I am a post Vatican II child. I have never seen a Baltimore Catechism book. I was nurtured in a relational theology that invited participation in the liturgy and parish life. Girls and boys, women and men were encouraged to be active participants. We learned of a God who lived among us and was present in the Assembly as well as in the bread and wine. We were taught that Jesus was our brother and he wanted us to live as he lived. God was Love. As I went on to study at the College of St. Catherine, the same spirit and theology continued to be nurtured. We were encouraged to trust our own "authority" and bring it into active dialogue with the external authorities. It was taking into account the fact that "conversation" and "conversion" come from the same root word. To converse together means we all have an opportunity to be changed.
It was while I was in college that I felt a kind of restlessness. I had gone to college thinking I would be a physical education teacher. I then thought I might try being an elementary school teacher, but that too didn't seem quite right either. I spent a lot of time participating in TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) as well as taking philosophy and theology courses, hoping my heart would find its way into the world. It was during my third year of college that I was talking with a friend and mentor, Mary Margaret Yaeger, who was a Franciscan Sister at the time. She knew I was studying Spanish and so she suggested I look at their Franciscan Lay Volunteer Program in Venezuela. That was the key that unlocked the door! I called Sr. Rita Barthel who was coordinating the program and she agreed to meet me at a restaurant in St. Paul for an interview. On the way to meeting Sr. Rita the song playing in my car was, "Take Lord, receive all I have and possess. Do with me according to your will..." I went into the interview open to whatever might happen. After our visit Sr. Rita enthusiastically welcomed me as a Lay Volunteer. Talk about being excited and scared! I think I was trembling a bit when I got back into the car. My life was on the move and all I had to do was keep up. When I started to drive home to campus, the song that played was, "Here I am Lord. It is I Lord. I have heard you calling in the night..." I sang in loud voice. It all felt so right, but now I had before me to tell my parents I was quitting college. Though they questioned me and wondered why I couldn't wait until I graduated, they never stood in the way. The next thing I knew they were helping me buy a ticket to go to Venezuela.
On June 23rd, 1983 I flew to Venezuela with Fr. Tony Kroll. It was my first time on a plane. I cried all the way from MN to Miami. When we landed in Miami Tony turned to me and asked if he could talk to me yet. No other leaving has been as dramatic as that moment in my life. It was a new beginning, a birthing of sorts. I was welcomed to Maracay, Venezuela by Sisters Maurita Bernet, Audrey Lohrer and Cheryl Beaver, the three Sisters with whom I lived and ministered. I soon felt very at home and set forth to learn more Spanish and work with youth and music in the parishes with the Sisters.
One weekend Sr. Cheryl invited me to go to a vocation retreat with some of the youth. My Spanish was still quite limited but I decided to go with her. I listened to some of the talks being given on the retreat and could pick up a little of what was being said, but eventually I went to my room to be by myself. I lay in my bed with the bedbugs biting me and wrote in my journal. As I reflected and wrote I realized then and there that I wanted to join the Franciscan Community. Whether in Spanish or English, my heart was being stirred once again. I knew I wanted to work with the poor and marginalized people of our world and I wanted to do it with a group of women who shared the same commitment. I didn't say anything to anyone that day, but on the ride home Sr. Cheryl was asking everyone in the car to share her experience of the retreat. When it was my turn I told Cheryl in English that I had decided I wanted to be a Franciscan Sister. She got so excited and asked if she could share it with the others, which she did.
The news brought an excitement and lots of conversation with the other Sisters. I decided to remain in Venezuela until my visa expired and also my parents were planning to come and visit me. My visa expired after 6 months so I returned to the U.S. and began the process of joining the Franciscan Sisters. Mary Margaret Yaeger was the vocation director at the time, and that had special meaning because she was the one who had originally suggested I look into going to Venezuela. Sr. Paula Pohlmann was the Community Minister. I remember meeting with Paula for coffee on one of my visits to Little Falls as a formality of joining the community. When we finished she said, "I think you would fit with this motley group." During that visit I was also put in the kitchen to peel potatoes with Sr. Barbara Heiling. After a bit she got up and headed out the kitchen door. I learned later that she went to Sr. Mary Margaret and said, "Dat one in der. She lookin' at us? She's a good one. Keep her." And they did. I was welcomed into the community on April Fool's Day, 1984, and my heart was happy.
Tune in next month for Part 3
(See February postings for Part 1 of S. Carmen's Autobiography.)