For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen (Jeremiah 29: 11-12).
Time melts together and so it’s hard to remember in what exact year Sister Catherine Marie came into my life, but I remember it being somewhere around 2002. I had graduated from college and getting my Master’s Degree, in Southern California. I was on the CORE team for LifeTeen at a parish in Orange County and we had the “ministry dream team.” I was humbled to minister along side such wonderful people who were striving to grow in their faith and share it with our youth. Sister Catherine Marie’s brother had been on our team for a while, and if you ask me I don’t remember Sister Catherine Marie ever not being around.
She’ll tell the story differently, as she remembers showing up at her first Life Night, which was the school year kickoff. Her joyful child-like spirit was an instant draw to us all and she fit into our group perfectly. Sister Catherine Marie was attending UCLA at the time and I was working in the Los Angeles area. We decided to rent an apartment together, in Los Angeles, with two other girls from our core team.
Our apartment became a place for ministry, and we used it for faith-filled social events, as often as we could. We drove together with our Youth Minister (who also worked in Los Angeles), to Orange County, a few times a week. A commute which could drive someone to road rage became an intense study of our faith, as our youth minister, Leo Severino, shared his growing knowledge of Holy Mother Church. If you’re looking for a powerful theological book, you can find his book, Going Deeper, on Amazon.
In the spring of 2005, we noticed that a few of our teens, both male and female were beginning to consider religious life either in the priesthood or the convent. We’d given the yearly Life Night on the 3 vocations – marriage, religious life, and the single life. A young teen girl approached Sister Catherine Marie and shared with her that she was discerning religious life. Sister Catherine Marie, assuming she was called to marriage, encouraged the young girl to look into religious life, if she felt called.
After the conversation, however something began to stir in Sister Catherine Marie’s and she wondered if she had properly discerned which vocation God was personally calling her to. This conversation would inevitably send Sister Catherine Marie into a process of discerning religious life. Once she began discerning and found the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, I became drawn to the sisters as well. We both attended separate discernment retreats and felt God calling us each in that direction.
For now, I’ll skip the discernment story; as you can see, she ended up joining and I found my vocation in marriage. We were scheduled to enter together in August of 2005. In the end, however, God called her to Michigan and He called me to marriage. It as a shock to me, but I’m seeing now how my religious discernment was all part of his plan to get me to my husband. I ended up leaving Southern California and I got a job working in a Catholic school in the Central Valley of California.
I remember going into the chapel on the day that the sisters were entering in Michigan. I began to cry as I questioned the Lord as to why I wasn’t entering. Did He not want me anymore? I had thought He was calling me to be His spouse but now He wasn’t. Was I not good enough? I don’t remember the end of that moment, but looking back now I realized it had a lasting impact on my relationship with the Lord. Instead of trusting the God was calling me to something different, I let the evil one speak words of hurt into my heart. Looking back now, I see how the Lord so quickly fulfilled the desires of my heart for sisterhood and for my vocational calling. Within a year of not entering the convent, I was living in a household of beautiful Catholic women, and within 2 years, I met my now husband.
The Lord’s plans are better than our human minds can imagine. He tells us so clearly in Jeremiah that He knows the plans He has for us … full of hope.
In March, I had the privilege of bringing my dear friend Sister Catherine Marie out for a marriage/vocations conference. In the 14 years since she entered religious life, I had only seen her twice. The first visit was an afternoon visit in 2008, at her parent’s house when she was in California for her “home visit.” My second visit was in 2012 or 2013, when she made her final profession. I was able to fly to Michigan to attend the Mass. It was a beautiful experience to return to the motherhouse to watch as the sisters, whom I would have entered with, as they became fully professed. I was able to spend maybe an hour or so with sister at the celebration after the Mass.
Having spent only a matter of hours with Sister Catherine Marie since 2005, my heart cannot comprehend how I just had her in my home for the weekend. The time she spent with my children is beyond priceless. We spent Friday evening and Saturday evening at the conference, while I was not speaking, I had a table representing A Mom Revolution, which was next to her speaker’s table. We spent the whole time together and I couldn’t believe we were ministering together again after all these years. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours together, attending Mass together, catching up on each other’s lives, and sharing meals together. We both commented on how it had felt like no time had passed since we’d been together all those years ago, as roommates in Los Angeles.
Here I am, married, and here she is, a fully professed sister. We have each found our vocations and are doing our best to live them out each day. It may be another 14 years before we are together again in person, but I know that as I read my Liturgy of the Hours morning prayer each day, that we are joined together in prayer and in the Holy Eucharist through Mass and adoration.
I will rejoice in the Lord’s love for me, for I now see that all those years ago, He did love me and still does and chose marriage for me, but with a different spouse that I expected. Being married in the Catholic Church means that our sacramental marriage invites Our Lord into our marriage and into our covenant. I am just so grateful to be able to look back on how He so particularly laid out my journey to Him and then to my vocation. The joy I felt from being with Sister Catherine Marie that weekend will be one I will long ponder about. I will hold its memory thankfully in my heart.
Copyright 2019 Courtney Vallejo