Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletSeptember 24, 2017

Sisters' Stories

Sister Rita Haber, CSJ (Sister Mary Rosina)

The time is uncertain, but I was about ten years old in a religious-instruction class taught by a Sister of Mercy who I thought was a Carmelite and a direct descendant of St. Therese. The seed was sown! I would be a Carmelite! On second thought, no. Obviously a Carmelite would not jump rope, climb trees or play kick-the-can with the neighborhood gang those autumn evenings.

 As the oldest of nine children of a Catholic mother and Lutheran father, I grew up in a home where Mom was always home, and dad was out working every day. We attended public schools, and religion played no great part in our lives except for night prayers and Sundays when we trudged dutifully to Mass in the morning and religious instruction in the afternoon. Bound also by Lutheran rules, we did not wear shorts, play cards or go to movies on Sunday as did our few Catholic friends.
High school brought new interests—jewelry, makeup, boys, dances, cheerleading and endless telephone conversations. College loomed ahead. Long used to earning spending money and meeting challenges, I received scholarships and attended The College of Saint Rose for four years.
As a new freshman I was dismayed to learn that three students had left college that fall to enter religious life. At the end of our first year another classmate did likewise. All right. She was “the type.” At the end of second year, another went. Alas, she was not “the type.” I began to ponder that choice myself, but there was a problem. I had been going with someone for several years and we planned to marry. I confided my dilemma to a sister on the faculty. She urged me to pray about it and promised she would too; she assured me that God would let me know which path to follow.
After graduation I began working at General Electric. We worked long hours; it was wartime. The bus to and from work was crowded and smelly. I learned about glass ceilings and sexual harassment. Plans for marriage faded as we moved on with our lives. It was a confusing year. That fall I moved to a rural, upstate town to begin a teaching position, having decided that if (a big IF) I ever entered a teaching community, it would be good to see if I liked teaching. I loved it—every wonderful, scary, frantic moment of it. I taught English, math and Latin; students taught me to ride a horse and to square dance. More important, they taught me what life is like for the rural poor. Thoughts of religious life came and went. My landlady tried match-making and I had fun without wishing to continue. At the end of my second teaching year I decided to take the step. (God really did the deciding but I was only dimly aware of that). There was nothing to lose; my superintendent assured me that the position would be mine when I returned. I was not “the type.”
People asked me then, students asked me later, and my married niece asked me only a few weeks ago: “Why?” Because every relationship, experience, or occupation left a feeling in its wake: Is that all there is? I needed to have it all, and I do.
I’ve lived my religious life in large settings surrounded by many people—sisters, co-workers, students, friends. Ministry has been varied: teaching, administration, office work, care for an elderly parent, helping care for a brother’s four children after their mother left him and them. Mostly, these years have been happy, positive and life-giving, bound up with the nourishment and support of prayer and community life. Life has been and is a happy challenge. One can never live it perfectly, so the mountaintop is still out there. Jesus said to Nathaniel, “Come and see.” How do you know if it’s right for you? Initially, you don’t. You pray; you seek help in your discernment from a sister or priest; you attend prayer weekends, workshops, or days of recollection; you visit a formation house. Then, you come and see!