It has been a little more than 20 months since Craig and I said our tearful goodbyes to our daughter (and only child) Amy (now Sister Mary Veritas) on the steps of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Dorchester, Massachusetts; October 22, 2015 to be exact; the feast of St. John Paul ll. She was 22 years old at the time – a mere 22 years, but with the grace, wisdom, and maturity of a woman three times her age.
The days, weeks, and months have since passed in a blur. We returned to our quiet home situated at the foot of the Teton mountain range in the tiny rural community of Alta, Wyoming, and I immediately threw myself into a frenetic state of busy-ness. I had to stay busy in order to keep my mind from dwelling on the fact that my daughter was no longer to be a daily, weekly, and sometimes even monthly part of my life. Communication is limited to one phone call a month, or one letter every three months, and during Advent and Lent we have no communication with her at all. Looking back, I see that God, in His great love and mercy, has gently prepared me for this sorrowful parting, which is at the same time both a great gift and sometimes a heavy cross.
I knew with certainty from the time that Amy was about 9 years old that her vocation was to the religious life. Having home-schooled her, we were each other’s constant companions: sewing, reading, cooking, traveling, Mass, Adoration, visiting friends, etc.. Then, when she left for college in New Hampshire (Thomas More College of Liberal Arts), we usually spoke on the phone two to three times a day. The Fall semester of her Sophomore year was spent in Rome, so communication was necessarily less frequent during those months.
While in Rome, Amy visited Poland and The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow. When she returned to Rome after her Poland trip I received a phone call from her telling me in a very excited voice, “I know where God wants me to be! Poland!” I answered her, “Poland?? Really??? Are you sure???” She answered that she had felt such peace in her heart when she was there with the Sisters. I could do nothing but trust in God’s plan.
Amy returned to New Hampshire for the rest of her college years aside from a short 3 week internship at Oxford University in England where she was able to visit many pilgrimage sites of her favorite English martyrs.
During the summer break between her Sophomore and Junior years Amy’s good friend Gracie invited her to attend a weekend retreat in Massachusetts given by a group of religious sisters. Amy went along. She called me at the end of the retreat with such excitement in her voice saying, “You’re not going to believe it, but the Sisters who gave the retreat are from the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy – the Polish Sisters! They have just one house in the United States and it’s in Massachusetts!” Amy then spent some discernment weekends with them and felt confirmed in her decision to enter the order, but the big question was – WHEN? Now? Later? After graduate school? What about student debt?
During her senior year she contacted the Sisters to try to set up visitation times with them, but nothing seemed to work out. Either Amy had papers due, or tests to study for during the times that the Sisters were available, or the Sisters were away giving talks and retreats when Amy was available. Feeling that it wasn’t the right time to enter Amy decided that she would to go back to the Eternal City (Rome) and continue her education. She applied to the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, was accepted and had begun looking for an apartment online. Then the Sisters contacted her and invited her to come and spend four days with them over Divine Mercy Sunday weekend – the weekend that would change the course of her life. She called us on Divine Mercy Sunday of 2015 and said, “Mom and dad, I’m not going to Rome, I’ve decided to enter the convent. The Sisters may send me to Rome sometime in the future to continue my studies, but for now I’m going to join them.”
After graduating from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, Amy wrote her letter of intent to the Mother General of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy asking for Mother’s permission to enter the congregation. On July 2nd of that summer she received word that she had been accepted. I knew that morning when I read the readings for Mass that she would get the call from the Sisters by the end of the day. The readings for Mass that day were on the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. (Possibly more on that in a later post).
With her entrance date set for October 22, 2015, Amy now had 3 1/2 months to pay off her student debt of $21,000, a daunting task.
Amy had received a fellowship at Whethersfield Garden in upper state New York upon graduation (the country estate of Catholic Philanthropist Chauncey Devereux Stillman) photographing and cataloging every piece of art and furniture within the estate, and giving tours of the extensive gardens and home. The estate provided free housing for her, so Amy was able to apply nearly her entire paycheck each week towards her student debt, and in addition, she worked a second job doing some evening work for Sophia Institute Press.
At the end of August after selling her small coin collection and a few other valuable possessions she realized that she would need some additional help if she was to have her debt cleared by October 22nd. She set up a GoFundMe account and Bishop Peter Christensen, Bishop of the Diocese of Boise arranged to have an article about her ambitions placed on the front page of the diocesan newspaper. God generously provided and her goal was met through the gracious intercession of Saint Joseph.
Upon entering the convent, Amy could take with her only 2 black skirts, 2 white blouses and other necessary articles of clothing, a few toiletries, 1 pencil, 1 eraser, and 1 notebook. No other personal items (even religious items or books, except for 1 Rosary) could go with her, it was truly humbling, and at moments heartbreaking to watch as she spent the last week of September and the first two weeks of October giving away her most treasured possessions – the religious icons and holy cards that she had collected while in Europe, and to see the tearful goodbyes as she bade farewell to family and her dearest friends.
Why would a beautiful, brilliantly intelligent, 22 year old young lady give up literally everything – family, friends, great job, every possession she owned, even her own free will to enter a convent, taking a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience? To answer, I turn to one of Amy’s favorite saints, St. Teresa of Avila who said, “It is love alone that gives worth to all things. … God alone suffices.” Wisdom … Amy spent her grade school years devouring the writings of the saints, it is through them that she learned. Many of her favorite saints were the English martyrs, she’s always had a great love of the martyrs, and it was through their deaths that they have taught her how to truly live.
Is it easy? No, but anything worthwhile is worth fighting for. She has admitted to us that some days she misses us so much that it is crippling. I admit the same.
As we drove away from the convent on October 22, 2015 I had a deep sense of what Mary must have experienced when Jesus began His public ministry, when He said to her at the Wedding Feast at Cana, (after she had informed Him that the wedding guests had no wine, right before He performed His first public miracle). “Woman, what is that to me and to thee … ?” What is that to me and to thee? What does is mean for us? Our lives will no longer be the same. Our time together is over. The cross is looming before my eyes. Are you ready for this sacrifice? Can you handle it? I felt as we drove away that I was experiencing a death without there actually being a death. It was a very strange experience, like none other I’d ever had. I mourned for my daughter, for all the things we would never again do together, but at the same time I rejoiced for the gift of her vocation. With Mary, my heart cried out, “Fiat!”