Gabriela McCausland didn’t know what to expect out of a “come-and-see” event spent with the Sisters of the Most Holy Soul of Christ the Lord. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live as a religious sister,” said McCausland, a young woman who teaches fourth grade catechism at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Stuart. “I expected to walk into a stuffy building with a strict environment. But having spent the day with the sisters, I’ve learned it’s nothing like that at all.”
The Sisters of the Most Holy Soul of Christ the Lord, a Polish order at St. Joseph Catholic Church, opened their home to the community on Nov. 16 for women to experience a day in the life of a religious. Women of all ages and vocations were invited to spend time in prayer, reflection and fellowship and discuss God’s plan for them through a call to vocations.
“We are all on the path to heaven,” said Sister Jadwiga Drapala, as she spoke to the group about vocations. “God has a plan for us and we are one puzzle piece of the larger picture. Discerning your vocation, going through formation, is like turning the puzzle piece around and around until you find the right way it fits into the empty space.” Sister Drapala illustrated this metaphor by using a large puzzle of a horse taped to a board on an easel. “I found the biggest puzzle I could find at the Dollar Store. I wanted to go for a strong visual!”
Sister Drapala’s quick wit kept the group laughing and engaged, a characteristic Sister Martina Bednarz and Sister Anita Gabarczyk also shared.
“When I was first considering religious life, my father took me to visit the sisters in Krakow,” said Sister Bednarz. “I wore a beautiful fur coat and yellow shoes that I loved so much! I knew I would have to take on a habit, but my love for Jesus was beyond the material things in my life. But I’m human, it was difficult. I miss those shoes!”
The topic of fashion was one that resurfaced throughout conversation. “Naturally, women want to know how we can wear habits all the time,” said Sister Drapala. “For me, it’s a sign of who I am, of the woman I am before God. It took me a little bit to come to terms with that because my mother, sisters and I love dresses and fashion. I would stress too much over being trendy or not repeating outfits around people. Some might think that a habit is constricting, but I think it brings a sort of freedom that allows me to focus on God.”
With perfect comedic timing, Sister Drapala quipped, “I never thought I would join this community. I really did not like the vail they wore back then. So ugly!”
The vails worn by the Sisters of the Most Holy Soul of Christ have changed from a black and white brimmed headdress to a simple white vail, but their mission and charism has remained the same. “The charism of our order is centered on the pillars of identity, dignity and eternal destiny. We strive to make people aware of Christ living in their souls and to emphasize the value of every immortal human soul and its great destiny in God,” said Sister Gabarczyk.
Sister Gabarczyk poignantly related the idea of living a contemplative life to the Millennials in the room by referencing technology’s power over their spiritual lives. “Technology does a lot of good, but also harms you when you let it take over. The world is full of these things yelling at you, the world is noisy. The love of God is gentle, calm, steady. Listen to him in the quiet.”
She also emphasized the vital work the sisters do living an active life in the community. “I and Sister Bednarz work at St. Joseph School and Sister Drapala works in the parish faith formation program. The order also has missions in Cameroon providing material goods and teaching the villagers how to build sturdy homes and about God. There is so much good to be done!”
After hearing the sisters’ vocation stories, the group joined the sisters in their daily noon prayer in the chapel. Each sister paired up with a group member, showing them how to follow along in the prayer book and walking them through the changing responses. Sister Gabarczyk also reviewed their daily schedule, which included canonical silence and spending time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
Lunch followed prayer, and the bright kitchen and open seating arrangement allowed conversation to flow. Soft laughs were pointed at Sister Bednarz who snuck a few extra cookies on her plate. “There’s fruit there too, so I’m being healthy!”
Glancing around the table, Sister Gabarczyk said, “God is so generous. Just looking around here today we have single women, women who are dating and married women—each with their own jobs and personal stories. Today is not about convincing you to join religious life. Today is about opening your hearts to God, no matter where you are in life, so that you can ask yourselves, ‘What do I desire, not only in this life, but after.’”
This question, elaborated Sister Bednarz, leads to an opportunity to say “yes” to God in the face of difficulty. “My mother was not very happy that I decided to become a sister. She missed me so much when I entered the convent and she refused to visit me in the beginning. She finally came to visit after hearing from my father how happy I was. I had to trust in God and know that what I was going through was for a reason—he molded me.”
“Becoming a religious sister is not one big choice and then, boom, you’re a sister,” said Sister Drapala. “It’s a series of choices that we have to confront again and again. I wasn’t totally happy the first year after taking my vows. The first time I visited home after entering the community I was so sad and missed my family a lot. I was doubting the choice I made and leaned on God to support me through that period of formation.”
“This moment in time when you’re tested after making a big decision is a second call. God is asking you to choose him again, every time,” Sister Gabarczyk said.
The visit concluded with Mass in the chapel, celebrated by Father Daniel Daza-Jaller from St. Anastasia Parish in Fort Pierce, and time for sharing thoughts about the come-and-see. “When I walked into the house, my mood automatically lifted,” said McCausland. “You can feel the joy that the sisters emanate through their witness to Christ’s love. I learned and laughed a lot today. Their life is proof that when you follow God’s will and trust in him, happiness will follow. I had always been curious about becoming a sister and it was hard to imagine what that life looked like. Now I have a vibrant, living image of what it means to be a religious. I will keep this vocation in mind as I discern God’s plan for me.”
Carol Bentert, a parishioner at St. Christopher Catholic Church in Hobe Sound, said “I wasn’t sure what the sisters would make of a married woman coming to the retreat today. I thought maybe the come-and-see was meant for young women discerning religious life, but I see now it was a day for everyone to grow spiritually. I felt incredibly loved here.”
Luanne Dunne, a parishioner at St. Joseph Catholic Church, said, “I had interacted with the sisters at church and around the parish, but today I got to see them in a personal setting that revealed their hearts as women. It was a lovely experience and we all got to let our hair down.”
“It’s silly to say out loud, but the sisters are regular human beings that are just like the rest of us,” said Melissa Martin, a young woman from St. Joseph Parish who is discerning religious life. “They joke around and make mistakes. We often forget that because society has a different image of religious life. The sisters are a living example of what it means to keep your eyes fixed on the Lord.”
For more information about the Sisters of the Most Holy Soul of Christ the Lord, email email@example.com or call 772-286-5720. To learn about the founding of the order, the sisters’ mission and charism or to access prayers of reflection, visit sistersofthemostholysoulofchrist.com. Visit the website for updates on the next “come-and-see” event scheduled for March 2020.