Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletMay 27, 2020

Sisters' Stories

Sister Rose Regina Smith, CSJ

The first two verbs I learned to read in the old Cathedral Basic Reader were “see” and “run.” As a child of five, I certainly had no idea that these common words would have special meaning for me, actually bringing direction to my life. At age 15, I could see that entering the convent was certainly a strong possibility. At age 25, I was still on the run. Now really, who would ever want to take oneself away from parties and trips and fun and dates and romance and marriage and children and go to the convent and live with a lot of women, be subject to rules and restrictions, wear strange clothes and be cooped up for the rest of one’s life? Wrong! How immeasurably different is the reality! How incomprehensibly inviting is each new day!

 Through those years from 5 to 25, I was haunted by, with varying degrees of intensity, the call to religious life. I did everything to stifle the nagging which I experienced most of the time. After high school it was assumed that I would go to The College of Saint Rose, which I did. Beginning new experiences helped put the convent in the back of my mind, even though many girls in my high school class entered religious orders. How could they make a decision at 18? Many left religious life, I discovered, when I celebrated my 50th high school reunion in fall of 1996.
The end of summer was always a hard time. I remember being unhappy in late August and being plagued by the question: what am I going to do with my life? But then, another year would commence at Saint Rose, another year of fun, dances and dates and exhilarating “crushes”—and not too much emphasis on studying. Who had time? I was grateful for the distractions.
No one cried harder the day I graduated from Saint Rose. This meant that I really had to get serious. The party was over. What excuse would I have to put off that which obsessed me all the time. “Dear Lord, I don’t want to enter. I don’t feel like it.” Were it the 1990s, one could probably never store up all that churned inside me, but it was the 1950s and in those days, who shared such deep secrets. “He followed me down the nights and down the days.”
So, that lack of peace initiated more running. To the over 40 applications I had mailed to high schools during my senior year, there were no responses. On June 7, I had no job and it was payback for the opportunity of a college education. After a succession of fruitless interviews with every insurance company and bank in Albany, I received a call from a Sister Alice Marie O’Neill, telling me of a position in Washington, DC, with the National Federation of Catholic College Students. How exciting and challenging! So I left home in Albany and headed to work temporarily in New York City and then in Washington. This was so much fun, so different from what everyone in my class was doing and, of course, so distracting.
Washington was absolutely beautiful in the fall and the warm October sun felt so good, different from fall in New York. Then one morning a mere eleven weeks after having left home, I was getting off a bus when all of a sudden I was seized with terror. All the old vocation nagging and questions surfaced. I was so mad! I thought I had done a good job of burying them.
So what did I do? I kept running to parties, to the arms of men whose names I have long forgotten, to others who helped me to realize that I was born, not to be a wife and raise a family, but rather I was born to give myself body and soul to God! I realized in my more sane musings that I was born to care for bigger worlds, that I had the capacity of managing large entities, I could take on the entire world and make it a better place. Such lofty aspirations sustained me during the terrible confining and rule-laden days of postulate and novitiate.
As years passed, I began to realize more and more I didn’t fit. At one point I had to take a month’s leave from my job to have an operation on my vocal cords. The post-operative regimen was a month of enforced silence—no talking, no whispering—while my vocal cords healed. I even had to stop smoking and even had to learn to breathe and talk all over again.
But even with all that solitude and coming face to face with myself I was not ready! I returned to Washington, plunged into work, went out with more men, traveled around the country, met new people and had a great time. I was still running. A year later I could see things had to change. I was 25 years old. I didn’t fit. It was frightening. No matter what I did, where I went, it didn’t feel right. I wasn’t happy. So, to the complete surprise of everyone I knew in Washington, I resigned my job. The only place I could get my life in order was home.
Going back to Albany was painful. I didn’t fit there either. One July night I called the mistress of novices at St. Joseph’s Seminary and asked if I might have an appointment. The next evening I went at 7:00 p.m. I felt peace for the first time in years. To this day, I can still experience how I felt that night after I made that telephone call.
Forty-three years after as I write these words, my heart leaps for joy and for fear too. The joy of discovering that the Lord who loved me and knew me before time began and who, with each passing day, makes his presence the deepest reality to me and is the greatest gift I could ever receive. And the fear that I might have missed all of this because I made the wrong choice is more troubling than I can describe. O patient God! O patient God! And it never ceases to amaze me how long I had to “run” in order to “see.”