A Christian vocation is a call from God which you hear and feel in the depths of your heart. It is a call to dedicate your life to following the mission of Jesus Christ and his disciples to spread the good news of God’s love in the world. Finding the particular lifestyle that God wants you to embrace in order to answer this call can take you on a journey of searching, prayerful discernment, even trial and error!
Everyone’s vocation story is unique because God uses many diverse and surprising ways to draw different people. In 2017 we were blessed to celebrate the first profession of vows of two Sisters (to be renewed annually), a final profession of vows (for life) and a Golden (fifty years) Jubilee of religious profession. Here is a glimpse of those Sisters’ vocation stories. If you feel God could be calling you to live the Gospel message in our Franciscan sisterhood, you are most welcome to contact Sister Rose at [email protected]
I am the seventh child of a family of eight. We are a joyful family, praying together daily Rosary and attending daily Masses when possible. The celebration of feast days was also a family priority. My Dad used to read the lives of the saints to us on daily basis. It was on the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi that I came to hear about him and afterward read more about him and I wished that one day, I would become a Franciscan because I liked his way of life. While my parents never encouraged joining a religious order, through the example of their lives and work in the church, they showed us that God comes first in everything.
Although I enjoyed sports so much, I was also involved with many church activities. My work as a Legionary brought me closer to the sick and elderly whom I cared for and attended to their needs. In my quest to find my true vocation in life, I took numerous courses on spirituality and human development. At last, God showed me the light and connected me with one of the Sisters from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton who came on vacation to Nigeria.
It has been a wonderful time with the Sisters, starting from the warm welcome that I received at the airport on my arrival in the UK. Sadly, I lost my Mother in my canonical novitiate year. But the love, care and support from the Sisters have been overwhelming. My mother was the one who planted this seed of faith in my life. I missed her so much as it would have been a thing of joy for her to see me become a nun.
I deepen my calling through reflection and meditation on the gospel as well as guidance from my formators. My calling and vocation as a Franciscan is an ongoing conversion as I strive to please God and also be more like Francis and Clare.
God has shown me His love and fidelity. All is grace. All is gift. I cannot stop singing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name!” My favourite passage of the scripture is Luke 7: 1-10.
My name is Sister Patricia Okwuchukwu Irogementi. My vocation journey started as early as I could remember. In my youth, I always admired ‘Reverend. Sisters’ as we call them in those days.
After college I got a job and was doing ok. Though I was earning money, living in a house of my own, I still felt something was missing. I sought the counsel of my parish priest and the religious community I was working with at that point. I was encouraged to visit some religious communities, which I did. I had a bit of a setback to joining at that point because my parents could not let me. They were hoping to get a bigger bride price from my dowry if I got married, which is the hope of many parents. I prayed and hoped that one day my parents would give their consent. Meanwhile I continued with the job I was doing and praying unceasingly until one day, when I visited home, my parents said I could go ahead with my of choice of vocation. My happiness knew no bounds. I renewed my visits to religious communities and eventually got to know the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton. On joining the FMSL, I knew immediately that this was the place. In this community I have found a home and true example of the Gospel message.
Some people from a young age think they know exactly the life to which they are being called. My case is different. I am now over 60 years old, and most of my life has been spent searching for meaning and fulfilment in one way and another, along very different paths. There have been so many influences and experiences that have shaped me, and brought me to where I am now: a fully professed sister belonging to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton, but also a mother and grandmother, that to give a clear, brief and accurate account of my journey is probably impossible. For much of the time I hardly myself understood the way I was following. I kept listening, trying to respond, suffering many setbacks and, at times, I wondered if I was simply deluded.
Years ago when I was sent to study in Sri Lanka, I had a young monk in my class who impressed me deeply by his apparent serenity. I began to observe consecrated religious and began to experience a desire to make a connection with the living reality that somehow seemed to sustain their lives. Another time, on a day trip to Assisi on a bitterly cold January morning, I experienced a powerful (and not altogether pleasant) experience of grief for past mistakes at the tomb of our Holy Father St Francis. A suffocating sense of shame gave way to cleansing tears. Something crystallized in that moment and I understood that a new beginning was opening for me, if only I would have the courage to move forward in trust.
Whilst staying with my daughter in Southampton, I saw a ‘Come & See’ invitation in a local paper from Sr Anastasia, the then Mother General of a small apostolic congregation about an hour and a half away by train on the West Sussex coast at Littlehampton. I did not really relish the idea of a non-enclosed convent as I had hoped for a life of contemplative prayer, and I (mistakenly) thought that sisters who went outside to work had no time for prayer. But each of my attempts to settle down in a monastery had come to nothing. What could I do? People said, “Surely by now it is clear to you that the religious life is not for you.” I would reply, “Yes. You may say that so far I have failed, but I still feel urged to seek further. I just haven’t found the right place yet.”
When Sr Anastasia led me into the dining-room at St Joseph’s I felt strongly attracted by the sweetness, simplicity and warmth of the many elderly sisters. They seemed like people who were alive! I enjoyed their kindness and hospitality. I felt like St Francis when he heard the Gospel passage about taking nothing for the journey, and exclaimed, “This is what I want!”
We took things very slowly at first. I only visited for the day every couple of months. I would just keep in touch by email in the meantime. Then I stayed for a weekend. Each time I was there I would pray in St Joseph’s Chapel in front of the San Damiano Cross, asking the Lord to enlighten the darkness of my heart and show me the way. During a week’s retreat given by the then Chaplain of St Joseph’s Fr. Beer (R.I.P.), I heard the Gospel about Lazarus at the gates – how he was taken up into the bosom of Abraham. Somehow, by a process which may not seem entirely rational, I understood from the example of Lazarus that there was no impediment to my vocation unless I chose to insist on one. We agreed that I would come for a month’s live-in experience of pre-postulancy and, if that went well, I would go north to St Anthony’s Convent in Yorkshire to be received as a postulant at Candlemas. That was February 2008 – ten years ago. I made my Final Profession of Vows last year on the Birthday of Our Lady, September 8th.
I’ve been asked to put together a few thoughts by way of reflecting on fifty golden years of Religious Profession, which makes me ask myself if after all these years I can truly say with the Psalmist: “One day within your courts, Lord, is better than a thousand elsewhere”, and I answer with certainty “Yes Lord, without a doubt”, for which I give you thanks and praise.
To aspire to Religious Life is rather like embarking on a journey which one knows very little about, and even less about how one might measure up to the requirements of that journey, or a reaching out towards something which is beyond us, yet draws us onward even as we hesitate.
At least that was my personal experience, as a nineteen year old preparing to leave home for some nine years, which was customary at the time, but the complete “otherness” of Religious Life absorbed one’s attention to such an extent that it simply took over and everything else, including loved ones, fell into place.
In community we pray with the Psalmist: “How good and how pleasant it is, brothers (and sisters) dwelling in unity and yet we are also conscious as St Paul reminds us that we carry this treasure in earthly vessels, which means that like every other form of life, Religious Life is not without its difficulties.
Over these past fifty years, Religious Life has changed enormously in many respects, yet fundamentally it remains the same as it was for Peter and John and the other disciples, who in response to the Lord’s invitation left all and followed him, and when they enquired about where he lived, he extended yet another invitation: “Come and see”. The Lord never ceases to extend this same invitation to all who have ears to hear and the generosity to answer: “Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will.”
We value the prayers of our brothers and sisters all over the world as they support us spiritually in our missionary commitment to Christ. Please remember all the FMSL in your prayers to help us on our way. – Thank you.