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Sunday, April 27, 2008

"A sacred dream fulfilled"

From the Victoria Advocate
New nun takes vows after life as wife and mother

by Leslie Wilber
photo by: Frank Tilley
Sister Louise Marie Jones prays with other sisters at the Incarnate Word Convent in Victoria. She says she has dreamed of becoming a nun since she was 9 years old.

To see a video:
Sisters of the Incarnate Word

She’s nervous, so she starts the interview with a prayer.

Sister Louise Marie Jones asks God to give her the right words. She thanks God for sending a reporter to the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament Convent. It’s short and simple and sums up a lot of what Jones’ life is about right now.

The 53-year-old widow, a mother of two and grandmother of four, is the most recently professed nun at the convent, Sister Emily Eilers said.

Yes. Nuns can have children. And they can be widowed or have annulled marriages, Eilers said. A sister can start her religious life long past the years when Maria signing in the mountains of Austria seems an apt comparison.

Eilers and many of her peers became sisters straight out of high school. But today it’s more common for women to become sisters later in life, after they’ve had another career, or even a family, she said.

A woman needs to be free to commit to God when she takes her vows, Eilers said. She needs to be sure of that commitment.

That freedom came to Jones only a few years ago, although she felt pulled to religious life since she was a child. Jones grew up in Palacios and visited the Victoria convent when she was 9. The sprawling Water Street building had just opened, and the sisters hosted an open house.

“I went home and said ‘Mom, I want to be a nun,’” Jones said. “Well, that didn’t go far.”

So Jones grew up. When she was 19, she met Billy Jones. They married. The couple had two children – Michael and Traci. Billy Jones was Baptist, but Louise Marie Jones raised the children Catholic, with her husband’s blessing. Jones always loved her husband, even when troubles nagged their relationship.

Still, Jones craved a deeper spiritual life and more time for her relationship with God. Jones went to Catholic conferences and retreats with friends. At one, the sister who was speaking asked the woman in the audience who always wanted to be a nun to stand up. No one stood. The sister was persistent. Jones’ friends nudged her. Finally, figuring she was a wife and mother and no harm could come from the admission, Jones stood. The whole room prayed for her, she said.

Then, in 1994, Jones and her son found Billy Jones dead, electrocuted on his shrimp boat.

“I never saw my mom as the type to remarry,” Michael Jones, now 30, said. Louise Marie Jones didn’t see another marriage in her future, either.

Even when her husband was alive, Jones visited the convent for prayer meetings, but now she wanted to give more.

“How can we ever repay God for what he’s done for us?” she said.

During a 1998 religious gathering, Jones said she felt called to renew her relationship with God. She spoke about that desire with sisters at Incarnate Word. In 2000, Jones became an associate with the order.

Associates pray with the sisters and spend a lot of time at the convent, but they don’t live there or take the sisters’ vows, Eilers said.

“The more I was here, the more peace I felt,” Jones said. “The more love I felt. The more time I gave to God.”

It still wasn’t enough.

In 2001, she took the first step toward sisterhood. She became an affiliate – meeting regularly with sisters, but living and working outside the convent. Eventually, Jones became a postulate – a woman who lives and prays with the sisters, but hasn’t taken her vows yet. Jones spent the maximum time of two years as a postulate to organize her affairs in the outside world, before making the commitment as a novitiate nun.

“That year was devoted to prayer and my relationship with the Lord,” Jones said. Sometimes, Jones struggled with her decision, but she was amazed by the peace she found at the convent and the way the convent nurtured her love of God.

On Sept. 30, 2007, Jones took her first vows as a sister. She’ll renew those vows annually for three to five years, before taking her final, perpetual vows.

“It’s the place she needs to be,” Michael Jones said. “She’s a very spiritual person.”

The thing Louise Marie Jones misses most outside the convent is her family. Traci Jones and her son live in Victoria, but Michael Jones and his family live outside Dallas.

“I probably see and talk to her now more than I ever did before,” Michael Jones said. The convent has two cottages that sisters’ families can stay in when they visit. “It’s awesome,” he said.

Although she can’t live with her family, Jones said they’re always in her prayers. Inside her prayer book, she keeps a bookmark with a picture of Traci and Michael Jones, his wife, and the three oldest grandchildren.

“This is my prayer,” she said, pointing to the text beside the photo. “Lord, I know you are able to accomplish infinitely more than I could ever hope or ask for.”

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