journey with the Lord to the Franciscan Sisters.

I think the first time I consciously thought about the real possibility of religious life was the spring semester of my sophomore year attending Franciscan University. I was able to go to Austria that semester in the university’s study abroad program. During that semester, I found myself being drawn more and more to Our Lord in the Eucharist and a friend and I decided to start making a holy hour everyday along with daily Mass. It was during one of these holy hours that the thought came to me, “Oh my gosh, I think I’m supposed to be a nun! Ahh!” I freaked out! There was no way! I guess I had always thought I would meet some great guy at school, get married, and have a dozen children. I decided I needed to talk to someone about this and asked Sr. Della Marie (one of the T.O.R. sisters in Austria). When we chatted, I felt so much more at peace. She said that God was simply pursuing my heart right now and I don’t need to figure out my vocation or worry about it.

            During my junior year God really worked through a few retreats I had. One specifically stands out, a women’s retreat. We had a holy hour and during it each woman was given a rose to lay before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. When I laid mine down, I told Him – “Jesus, this is my life, I lay it at Your feet, whatever You desire, Jesus.” What freedom to surrender and also what joy the Lord gives us in doing so!

            The summer after my junior year, I really started thinking and praying more about religious life. One day my mom asked me what I was going to do after graduating and I told her I was thinking about religious life. She was excited and we looked up different communities nearby that I could visit. I visited a few and they were beautiful but just not exactly what I was looking for. I knew there were the T.O.R. sisters on campus at Franciscan so I looked up their website. When I pulled it up on the computer – I just started crying! I looked at everything I could – their prayer life, ministries, formation process, work, and knew that I had to visit when I went back to school. I called the vocation director and went to their Vocation Discernment Retreat and come and see – when I visited I saw that the sisters were so fun and I loved their rhythm of prayer, work, and ministry, but most importantly, I simply felt an inner peace that this was the one!

            Over Christmas break, I was immensely blessed to have an Ignatian eight day silent retreat. I never knew how much God can speak through the silence. I was given Scripture passages to read and then picture myself there – What would it look like? What would I hear, smell, taste? Who is speaking? What’s going on in this passage? This way of prayer totally changed me – it was so amazing to be with Jesus throughout His life. Anyway, one of the passages was the washing of the feet of the Apostles. Jesus was washing their feet and I was there thinking, “Oh no, my feet are so dirty! I don’t want Him to see them!”  But then He knelt in front of me and looked into my eyes and I knew that He saw and knew my whole self, even the “dirty” parts and loved me. He asked me, “Will you let Me wash your feet?” And it was more than that – it was like – “Will you let Me provide for you? Will you let Me take care of you?” I gazed at Him and my “Yes!” came from the deepest part of my being.

            Toward the end of my senior year at Franciscan, I still felt like I needed more time to pray and think about religious life. After graduating, I was blessed to work at a Special Education school in Arizona on the Navajo Indian Reservation for a year as a teacher. I had five young men in my classroom who were severely disabled. We had so much fun together! I will never forget them and those I worked with. I learned a lot about motherhood by being a sort of “mother” to my students.

            During this time, a friend of mine was pregnant and she and her husband were such a beautiful witness to me of married life. It was very special for me to be with her at that time, and also a little difficult and good for me to see what I was giving up. I remember when I first held their little boy – I just thought – what a gift! What a miracle and gift our lives are from God! This moment made me desire to give this gift of my life back to Him, to be only His.

            I want to thank my parents and siblings for their inspiring love and support for me. Please keep me in your prayers! May God give you peace and joy! - Sr. Sarah Rose.

Sr. Brenda McHugh, DSMP

As a Daughter of St. Mary of Providence, I admire the image of Our Lady of Providence. She is a Mother tenderly holding the Child Jesus in her arms and with ear bent forward attentively listening to Jesus and her children. She is my model and inspiration of how to fulfill my call to be “mother”. It is a call that goes beyond “physical motherhood” and seeks to nourish, provide and be attentive to the needs of the soul. This call is embodied in our charism: to reveal the provident love of the Father through works of mercy toward those who are most in need.

I knew from a young age that I was called to be a mother, but my calling simply didn’t fit into any category with which I was familiar. It was only when, as a high school student, I volunteered at a camp for children with development disabilities, run by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Lake Zurich, Illinois, that I saw with clarity the desire of my heart in action. I saw these vowed women religious as mothers. They were ministering to the children in their fragile human state with such love and care, nurturing their bodies and their soul, treating them with human dignity and as precious in God’s sight. I watched them as they prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament and realized their love and attention to those whom they served came from Christ Himself. With the grace of God they could be his hands, feet and heart to others. That summer, I knew and understood that my deep call to be mother could be put into action with these Sisters. I saw the Sisters as real human beings, who gave their lives completely to God, by caring for His “little ones”!

