Whilst I was still at school, just before the Second Vatican Council, I thought that I had a vocation to be a missionary sister. However, my mother had other ideas and refused to give her consent. The next time that the thought of vocation returned, when I was in my mid thirties, I felt called to the contemplative life, but soon realised that this was not likely to be a very realistic option when a couple of congregations told me that I was already too old to be accepted by them.
Eventually my spiritual director recommended that I make a retreat and gave me the names of two possible retreat directors who might be suitable for me. My first choice turned out to be unavailable, so, without much enthusiasm, I contacted the other person, who was Joan Scott RSCJ, at Llannerchwen Retreat Centre. Soon after arriving I was quickly bowled over, both by the place and by Joan, and eventually found myself seriously considering whether I might have a vocation to be an RSCJ – at that time an unappealing option for me as the Society of the Sacred Heart is an educational order, with many sisters being teachers. I was a University Lecturer in Spanish, did not enjoy teaching and felt no vocation for it. However, the combination of Llannerchwen and Joan Scott finally led me to take the life-changing risk of asking to become an RSCJ.
I have never regretted that decision, and the Order has sensibly never asked me to teach since I joined! The internationality of the Order has enabled me to have many experiences of living and working in other countries,whilst its spirituality, which is to be fully contemplative and to be fully active, has turned out to be just what I was looking for. And, having fallen deeply in love on three different occasions prior to becoming an RSCJ, I now feel very fulfilled by living out these words from our Constitutions: “Wherever we are sent, whatever our work may be, our lives will be inspired by the love of the Heart of Jesus and the desire of making Him known.” I therefore look back with enormous gratitude at the many experiences that have led me to be where I am today, welcoming and guiding retreatants atLlannerchwen Retreat Centre in the heart of the peaceful and beautiful Brecon Beacons.
I was drawn to the Society ever since I went to Roscrea school as a twelve-year-old. I had not been with religious in my Junior School and was fascinated by these women who loved us, were interested in us individuals, and were so prayerful and kind.
During my five years in Roscrea, I grew to know and love the Society. I loved the internationality of the Society and the fact that wherever we were in the world we were a Child of the Sacred Heart. After I left school I was planning to study medicine, but the day my results came, with a place in the College of Surgeons, before I opened the fat envelope I knew that a deeper invitation to become a sister was the right thing to do. No words, just a conviction that had grown over the years and could not be ignored. So here I am 67 years on. Thanks be to God!
I was drawn to the Society having met lots of other orders when I was at College. What I noticed about members of the Society was that the people I knew had retained their individuality and there were some colourful and quirky characters, which appealed to me, as I knew I would be able to remain myself and retain my own character.
When I turned down the offer of marriage for the third time, somewhere inside I knew that I needed to love in a bigger context. I could not make another human being the centre of my life, dashing as he might be! But what did it mean to love? Travelling through the Dolomites I awoke one morning as the sun rose. The power of that moment, the splendour, the colours, called something to life within me, an awakening. Walking by the lake in Roehampton, when it felt as though a branch from a tree had crashed down on me, was when I knew that religious life was the call to love to which I had to respond.
The Congregation had to be the Society of the Sacred Heart. “The Society of the Sacred Heart shares in this mission by making known the revelation of God's love whose source and symbol is for us the heart of Christ.” (Constitutions).
In his book Begin with the Heart, Daniel O'Leary asks what for me are three very important questions. What would you describe as peak experiences in your life? In what way would you connect them with God's presence? Can you remember those lasting moments when you were transformed, those places of grace when your faith became an experience?
Some prophets were missioned; others, like Hosea, found their calling through their ordinary lives. Hosea's reflection on life led him to respond to the needs of his time. This is often how God calls us, not in a direct way but through discerning what is happening around us so that we move from the known to explore new ways, the inner urging of the Spirit drawing us on. I believe the call continues. We are constantly invited to open our hearts to discover new ways of responding to the love God has for us.
I was drawn to the Society of the Sacred Heart because of the way I saw love in action among the sisters, and in the way they related to us in the Sacred Heart school I attended. I saw their concern for each person in the way we were challenged to be our best selves. The love they showed us, drawn from the Heart of Jesus, was something that we were called to show to others. I felt called to be part of this movement of love.
I was in my mid-twenties, an independent, politically active, professional young woman. I had my own flat, a stable relationship with my boyfriend, career, social life and yet… I began to feel restless, and to want to search for something more - if I could only know what this more was. Somehow, over the next few years, I became increasingly fascinated by God and Jesus, started praying, reading scripture, and changing my lifestyle.
