By Randy Bollig (Unfortunately I do not personally know Mr. Bollig, nor do I have a way to contact him. I received this from a friend, and publish it here, in the same spirit that I believe it was written. I pray that it may be of help to parents out there whom may be struggling with the reality that their child is called to religious life or the diocesan priesthood.)
It was a beautiful clear day to fly in to New York. I had never been to the “Big Apple”, yet here we were, my wife and I, bringing my daughter to the Sisters of Life, in the Bronx, New York. If you had told me 30 years ago when my daughter was born, that she would enter a convent, I would have laughed! As we were landing at La Guardia my memories returned to the dance recitals, school plays, and football games, where my “future Nun” was a cheerleader. How is it that my daughter goes from cheerleader to Nun? This journey has been so full of revelations, and graces from God, that I feel compelled to share it with my fellow Catholics, particularly parents.
You would expect a child who chooses the religious life to come from a “super Catholic” family, where you find statues and holy water fonts at the doors. This would not be the description of our family. In retrospect, we should have done a much better job at living our Catholic faith with our children. We were what you would call “Lukewarm Catholics”. The possibility of suggesting to my children that they consider the religious life did not occur to me. After all, as a good parent, you want your child to be properly educated, get a good job, and be as successful as possible. Becoming a Priest or Nun would be such a waste of talent, and possibly “throwing away your life”. It did not fit with my concept of a happy life for my children.
By the grace of God, my daughter was able to attend the University of Dallas to begin her career in medicine with the hope of becoming a doctor. What a deal! My daughter will be a doctor, she will make lots of money, and we get free medical advice! Yes, we were proud, and our daughter was on her way to the good life.
The University of Dallas maintains a campus in Rome, and part of the sophomore curriculum is to spend a semester in Rome. It was during this time that my daughter heard God speaking to her heart the words “You are to become a Nun”. She pushed this suggestion aside, and continued with her studies, and we did not hear very much about the subject. She eventually discerned that a medical career was not for her, and obtained a teaching degree in Art education and began teaching. The idea of a husband and family was still paramount in her life plan. God had other plans.
She shared with us her experience in Rome, and the continual tugging at her heart to follow her true vocation. When she raised the idea of the religious life I was indifferent. Although, I did not object, I was sure she would change her mind as soon as the right man came along, then the idea would vanish. I was certainly not encouraging her, but I was not openly opposed. I just wanted her to be happy. The subject was not discussed very often and I thought she would get married and give us lots of grandchildren.
During 2001 my family entered a time of crisis and great suffering. My mother was hospitalized numerous times with congenital heart failure, and we watched her suffer greatly till her death in January of 2002. This event took me literally to my knees, and it was at this horrible time, that the grace of God, and the arms of our Blessed Mother, embraced us all. Mothers seem to know what we need, and it appears to me that we were guided through the Valley of Death. We began to pray the Rosary daily, and study our faith. The graces of God seemed to flow more and more in my family, including my son and new daughter in law. Their desire to deepen their own Catholic faith was growing also.
Shortly after the death of my mother we entered another dark time in the family. My father in law was diagnosed with lung cancer and suffered with great courage and dignity till his death in November of 2003. My father in law, (a non Catholic), was a tremendous man of faith and had a profound love for Jesus. The last stage of his illness was also the final stage of my daughters’ discernment to the religious life. It became very important to him to know for sure what her choice was. When she made her final decision to enter the Convent she spoke with him. Her beloved grandfather, and an Elder in a Protestant church, affirmed her decision, gave his blessing, and even said he was honored and proud. He died two days later, but this support from her grandfather lifted my daughter’s spirits greatly.
My daughter began to contact communities that fit her spiritual and personal goals. She wanted to enter an order that was faithful to Church teachings, and wore the Habit. She spent much time researching, praying, and writing to various communities, including her final choice, the Sisters of Life, of New York. They were formed by the late Cardinal John O’Connor and have a wonderful charism for the protection of the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death. Now you might think, that a girl can go knock on the door of a Convent and say “I’m here, I want to be a Nun”. The Church is very wise in the discernment process. It takes a long time and includes psychological testing, medical physicals, and references from Priests, co-workers, and interviews with the Mother Superior of the Convent. Every effort is made to determine if it is truly a call from God. She was accepted as a Postulant and invited to enter the Convent on September 3rd, 2004.
During her discernment period, my daughter placed her vocation in the hands of Our Blessed Mother, and this has proven to be wise. As I said, a mother knows what her children need. Now that you know the background, it is time to continue with my story as we go to New York.
