Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This week, the Church in the United States marks National Vocation Awareness Week. In particular, these are days set aside to teach about, promote, and pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. In the past, I’ve told the story of my own call to the priesthood and the ways in which God used classmates, friends, and people in the parish to make His voice more clear in my own heart. There is no doubt in my mind that St. Pius X is a parish that can amplify the voice of Jesus for the young men and women of our parish who are being called to give their lives in service to the Gospel and the Church. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is calling and will call some of the sons of this parish family to be priests, bringing the sacraments and proclaiming the Good News in parishes in the Diocese of Bridgeport. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is calling and will call some of the daughters of this parish family to lead people to His Heart as consecrated religious sisters, dedicated to prayer, service, and heroic witness to the Gospel.
As with so many things in life, the fruits of a religious sister’s ministry or a priest’s service are often not widely known. Fortunately, there are graced moments when the growth of the seeds planted in ministry are visible. You’ve heard enough of those moments from me, so I would like to share instead the fruits of a vocation to religious life. A few weeks ago, I was honored to celebrate the funeral Mass of my great-aunt, Sister Laura Marie Meskill. Shortly before her passing, she marked her 75th anniversary in the convent. She was the valedictorian of her high school class, and two years later, entered the convent in 1946. For three quarters of a century, she devoted her life to God as a Sister of Mercy. Most of those years were spent as an educator and guidance counselor, especially her 38 years at Mercy High School in Middletown. Along the way, she earned degrees in Education, English, and Guidance and helped countless young women in the classroom and in the pursuit of higher education. From Mercy, she went on to minister at St. Mary Church in Portland, CT as a pastoral assistant for many years. In her last years, when she was limited by failing eyesight and hearing, she knew and prayed with the other residents of the floor at the nursing home where she lived.
Visiting Sr. Laura Marie one day, I looked through a scrapbook that was given to her when she retired from Mercy High School. It was full of notes from colleagues and former students, each one recounting a specific story of something she had taught them, a kind word she had shared, or wisdom she had imparted that they now sought to pass on to their children, students, families, and friends. The women who wrote the notes were varied – teachers, doctors, nuns, lawyers, even an actress writing from California – but their lives had all been similarly impacted by Sr. Laura Marie’s faithful “yes” to God’s call to religious life. That “yes” was repeated thousands of times, as Sister prayerfully lived out each day, each class, each moment of service.
After Mass here one recent Sunday, I was stopped by a woman who was a student at Mercy during Sister’s time there. Her story of Sr. Laura Marie’s impact was familiar in its theme, but profoundly personal in the details. That, in fact, is the nature of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. There are elements of God’s call that are common to each person invited to such a vocation, but each of those is made profoundly personal, for Jesus does not call a general population. Rather, our Lord calls individual souls to live out a vocation according to their own particular gifts, to love God and neighbor as only they can. While the ministry of a priest or religious sister may fit into a broad category, it is always received and experienced by specific individuals whom God wants to reach. Countless students, generally, were served and inspired by the witness and love of Sr. Laura Marie, but each of that countless number has a name and a particular way that they were graced by her life.
God is calling young men and women from our parish to the priesthood and religious life. He is calling them personally. How many countless souls will be brought to salvation, how many lives will be transformed, how many individual hearts will be moved because of the joyful and generous “yes” given by our parish’s sons and daughters? The Church needs this response now more than ever. So let us pray that God would send us good and holy priests and religious to bring us the sacraments and the message of the Gospel. Let us pray that the Lord would give the graces needed for our community to sustain and nurture these vocations. Let us pray that our sons and daughters might have the courage to respond generously to God’s call.