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Surprise call leads to religious life

Surprise call leads to religious life - (25-07-2019)

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Photo: Novice Elizabeth Wavra (second from right), who transitioned from the postulancy into the novitiate of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde this past April, will spend the next couple of years in faith formation, taking classes with Benedictine Sisters and taking part in the various aspects of monastic life.

Becoming a religious sister wasn’t on Elizabeth Wavra’s radar. In fact, she wasn’t even all that happy with the Lord for a while.

The college graduate from Minnesota was busy as a Head Start teacher, often working with lower income children.

“For me it was a way to live the Gospel call to serve the poor,” she said, “but for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, I just wasn’t satisfied with my life.” 

She decided she needed to delve deeper into her Catholic faith. She listened to CDs, read the Bible, kept a prayer journal.

I had an experience one day when I decided that God and I needed to talk,” she said. “I needed to clarify some aspects of the Catholic faith that bothered me and to get rid of some blockages in my heart, which I knew were getting in the way of us having a better relationship.”

She started asking God questions and “getting mad at him.” 

“I railed about why these things were issues and why the passages in the Bible were not cutting it for me, and finally fell into astounded love as he opened my eyes and revealed his love to me and for me and the hidden meanings in the text. It was sometime after that that I believe I loved and trusted him enough to finally ask him again what he wanted me to do with my life.”

The Call 

It wasn’t long after she and God straightened things out that she got The Call. Hers arrived one night while lying in bed, unable to sleep, just thinking and praying.

“People experience their call in different ways,” she said. “For me it came like a lightning bolt! I laugh when I tell people because it was as though he was waiting for the opening and as soon as he saw it he said, ‘She's open!’ and then he just crammed it in there! All of a sudden my heart is on fire again and images of religious life are flying through my head, nuns praying, serving, smiling, laughing and giving themselves to the Lord in love! It all seemed glorious to me, like it was somehow bathed in light and sweet as honey.”

It all came as a surprise to Elizabeth, who’d never considered religious life before. But that didn't stop her from deciding to check things out.

Starting the Journey

Her biggest drawback about beginning the journey to learn more about religious life? She knew absolutely nothing about it.

She didn’t have much exposure to nuns or religious sisters when growing up. She had an aunt in the family who was a nun but didn’t feel comfortable approaching anyone yet. So, as a tried-and-true Millennial she did what Millennials do best: she turned to technology.

“I decided to ask the Internet,” she laughed. “I wasn't sure if nuns used the internet and found that some do! I began perusing websites, not having any idea what kind of community I wanted.”

That’s also how she discovered a rather large wrinkle that often derails a religious vocation fast for those who’ve recently attended college: student debt.

“I found out that you need to be free from debt before a community will let you join. This was a big problem for me because at the time I had about $24,000 in student loan debt, and I was slowly paying that off on a preschool teacher’s wage along with living expenses. I figured I'd be about 40 before I got that paid off; I was 25 at the time. I found there are a few programs that try to help people who are interested in religious life to pay off their debt, but I hadn’t entered a community yet.”

Thinking that was it, she decided to “put it on the back burner.” But when God wants you to do something…he wants you to DO it.

Calling in Reinforcements

Two years went by, but God wouldn’t be ignored. Elizabeth decided it was time to finally confide in her parents.

“Bringing my parents into this turned out to mean bringing just about everyone they knew into it, and anyone they met as well from then on,” she said.

But instead of too many cooks spoiling the pot, it actually turned out to be helpful. Elizabeth was very lucky - her parents, her family, supported her interest in religious life.

“I'm very reserved and tend to prefer figuring things out on my own, so my family began to frequently ask me what kind of progress I'd made.”

Their support helped spur her into action. She finally visited with her aunt, spoke with other religious sisters and read “Vision” magazine and other literature. She spent the next few months learning about the different types of communities but was still “too nervous, confused and overwhelmed to talk to anyone in person yet.”

“But in the end, even this was useful to God,” she said. “Seriously, God is so patient, is he not?”

She finally found the courage to visit different communities, learning what fit and what didn’t, each providing a piece of the puzzle. She learned of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri, and discovered they wear a habit, something Elizabeth was drawn to and hard to find among Benedictines. She arranged a visit. It turned out to be a life changer.

“I called my parents on the way home,” she recalled. “They were used to hearing that I didn't really feel any particular desire to return to the place I'd just visited. But this time was different. I told them all about Clyde and how I actually wanted to return there again. And return I did, about three more times for visits as I was able to afford the time off from work.”

The ball was rolling downhill now. She ended her apartment lease and moved into her parents’ basement - rent-free and at the age of 31 - to save expenses and pay off her student debt. She did - ahead of schedule - and entered the postulancy at Clyde in December 2017. 

The Next Step

“I like that I get to live, work and pray all in one place,” she said. “For me, the community is the biggest point of choosing to live this life. There are about 50 or so of us here, and each person has a unique story about how God brought them here. I really appreciate the stories they have to share. The years of experience in religious life are a resource that only those who lived them have the ability to share with those of us who are new. They have seen much and been through much and have much wisdom from that experience to pass on. They are truly invaluable.”

She spent her years as a postulant taking classes, spending time in prayer, working in the altar bread department and immersing herself in monastic life. It has all been in preparation for the next step, the novitiate, which she entered on April 27, 2019.

“Both Elizabeth and the community believe that she has increasingly identified with our congregation and is ready for the next step,” Formation Director Sister Pat Nyquist, OSB said. “As a novice, she will continue to discern the will of God for her life while preparing for the deeper commitment of first monastic profession.”

As Novice Elizabeth’s journey has shown, not everyone walks an identical path. Everyone has a vocation to something, whether it is religious life, marriage and family, or life as a single person. 

“All are possible vocations for serving God,” Novice Elizabeth said. “If you think you sense a calling to religious life or any other vocation, you really need to investigate it and pray about it! Sometimes his call won't take clearer shape until you start walking down that road. God calls you from where you are. Don't worry if you feel like you have nothing to contribute or if you don't feel like you're ‘holy.’ Trust me, the community will find a place for you if you really do belong there, and they will give you lots of opportunities to practice holiness. Most of them are trying to get there themselves too, so ‘holiness’ is not an entrance requirement.”