The Convent is in an Irish/Italian part of the Bronx in a neighborhood of homes built in the 50’s. As we were unloading my daughters’ luggage we were greeted by Mother Agnes. She held out her hand to me and I said “I don’t shake Nuns hands, I get hugs”. She seemed pleased and gave me a hug. There are forty five Sisters of Life, and I told my wife I wanted forty five “Nun hugs”. Some of the sisters were away from the Convent, but I am pleased to report that I got at least 30 hugs. I am determined to get my remaining hugs when we visit later.
In the front yard, we were greeted by a beautiful statue of Our Lady which seemed to speak to us saying “Yes, you are in the right place, and I will care for your daughter”. Entering the Convent was a tremendous experience! It is like entering the War Room in the battle against the Devil. These holy women were so radiant, and filled with the joy of Jesus, that I was drawn to them like a magnet. We were able to see our daughters’ room and were told that these rooms are only open to the parents on the day the Postulants enter, and it would be our last time to see it. I cherished the short time as I looked at the small 8 by 10 room with a twin bed and desk. There was a flower left on the pillow as a greeting for my daughter. We were given a tour of the Convent including the Chapel. The Sisters are assigned a certain seat in the chapel, and we made a mental note of our daughters’ seat so that we might sit in the same location of our church, to share a sense of closeness with her. The day ended with tears of joy and sadness. There was no doubt that our daughter was where God wanted her to be, yet we would miss her so much. New York is just too far from Argyle Texas.
It is hard to describe the joys and graces we received that day. Saint Augustine said something to the effect that “God created us to be with Him, and our hearts are restless till they reside with Him” I truly began to realize the restlessness my daughter had felt most of her adult life, and how she was now happy to reside with the Lord. I was so full of joy and wished that every parent could experience these feeling I had. During the plane ride back to DFW, and as my wife was at the back of the plane, I began to recall the events of the day. One thing that stuck in my mind was a comment made by Mother Agnes. She had told us that many of the Postulants come to the Convent without the support of parents. Some are angry and even break off communication with their daughter. I was amazed! How could a Catholic family not want this for their child? Don’t they know how joy filled the religious life is? This overwhelmed me to the point of tears. I regained my composure before my wife returned to her seat, but that moment planted the seeds of this letter.
I am compelled to ask my fellow Catholic parents to encourage a desire for the religious life in your children. Our children do not belong to us, they belong to God. If He calls them, let it be! As parents you know your children better than anyone else, and can recognize and nurture their spiritual side. I have learned that God calls people to the religious life from all areas and backgrounds. Of the Postulants entering with my daughter, one was a Polish opera singer, one a British television personality, and the other wore a Mickey Mouse costume at Disney World! I met a Sister who had been a NASA engineer, another was a nurse, and yet another, a marketing executive on Wall Street. There is no stereotypical religious!
In the short time my daughter has been a Postulant we have received several letters sharing with us her joy in her decision. I get the feeling that she is like a seed planted in fertile soil. We feel the prayers of all the Sisters in the community. At times I feel a sorrow that she is not here, but the reality is that I have not lost a daughter; I have gained forty five more! We recently received this quote from the book “Bernadette Speaks” from our daughter.
“The good Lord does not permit the parents of religious to be damned..
He gives them a special grace in view of the sacrifices we have made”. St. Bernadette
I will be the first to agree that we have received those graces, including an increase in faith.
I encourage all parents to present the religious life as a possibility. As I shared previously, the backgrounds of religious are very diverse. I read a story about a couple who had two sons. The mother had always believed that the two most important vocations were to be a doctor or Priest. In her mind, one vocation helped save lives and the other helped save souls. One of her sons eventually did become a doctor, but the other one had other interests. He was an honor student, excellent athlete, and loved theater, hiking, and kayaking. He even worked in a stone quarry for quite some time, breaking granite with a sledgehammer. At some point in his life, someone he respected suggested that he would make a good priest. He did eventually become a priest, and a good one. His name is Karol Wojtyla.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. Please keep praying for Vocations.
If you are actively discerning a vocation to the Priesthood, Diaconate, Consecrated Life, or Marriage and you are looking for information to help in your discernment, BE SURE TO CHECK the section at the bottom of the right sidebar for the "labels" on all posts. By clicking on one of these labels it will take you to a page with all posts containing that subject. You will also find many links for suggested reading near the bottom of the right sidebar. Best wishes and be assured of my daily prayers for your discernment.