            Even now, as I carry out my call in teaching in an elementary school, I realize that I am nourishing God’s life in the souls of my students as I teach His children to believe, to forgive, to love and to pray. God gives us an abundance of grace to feed the spiritually hungry, to speak the truth with love, to counsel the doubtful, to be a guide and support to those in need of a “mother”. I never dreamed I would be blessed with so many “children” with whom I get to share God’s life! My life is richer and fuller than I ever imagined it could be!

Sr. Mary Augustine Warrell, Novice, Srs. of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration.

Born and raised in South Bend, IN, I lived just 20 minutes away from the motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, IN.  As a junior in high school, I began attending the retreats the Sisters held at the convent for young women, and went to these for the rest of high school and part of college.  By the time of college graduation, however, I decided that “having given God His chance,” religious life was not for me, and I began graduate studies at Michigan State University in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program.

After spending time in three different labs, I joined my favorite lab at the end of my first academic year in graduate school.  At the same time, I was deepening my prayer life, reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and getting more involved in my parish (the combined parish of St. Thomas Aquinas and St John Student Center in East Lansing). I was starting to “settle in” my new life and meet new people, and, since I thought I was called to be a holy married woman, started praying for a Catholic husband. To my surprise, in response to this prayer, the idea of religious life came back! Persistently!  It all came to a climax in September 2012 when God let me know it was time to move and answer His call that wouldn’t go away, but instead grew stronger. In a mysterious way, He touched me, and I knew God was calling me to be a Sister. Jesus, the Perfect Bridegroom, had claimed me for Himself to live as His bride! With this knowledge came an indescribable peace, joy, and certainty, which all stood in stark contrast to the emptiness and restlessness I was experiencing in my life, feeling like an unfulfilled graduate student in spite of having everything I thought I wanted.  God was calling me, and He was calling me now. Strengthened by this knowledge, and the joy and peace that came with it, I reinitiated contact with Sister Lois, the vocations director of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration, who guided me through the process that a young woman goes through when seeking admittance into this religious community. In the meantime, I switched from the Ph.D. to the Master’s program in my research at Michigan State so that I could enter the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration the next year.

 After going through all the necessary steps to become a candidate, and graduating with my Master of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in August 2013, I entered as a postulant on September 1st, 2013.  Postulancy was a year of discernment, in which we lived, prayed, and worked with the Sisters, although we were not considered a part of the community yet. I officially became a Sister of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration when I was invested as a novice in this community on August 10, 2014. At the end of this 2-year novitiate period (God willing, August 2016), I will profess the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (First Vows, also known as First Profession or temporary profession). (A Sister in our community is in temporary vows for 5 years before she makes Perpetual Vows. All in all, initial formation, from postulancy to Perpetual Profession, is an 8-yr process). Jesus continues to lead me; this is only the beginning of this adventure with Him!

Sr. Faith Marie Woolsey, Temporary Vows, Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist

I met the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in 2005 through my professor, Sister Lucia Treanor. Having grown up in the Catholic school system I find it ironic that my first real encounter with a habited Religious Sister took place at my secular university. Despite my protests that she could find someone more worthy, Sister Lucia talked me into representing our university at a conference on the New Evangelization with her. This was the first time I experienced the Sisters as a community. As powerful as the conference was, I remember being far more impressed and captivated by the Community than any of the presenters. The Sisters were so real and vibrant and funny, nothing like I expected. 

Over the next five years our relationship deepened. I took advantage of every opportunity to be with the Sisters on their farm. From mucking the stalls to helping teach Theology of the Body to teenagers, I cherished every minute with the Community. I was happiest and most myself when I was with them. I also attended several retreats given by the Sisters on Humanae Vitae and the complementarity between men and women. It surprised me that I learned the true beauty of fruitfulness through these consecrated, celibate women. I took my strong response to these retreats as a sign from God that I was called to sacramental marriage. Therefore, I was completely caught off guard when Sister Lucia asked me if I would be interested in attending a discernment weekend at the Motherhouse in Connecticut. I remember vividly my response, “Sister, I am honored. I would love to go visit the Motherhouse, but I am not seriously thinking about a religious vocation. Can I still go?” I went and it was great. I learned more about the community and grew in admiration of them but at the end of the weekend I was frustrated because I did not have any more clarity about my vocation.

