Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Summer days

A month and a bit have passed since I left New York City. (The withdrawal pains have subsided.) It has been a busy time with lots of activity and travel and not much time to tend to this blog. It has been a relaxing time as well, like an extended summer holiday.

I left New York for Saskatoon and made a five-day retreat with twenty-one other young religious from across Canada, facilitated by the wise and insightful Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI (more to come on the talks from the retreat in a future blog post). It was an energizing experience and consoling to meet other religious who share similar concerns, hopes, and dreams for the future of religious life in Canada.

The view of the South Saskatchewan River from Queen’s House Retreat Centre in Saskatoon

After the retreat, I spent time with family in Rosthern, SK and then in Calgary, AB. It was so good to be reunited with family and friends again, most of whom I hadn’t seen in about two years, before I went to the Philippines for the canonical year of my novitiate. Naturally, there was lots to share and to catch up on. It felt a bit strange at times relating my experiences of the Philippines because my year there seemed like a year out of time. There was an odd feeling of time displacement; I couldn’t keep track of the time I’d been away. Regardless, it was so good to see everyone and to feel connected again. Being with my family reminds me of who I am and where I have come from, and I am grateful for that. My family is very much a part of my spiritual journey even though I don’t get to see them very often.

The statue of Our Lady of the Prairies at Queen’s House

After a week or so back in Toronto, I made a trip to Ottawa. I hadn’t been to Ottawa for nearly two years so again there was that sense of time displacement. It was coupled initially with a feeling of nostalgia for my old life. I visited my old house (even did a bit of yard work there), met with friends and colleagues, and visited my old parish (I happened to be there just in time to celebrate the installation of its two new pastors). I had time to catch up with good friends and to glimpse again the life that I have missed off and on these past few years. As the visit progressed, I noticed that the feeling of nostalgia lessened and was replaced by a feeling of deep gratitude for all that I had experienced in Ottawa during the 10 years I lived there. I came to recognize that that part of my life is truly over now and I do not desire to go back and resume it. It was a beautiful and life-giving season in my life but now I am called to something else and to be somewhere else and I desire with all of my being to give myself to this new life and new path that I am walking along.

I think this is a good place to be – mentally, spiritually, etc., – as I prepare to make a discernment retreat next week that will lead up to making my first vows (potentially in December). I am not caught up in false feelings about the past and I am not bound by expectations for the future. I feel that I am calmly in the present, ready to be with God in a sacred space, and to talk about all that has gone on in my life over the past few years and all of the graces, gifts, and opportunities that God has been giving me as I move closer to making my first vows.

Please keep me in your prayers starting Monday as I make an eight-day silent retreat at Loyola House in Guelph. I will keep you in my prayers as well. Love and blessings to all!


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Back to my roots

This prairie girl has been back and forth to her favourite province, Saskatchewan, a couple of times this month. The first time for summer vacation and the second for a funeral.

Both trips gave me the opportunity to reconnect with family members I hadn’t seen for a long time and to be reminded of how wonderful they are and how much I love them and miss them.

I spent my summer vacation visiting family in a little town called Rosthern. I have been there many times. Saskatchewan has been the destination of choice for most of my vacations growing up – either in the summer or at Christmas – fluctuating between Rosthern and Saskatoon. The annual (sometimes biannual) pilgrimage to visit grandmas, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

In Rosthern I visited my paternal grandmother. She is the grandmother of homemade chicken noodle soup, of dough dogs and doughnuts. Of Scrabble and Skip-bo and Phase 10. I always feel like I am entering a protected space when I am visiting her, where everything is safe and feels very wholesome.

Grammy is getting older now and it’s harder for her to be as active as she used to be so instead of her pampering me, this time I tried to do my part to pamper her (although I admit I was still spoiled by her). We took a few road trips, going down to southern Saskatchewan to Lumsden to visit my cousin and her family (where I finally got to meet her adorable little girl), over close to the edge of Alberta to check out the Great Sand Hills, and then along through central Saskatchewan to visit a Benedictine Abbey and a Marian shrine. I made a special trip to Batoche as well.

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The South Saskatchewan River

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Just outside of Leader, Saskatchewan

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The Great Sand Hills

For me, it was a chance to see more of the province I love, to experience the slow, rolling hills of the prairie, which are beautiful and in stark contrast to the province’s reputation for boring flatness. More importantly, it was a chance to spend time with my grandma before I start my novitiate year in the Philippines, and to make sure she knows that I am still me. I wanted to reassure her that my year with the Loretto Sisters hasn’t turned me into some unrecognizable version of the girl she used to know. The week, as all vacations tend to do, went by far too quickly. All too soon I was boarding the plane back to Toronto and I felt a tugging on my heart. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

While I was in Rosthern I found out that my maternal grandmother had died. My mom’s mom is the grandmother of the American South, of hominy grits, and milk gravy on toast. She is the family storyteller, sharing tales of her childhood during the Depression in North Carolina, and her great love story – marrying my grandfather and moving to Montreal after the Second World War. She always made me feel that our family had exotic roots.

Although she passed away in Calgary, she wanted to be buried in Saskatoon with my grandfather. And so it was with deep sadness, and an anxious need to be with my family, that I returned to Saskatoon. It was hard to say goodbye to the woman who had been the symbol of the family for so long. My grandmother was a true matriarch. She built a family legacy. And even though she lived to an honourable age (91), it was still hard to let her go.

Woven in to her death was the death of my mother. My grandma had been a strong link to my mother. After my mom’s death, my grandma would tell me stories about my mom’s childhood, helping me to know the sides of her I had never seen. I even have a cassette tape she made me of her memories of my mom. So my grandmother’s death felt like two deaths, in a sense.

I am blessed to have a very close and supportive family and the time together brought much comfort. Even though we were only together for a couple of days, I felt very close to them, reconnected. After the funeral we visited many familiar sights – the university campus where my grandfather had taught and my mom and aunts and uncles had studied, the old houses where they had grown up, even parks I had visited as a child. It felt good and right to see those places again; they hold so much sentimental value. I am grateful that I have my aunts to maintain the family traditions and our family history.

As I get ready to enter the novitiate and move to the Philippines for a year (though I still have a few months before that happens), I am already thinking about my family and starting to dread that I will have to leave them. A lot can happen in a year. Birth, death, all kinds of change. I have to admit that I feel some anxiety about being so far away from them for 12 months. I’ve lived away from them for the past 11 years but I’ve always been a fairly short plane ride away. Being with family also rekindles in me a longing to move back west. I hope that at some point I will be able to spend more time with them, more than just vacation time, to actually live close to them again and be part of the regular family rhythm.

Ultimately, I trust that God knows what is best for me. And right now (or, in the near future), what is best for is going to the Philippines, joining my companions there, and journeying through at least the first year of the novitiate together. And I trust that God will be watching over my family and will find ways for us to stay connected across distance and time.

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The Shrine at St. Laurent de Grandin

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The Great Sand Hills