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Sister Tells Story on her Vocation

First written as a novice in 1958 by Bernadette Gallant, CND

“What are you going to do when you grow up?” At the age of ten years, my answer to that question was, “I would like to be a nun so that I would be sure to get to heaven.” This was about the extent of my knowledge of nuns then and up until a very few years ago. I grew up in Cardigan, P.E.I. and with my family, moved to Moncton, N.B. where I finished High School so I went to secular schools for all my studies. As High School graduation approached in June 1951 when I was seventeen years old, I prayed for the grace to know my vocation. I thought of teaching for my future but the idea of a religious teacher never occurred to me!

I went to work in an office that fall and held that same job until I left in June 1956 when I entered. I was very busy and much taken up with my work and the social life that followed. The years went by, it seems, and I was quite happy and satisfied with my surroundings.

Gradually, I began to see life as it is being lived today by many people. Sin and deception, it seemed to me, had a very real place in our lives. I got the feeling that people in general and especially young people were not facing life as they should but were interested only in the pleasures of the moment. I did not always agree with my companions’ ways of thinking and acting and was often accused of being “slow”, “old fashioned” or “a saint”. Maybe this was the seed which started me thinking more seriously. “Couldn’t I be doing something more beneficial not only for myself but for others too?”

I was always fond of Religion and liked to discuss it, also to read Catholic books and magazines. Many of these were biographical and dealt with vocations in general. Also, I had a luminous crucifix on my bedroom wall which seemed sometimes to chide me, “There’s more to life, you know, than dancing and late nights”.

In May 1955 the possibility of a religious vocation came to me. This new idea was not exactly welcome and I avoided thinking of it as much as possible. It kept disturbing me however, especially while at prayer and after my weekly Communion, and later, every time I turned around, whether in the Church or on the dance floor. I just had to give it a chance! One day as I was reading a booklet which listed about fifteen “possible signs of a religious vocation”, I could honestly say “yes” to about ten of these. It seemed when I finished reading, that a little voice said, as if to pound it into my head, “You have, you have, you have”. I decided then – “All right, you win”, and I cried like a baby!

Only then in October did I mention it to my confessor who encouraged me. As I had never had any relations with nuns at all or knew very little of any orders in particular, my big problem then was: Where? Father introduced me to a sister of the Sisters of Charity of St. John, N.B. who taught in Moncton. She told me a bit about convent life in general and gave me a list of particular requirements for that order. This, it seemed, was not enough. I wanted to know something of other orders before I made any choice.

As soon as I had decided that I would go through with the idea, I wrote to a former teacher of mine, who, I knew, had since entered Religion although I did not know in what order. Through her, in November 1955, I made my first acquaintance with the Congregation of Notre Dame which before that time I was actually unaware of its existence. My purpose in writing to her was to ask for particular information and the requirements of that Order. Sister invited me to visit her convent at North Rustico, P.E.I. I went for one week and was favourably impressed with their seemingly continuous joy and charity one for the other. The electric power had been off three days then and it was cold. The first night, I was put to bed with a pot cover wrapped up and used as a bed warmer! I left there feeling good but not sure. The Sisters would pray for me and I began to say a short prayer to their foundress, Marguerite Bourgeoys, to know my vocation more clearly. As my final decision can hardly be explained naturally, I am prone to explain my presence here today as a result of the prayer of these good sisters and those of our dear Foundress.

From Nov. to April correspondence went back and forth. All this time I was disturbed beyond words. Did not God want me in one special convent? My parents are both deceased and I did not want to tell any of my nine brothers or sisters until I had the problem all settled. I therefore kept it between my confessor and myself.

After I had decided that it would be the Congregation – because I hoped to be a teacher, especially – I wrote to North Rustico and to the Mother House in Montreal. The reply to one of these letters was lost in the mail and the other reply, with the application form, I lost in a snowbank. Were these misfortunes signs that I was not to go to the CND? I had heard no word from the convent for over a month. My sense of independence, I guess, and the other circumstances, made me reconsider and I wrote an official letter to the Sisters of Charity asking for admission there. This was answered in the affirmative. It was only after this decision in late March that I wrote again to North Rustico. The Sisters, sensing my feelings of frustration and depression, phoned long-distance to me while I was at work, besides writing letters of encouragement and suggesting that true vocations are often tried. A few more days passed and I decided to revert back to my first decision, CND. I cannot actually say how I got here, but I become more convinced each day that it was only a result of prayer and that this is where the good Lord wants me to be.

When I consider the circumstances of my past life, the fact that I was without my mother since I was five and my father since I was fourteen; that I had never gone to school to any nuns or know any, plus the fact that from the age of fifteen, the majority of my companions and many of my working associates were non-Catholics, I cannot help but consider my vocation as directly the work of Divine Providence. This fact is my greatest incentive to go on.

Now that I have begun, I really want my vocation as I am convinced that a religious vocation is one of the greatest gifts God can give us. Although I often find it hard, I know that I am never alone. My only hope is that I will continue to learn the ways of God and will have the courage and strength to become a good, holy and humble religious in the Congregation of Notre Dame and this is the subject of my most ardent payers.

My opinion in regard to my vocation is that we are definitely free to make the choice as Our Lord did not command us but only invites us to follow Him. I do think however, that as with the rich young man who refused the invitation, we also would experience sadness even though we may find a certain degree of happiness in another state of life. Because God gave us a free will, He will never force us to love Him nor command us to accept this special call.

First published in the Charlottetown Diocesan News in 1978 with the following epilogue:

The past 20 years makes me realize so much more clearly that each call of the Lord is uniquely given and must be responded to in a very personal and persevering way. Only in a daily faith response to the Person of Christ, in Himself and in His Body, the Church, does one grow in understanding of the richness of the mystery of the vowed life lived in Community. Yes, we have to be generous, but it seems the Lord is always more generous! The hundredfold promised by Him, even in this life, has become a lived experience as I journeyed in faith and joyful trust in a life of service to God and to my brothers and sisters. And I believe that there is still much more to come! Alleluia

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[…] “‘I would like to be a nun so that I would be sure to get to heaven.’ This was about the extent of my knowledge of nuns then and up until a very few years ago…”

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