There was another discernment weekend the following year but I was reluctant to go. I was tired of discerning but did not want to pass up an opportunity to go visit the Sisters at the Motherhouse. I decided to go and have a good time but not really discern. God had other plans. I was there for no more than three hours when lightning struck. I remember one second thinking about how amazing the community is, and then the next second thinking, “Oh my God, You want me to be one of them.” I have never in my life felt such panic or such peace. This was the last thing I expected. My entire future changed in that instant. But amidst the inner chaos was an overwhelming sense of “rightness,” of clarity. At one point during the weekend our Foundress, Mother Rosemae Pender, described discovering one’s vocation as falling in love. It was at that instant that I realized I was already deeply in love with this community.

I am now preparing for First Vows and could not be any more ecstatic about the direction my life is going. I fall deeper in love with God, the Church, and my Community every day.I find my vocation gives increased purpose and intensity to every aspect of my life: in prayer, in my personal interactions, and professionally, as a physical therapist.  Although I will never be a biological mother, like I once dreamed, I have never felt more life giving. This whole journey just shows that the plan God had for my life is so much greater than anything I could have possibly imagined for myself.

Sr. Philomena, Daughter of Mary, Temporary Vows, Queenship of Mary

'What is a vocation? Maybe a simple definition of a vocation could be summed up in two words: "calling" and "gift." God loves us uniquely and individually, and has a call on each one of our lives. This call is His gift to us, and in turn it's also our gift to the world.

I feel so blessed to be called to the Queenship of Mary Community. My 'vocation story' is really my journey of discovering Mary's invitation to be an instrument in making her known and loved. My life is dedicated, consecrated, to her! What a gift!

I didn't always have a love for our Lady. In fact, growing up in the Protestant faith, Mary was only acknowledged as the Mother of Jesus. Devotion to Mary was for those superstitious Catholics, not for me! God in His mercy placed people in my life who were an authentic witness of the Catholic Faith. These encounters, as well as learning more and more of the Truth of the Faith, culminated in me being received into the Catholic Church at the age of 14, along with my family.

Even in going through the RCIA process, I was already feeling a pull towards religious life. I just could not shake the still, small voice that whispering in my heart that Jesus was inviting me to belong totally to Him. Being a normal teenager, I was naturally drawn to boys and the idea of marriage, but all through high school was this inner tug to become a sister.

Our Lady, like a good Mother, guided me right into her open arms. I didn't know which community of sisters to join, but had always loved Mother Teresa's community, the Missionaries of Charity. After the Lord closed that door of possibly discerning with them, there was still that sense of being called, but where? And that's when I really encountered the Queenship of Mary Community, a new community located in that 'frozen wilderness' also known as Canada. I met the Foundress, who invited me to 'come and see.' And so I did - twice!

You might say the rest is history. In 2010 I entered as an aspirant, and made my first vows in 2013, receiving the religious name of 'Sr. Philomena, Daughter of Mary.' My journey with the Queenship of Mary Community has ultimately been an ever-deepening discovery of the love of Jesus, through Mary. I am so happy to be called to be an instrument in Mary's hands! Praise God for His infinite mercy!'

 

Mirianna Sternhagen, Initial Formation, Regnum Christi

A Wish Come True - A Vocation? Anyone but me! That was my consistent attitude … until one evening in July. I was twelve years old, and my family had gone to our parish in Billings, Montana, to attend a church mission and healing service. Afterwards the speaker talked to various families, including me and my sister. Perhaps our simplicity impressed him, but at any rate he told us, “Tonight, when you are in bed and the lights are out, ask God for whatever you want, and I will pray that it happens.”

In bed that night I felt like I was in a fairy tale, as I stared at the ceiling, wondering what it was that I most wanted. The house of my dreams flashed through my mind…but all that would only last for a time, and then fade into nothingness. I wanted something real. Next I thought of people I knew who were suffering, but so many faces crowded my mind that I couldn’t pray for just one and exclude the others. Nor did I feel like one sweeping, generic prayer for everybody would actually “work.” Suddenly I knew what I wanted! Of course, the best thing I could wish for would be that I would make God smile! I wanted my life to be an oblation of love and reparation, a holocaust of praise. That was real, that would make me happy, and that was my wish.

I thought nothing more of my wish, until three years later when I was kneeling before the monstrance, praying the divine praises, “Blest be God. Blest be his most holy name…” Suddenly I remembered my wish, and a wave of understanding hit me! These prayers which the consecrated pray every night console God and make him smile. What’s more, to be consecrated is to incarnate that sacrifice of praise! My heart was filled with t joy as I realized, “I am going to get consecrated!” And three years later I did just that. Consecrated life, for me, has been a wish come true! 