God continued to beckon, always asking for that little bit more, letting me know the strength and intensity of his love and desire for me. And yet, although I had God, it did not seem enough; I still wanted more. Even so, the idea of religious life initially horrified me, as I thought of everything I would have to give up. Yes, I knew that Jesus had promised a hundredfold, but this seemed to be something vague and spiritual, and not much recompense for the loss of my career, flat, lifestyle etc! But I also knew that the more I continued this journey into Love, the less this would feel like loss and sacrifice.
I came to know the Society via a long and winding road. Along the way, I met various congregations, but none had seemed right. But then, on my first visit to a Society of the Sacred Heart community, something clicked, and I simply felt at home. Over the following months, and especially after I entered I began to understand why this was, as I discovered a spirituality, centred on the Open Heart, which resonated deeply with the as-yet-unnamed spirituality within me. The Society's twin calls, strongly contemplative and apostolic, echoed a call I had long felt to be a contemplative in the world.
I entered in 1994 and over the years since then, my sense of being at home has strengthened and deepened. Journeying into the Open Heart via the heart of our world has meant times of pain, difficulties, and wobbles, but the hundredfold has been so much greater. Being an RSCJ gives me life, growth in inner freedom and self-awareness, and many opportunities for living our mission. Crucially, this is where I find and am enabled to find that more of God for which I long, in ways I would never have imagined. That alone makes the journey worthwhile.
I was drawn to a Sacred Heart sister who stood out for me as being ‘deeply prayerful’ – I said to myself that if I ever wanted to talk about prayer, I would talk to her. I had never been in a house where ‘nuns’ lived and when I finally visited her in her community, I felt strangely ‘at home’. However, I thought the Society was a ‘teaching’ Order.
As a nurse I considered myself to be an educator – trying to relate to my patients, their families, and my colleagues in such a way that brought out the best in them, that enabled them to be more fully, more wholly themselves. In the community house, I picked up a leaflet that talked about the Society being an “educational” religious Order and bells rang in my heart. The formation and training opportunities that I have had in the Society have all been geared towards enabling me to be the educator that God wants me to be.
I was drawn to the Society during my time at College. I had previously joined another order and left after 18 months. I worked for a while in the Civil Service and then went to Fenham to do teacher training. All thoughts of religious life were gone but God had other plans. During my time at College, I became aware of the deep prayer life of the Sisters I met and also their commitment to community.
I found myself spending long periods of time in the Chapel and when I read a poem by Francis Thompson called The Hound of Heaven I realised that God was still very close. My desire for God and God's desire for me made me realise that nothing else would satisfy the thirst I felt.
50 years later I am still in the Society and I know that God's hand is still "outstretched caressingly”.
I was probably 16 when I first thought that I might have a vocation. I certainly asked the question ‘how do you know if you have one?’ I think though, that the story of my vocation is really the story of my relationship with God and Jesus. When I was 7 I went to a Catholic school for the first time and was prepared for my First Communion. I was fascinated by Jesus, and the teacher who taught us really exemplified the love of Jesus. The day I made my First Communion I remember walking home from church with my family and being overwhelmed by a sense of joy and presence. Looking back now, I recognise an experience of God that has become familiar in my life. I prayed regularly to God, usually asking for things and praying for my family! I remember the day it suddenly occurred to me, ‘maybe God likes me going into church, just for nothing’ - I don’t have to be asking for things. I was about 10 at the time. And so, I continued to visit the church to pray, and without realising it I suppose my friendship with God got deeper and God’s hold on my life became stronger!
I went on to secondary school with Dominicans and retreats became an annual event with Benediction and Mass and spiritual reading, and time for prayer. I discovered Thomas Aquinas on God and the Trinity and would spend a lot of time on top of the steps in the library fascinated by his Summa Theologica - I was about 17 at the time. It all sounds very holy, but in fact, I was quite a rebel in school! There were other times that I remember being aware of the closeness of Jesus in my life, and I knew that I was loved and that I loved Him.
I left school and by accident, I went to the Sacred Heart training College in Fenham, Newcastle on Tyne. The spirituality of the Sacred Heart was unavoidable, we had daily Mass, Benedictions, feast days and without realising what was happening, I felt at home. The spirituality of the Sacred Heart and my relationship with Jesus sort of matched up and I knew that that was where I wanted to be and I thought that it was where God wanted me to be. Since I was 10 it has been difficult to say no to God and that is the story of the beginning of my vocation.