Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletSeptember 24, 2017

Sisters' Stories

Sister Mary Rose Noonan, CSJ


I suppose my vocation story began when I was born, but my first recollection of considering religious life was in high school. Those thoughts were fleeting, however, because I was definitely a child of the 60s and my high-school concerns were far more immediate.

I graduated from Utica Catholic Academy in 1969 and began my freshman year at The College of Saint Rose in Albany. My college adjustment was an easy one, and I enjoyed everything from dorm living to new freedom in my social life to a challenging academic curriculum. Still, my goals were immediate ones until junior year. My search had gradually become more serious, and I realized that I was thinking not only of jobs but also of ways of life, of more permanent commitments. Thus began a little process of trying to imagine myself in various jobs and then in various vocations. The job images were easy: if I didn’t like teaching English, I’d try editing; if I didn’t like editing, I’d try journalism, and so on. The vocation pictures weren’t so easy. Could I just try marriage? Could I try religious life? When did I need to make such decisions in my life? How would I know if it were the right decision for me?
 
More and more during that year I found myself considering religious life. I wasn’t ready, however, to ask the sisters I knew about their life or to tell my family and friends of my thoughts; such an action was too much of a commitment for me. I did pray for guidance, although my prayer was interspersed lightly between my studies and social life.
 
By my senior year in college, I was thinking seriously about religious life. There was no question that the Daughters of Charity who had taught me in grade and high school and the Sisters of St. Joseph I had met at Saint Rose had touched me with their great dedication. The questions I had were ones such as “How do I know if God is calling me?” “Can I just try out the lifestyle?” “How do I tell my friends and family?” “To which community should I go?”
 
In January of my senior year, my friends and I were on campus taking a one-month course and working on the yearbook. With extra time for reflection, I tried to listen to what God was saying to me, and I felt a real call to try religious life. I thought about the sisters I knew. Sister Mary Rosaleen Gilroy, a dear family friend with whom I had had lifelong contact, impressed me deeply with her faith, her love of her community, her openness to change and her reverence for everyone she met. Sisters Eloise Waters, Katherine Hanley, Char Bloom, and Rose Bernard Donna touched me with their good sense and balance, their focus on the Gospel, their willingness to share the joys and struggles of their life and their ability to enjoy one another. I could see that the vowed life bonded them to God and to the people they served. I wanted to try their lifestyle, but even more I wanted to know whether God was really calling me.
 
One Sunday during that January term my friends and I were at Mass; the Gospel reading was Jesus’ prayer from John: “I pray that they may be one, Father, as we are one.” I didn’t hear any clear voices calling me to religious life, but that Sunday was a very dramatic moment for me. After hearing that reading I believed I was being called to the Sisters of St. Joseph. However, I had also received word of a job offer as a writer/editor with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, so now thrown into the pot was once more the question: Did I want to make an immediate decision or was it time to make a more permanent one? I opted for the latter.
 
Now came telling my family, friends and the sisters. My family and friends were supportive but not overly enthusiastic. I was entering at a time (1973) when the loss of external symbols had given a confusing message to the laity, at a time when the press had fixated on the numbers of religious who had left, at a time of change in every aspect of Church life. My family and friends knew the “bad” news in religious life—numbers were dwindling; the median age was skyrocketing; the security of the past wasn’t there. They all worried that I wouldn’t have peer companionship. However, they supported me and respected my choice. They and I understood that the three-year period before my first commitment was time enough to see whether God was truly calling me.
 
While many persons longed for the stability of the past, there were several benefits of entering religious life in the 70s. I did not have to grieve for what had been or experience the trauma of radical shifts. I joined a religious community which was responding to a Church mandate to adapt, and I joined a religious community which moved with fidelity through those changes, continually setting direction and clarifying values. I saw struggles to live simply in the midst of a consumer society. I saw a willing dedication to celibate loving in a time of sexual confusion. I saw a group of women strong and proud of their past and vibrant and hopeful for their future. I saw creative, faithful individuals with an enormous love of God, the Gospels, the community and the "dear neighbor without distinction." And I liked what I saw.
 
In retrospect, the elements which led me to the Sisters of St. Joseph are the same ones that have enabled me to stay: God’s grace; a conviction that I am where God is calling me to be; a sense of belonging to a congregation of prayerful, faithful women, in love with God and focused on bringing God's unifying, loving presence to the needs of the time; and a hope that my life is, in some small way, helping to make the world a better place. In short, I love being a Sister of St. Joseph. You might too!