 

Sr. Sarah Marie Draper, Servant of God’s Love, Final Vows.

My earliest years were spent as an on again/off again Catholic.  Over the years, as my faith grew and became grounded, I began to consider vocation.  I wanted to be rooted enough in Christ before entering into such a serious relationship and so I took a year not to discern but to grow deeper in my relationship with the Lord.

During this time, the Lord began to draw me to Himself through the Sacraments and particularly in prayer before Him in the Blessed Sacrament.  Soon, He placed in my heart a strong desire to give my whole life to Him.  As my longing increased, fears surfaced.  One day while praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I laid out all my desires and fears, leaving them at His feet.  I found that my desire only increased and I knew then that I wanted to become religious sister.  The Lord led me to the Servants of God’s Love.  I happened to hear the sisters singing while volunteering at Emmanuel House, a home where some of the sisters served.  I could hear how genuine, orthodox, and abandoned to Jesus they were.  The Lord assured me this was the place He had prepared for me. 

 

 Sr. Rachel Benjamin, Servant of God’s Love, Final Vows.

Though raised Catholic, I had lost interest in God. On a retreat at age 19 I was converted. I was isolated, I felt like such an outsider, yet I didn’t want to participate. That evening I was deeply moved by a song which led me to say "Yes" to Jesus. Immediately I was in search of a priest. After confession I was transformed, I had been found!

The Lord moved quickly. I changed jobs, moved into a house of discernment, joined a women's group and had a network of solid Christian friends, all within two months! I decided to be "single for a year" to give myself the space needed to establish myself as a Catholic woman. Having never been comfortable being “single” my free time was spent in prayer and Christian fellowship.

I found that Jesus had a great desire for me, and I learned to trust Him. At age 21 I heard Jesus' invitation to be His bride as a Servant of God's Love sister. I responded with another “Yes!” Life now is a thrilling adventure. The Blessed Mother is showing me how to be a consecrated woman of God. I never regret saying “Yes” to the Lord. 

 

Sr. Miriam MacLean, Final Vows, Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma

My name is Sister Miriam MacLean, RSM and I entered the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan seven years ago, shortly after college. I was drawn to the Sisters of Mercy because I felt like I had been shown the Mercy of God in tremendous ways and wanted to share that Mercy with others. The process of formation has been one of many blessings and is a continual unfolding of the Lord’s loving designs in my life and seeing those designs in His work in the Church.

This past May, I finished my Master’s in Social Work at The Catholic University of America, and look forward to using this education in service of the Diocese of Lansing. Most importantly, I will also be preparing for my final vows on August 16, 2014. I appreciate your continued prayers that I am able to be a faithful and joyful mediator between the mercy of God and the misery of mankind. 

 

 

Sr. Mary Lisa Renfer, Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Temporary Vows.

 By the grace of God, the desire in me to give my whole life to Christ began when I was very young. As I went into high school, the thought began that perhaps I would give my life to Christ as His bride, as a Sister, but it was still in the back of my mind. I went to college at Franciscan University of Steubenville and received wonderful support in my faith. In my junior year of college, through times of intense prayer, I knew that I desired to become a Sister. It was at the Easter Vigil that year that I knew most clearly His desire for me as I looked to the Cross in darkness, waiting for the light of His Resurrection. That next June, I visited the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Alma, MI. The best way I can describe it is that what I saw in them was something I knew was already in me; it was the charism placed in me at my Baptism. I had the great gift of being able to enter the community that September, with the bliss of knowing I belonged entirely to Christ. A year later, I received the habit and a new name, Sister Mary Lisa, after Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. A year ago, I professed my first vows. I can still say every day that there is no greater gift than knowing your life belongs entirely to Christ.

 

Sr Mary Jacinta Campbell, O.P. Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist

The Dominican life is a life of study and preaching for the good of souls. When I was in grade school people would ask me if I wanted to be a teacher like my mom. “No, because I don’t want to go to school my whole life.” This dislike for schooling along with a mortal fear of speaking in front of crowds set me off the trail of my vocation. Although I believe I was always open to the idea, I confidently told everyone that I was planning on getting married, having a big family and enjoying a prosperous career of illustrating and writing children’s picture books. Besides, my older sister was planning on becoming a religious so I figured that was checked off the list in my family.

It was when my sister became a Dominican that the idea started becoming attractive to me. But it was not the idea, really, that attracted me. It was the reality of being around such happy sisters that my vocation started rumbling. It came to a full roar by the time I graduated from high school. I was open, although I cried an awful lot when I realized that the joy of the convent would mean handing over to God the joy of having my own children, and God took me up on my word. After receiving my high school diploma I drove to the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor MI and knew that this was now my home.

