Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletSeptember 24, 2017

Sisters' Stories

Sister Francis Ann Gilchrist, CSJ


The prophet Hosea speaks of God drawing us with human cords. I can see how this happened to me. I loved my first grade teacher, Sister Roberta Ryan. In fact, I loved all my teachers and tried hard to look good in their eyes. I felt happy with them and probably made a nuisance of myself.

 When I was in seventh grade, my oldest brother was ordained a priest. That made a deep impression on me. He was and still is my hero.
 
A scene stands out in my memory. I was in a small park by myself when I was in eighth grade. I can’t recall any provocation, but I clearly recall thinking that I wanted to spend my life in some way that would affect something eternal. It’s a great feeling now as I look back and realize that I did with my life what I wanted and thought God was inviting me to.
 
Someplace in those years I found the phrase: “Only one life; ‘twill soon be past. Only what is done for Christ will last.” Heavy thinking for a teenager, but it had a profound influence on me.
 
High school had much activity in sports, clubs, dating and social activities. After junior year I told my parents I wanted to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph. My father warned me that I ought not feel I had to just because my brother, Frank, had become a priest. My mother said I should wait at least a year and asked me to think about nursing school. I guess I just accepted that decision, so I was very surprised when, in my senior year, waiting for my boy friend to come for Christmas midnight liturgy, Mother suggested I open the large gift under the tree. It was a black suitcase with my initials on it. What a happy Christmas secret to keep from Jack!
 
He went in the navy in February, and I dated others. The rest of senior year I was walking on a cloud. Convent life was vastly different in the 50s, and I fit into it smoothly. Another phrase I liked was “The best thing to do with your life is to invest it in something that will outlast it.” Being a wife and mother surely would have done this, but I felt called to do it this way. The same qualities are needed: unselfishness, patience, great heartedness. We are each invited to walk our unique path, and this path must feel right in the heart and in the head.
 
My vocation crisis came later when because of burnout I came to a point of doubting if I could continue to live this way. I had been relying more on my strength than God’s. When God asks something of us, He gives the grace to do it. I have lived my life as a CSJ and would accept the invitation again and again!