I have found that my Dominican soul is designed to grow in love with God through learning about His world, and that I must share the joy of the Good News or I will explode with it (even if that means speaking in front of many people)! Not only do I live the life of study and preaching for the good of souls, but I love it too! 

 

Sr. Mary Andre Thelen - Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, Novice.

Although I grew up in a wonderful Catholic family, my faith did not become truly my own until high school, when I encountered people my own age who were on fire with love for Christ. As my own faith deepened, I began to wonder if I had a religious vocation. However, the community I was sure I would enter if I was called to religious life only took women with undergraduate degrees, so I went off to the University of Notre Dame to pursue a degree in biochemistry. My first year on campus was very blessed, but my comfortable life was turned upside down when the Dominican Sisters of Mary came to give a talk on campus in March. As Sr. Joseph Andrew said, “If God is calling now; then answer now!” I had a startling realization that God’s plan might not be for me to wait. The idea scared me a lot! After several novenas to St. Therese and some very clear answers, I knew in my heart that God was leading me to this Community. I still had many reservations, but over the past three years, Christ has broken down every one. He has shown me so clearly that this is where He wants me; moreover, He has given me an incredible joy about the entire journey! Many thanks to my family for their holiness and love, and to Fr. Drew Gawrych CSC for his prayers and counsel! 

 

Sr. Ave Maria Hayes, Dominican Sister of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, Final Vows.

I grew up most of my life- in the “Irish Hills ‘O Michigan”.  I am the second of five children, with three brothers and a sister.  We had wonderful examples in our parents- who lovingly and faithfully taught us the Faith- both by word and the example of their own lives.  I can recall mom reading us the lives of the Saints.  I especially loved reading about modern day saints; seeing their pictures and learning about their amazing lives of courage and faith enkindled in my heart a desire for holiness at even at a young age.

I certainly wasn’t an angel growing up!   In fact, teasing my siblings seemed to be what I most enjoyed.  This was coupled with a very stubborn and sometimes contrary personality. Yet, God uses it all, and somehow writes straight with crooked lines. 

I was very fortunate to be able to attend Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio right after high school.  Here at this amazing university, I was surrounded by young people who were excited to be Catholic and live their Faith.  Along with my nursing classes, I began taking as many Theology classes as I could manage.  I couldn’t get enough of it!  The more I learned the more I wanted to learn.  I also discovered Eucharistic Adoration Chapel in the little chapel across campus- where college students could be found on their knees praying at all hours during the night.  This made a big impression on me.  For the first time in my life, I began to pray and gradually developed a desire for prayer.  Saint Catherine of Siena said, “Upon Knowledge follows Love.”  This saying holds true, especially for me and how I experienced His Presence at the university.  It was first LEARNING about Him in my Theology classes that allowed me to know Him, desire Him and Love Him!  How important it is to be catechized! 

I began to date a young man… The long story short is that today he is a priest and I am a religious sister.  Oh, the ways of the Lord!  Following my college graduation with my diploma in hand, I had my life planned out the way that I thought it should be; I would get a nursing job, get married to a wonderful Catholic man and have LOTS of children!  This seemed to me like a good plan.  However, over the course of the next year, I had difficulty passing the Nursing State Board Exam.  I failed the test on three separate occasions.  Each time was a major blow to my self- confidence and forced me to my knees.  By the third time, I can finally remember telling the Lord, “I will do WHATEVER you want me to do with my life, even if that means not being a nurse.”   Looking back, I can see how He used that time in my life to really break my own will (which by the way is very HARD!) and gradually draw me to trust Him more. It was the Assumption of our Lady into Heaven when I finally passed the test and landed a job right away at the University Of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.  It was during this time, too, that I met the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, who had just been founded and moved to Ann Arbor Michigan.   I entered the community in January of 1999 and made my final vows in August 2005.  Religious Life is a great and WONDERFUL journey of Faith, Hope and Love!   A life totally given to Him brings a joy that goes much deeper than I could have ever hoped or imagined.  I am truly grateful to Him for every “step” of my journey-the people He placed in my path along the way, the joys and the sufferings.  EVERTHING was part of His plan in bringing me to this amazing religious family that I am now a part and to my sisters who daily call me on to a life of holiness and love. 

Sr. Pamela Catherine Peasel, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, Temporary Vows.

See the article on her call:    http://www.catholicweekly.org/an-irresistable-call/

 

 

 

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