It was a summer evening in early August, and we were anxiously awaiting the visit of our daughter, Sister Juan Maria of the Holy Spirit (Emily Rose), who was about to begin her final year of novitiate with the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal at Our Lady Queen of Angels Convent in New York.
It had been more than a year since she had last spent time with her family and friends in Providence, Rhode Island.
It was finally time for her to come home. We greeted each other with a big hug and shared a delicious family dinner. My children had lovingly prepared her room and made a very nice sign that said, “Welcome home Sister Juan Maria.”
Her visit was only for nine days, so for the first three days, we rented a rather large house in the middle of the woods near the Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, Connecticut.
With our seven children, my daughter-in-law and granddaughter-in-law, we put the cellphones in a corner and played board games. We also celebrated my oldest son Alex’s 30th birthday and received the news that his second baby on the way was a little girl. And we reconnected, sharing everything that is going on in our lives.
The second night, we did a talent show where each of us shared a song or a poem. It was a very funny and emotional moment with many smiles and some tears.
We prayed the Liturgy of the Hours with our daughter, and she shared more about her life in the convent. Every day, we also had the chance to go to Mass at a nearby church that was close to where we were, which was a convent of cloistered nuns.
These were unforgettable moments, and we plan to make it a family tradition every time our daughter visits for two weeks each year.
My wife, Becky, and I feel very blessed that God has called one of our daughters to religious life. In this day and age when vocations are so scarce, we really admire her determination to answer this call.
What factors can influence a young person to listen to God’s call for their lives? I believe that God continues to call many to serve Him as priests or religious, but we may not be hearing God’s voice or getting enough of the support we need from family members and our community.
From a very young age, our daughter showed a lot of talent for music and sports, getting involved in youth groups and serving in parish music ministries. As parents, we never pressured her. She simply grew up in an environment where there were many retreats and opportunities to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
Participating in the youth retreats and also the Steubenville East regional conferences could have influenced her. She also had opportunities to go on mission trips to the Dominican Republic, organized by our pastor Father James and the school chaplain. On those trips, she saw firsthand how much poverty there is in the world and developed a love for serving the poor and needy.
When it was her turn to go to high school, she went to a rigorous public school, which required a test to get in. I was worried that she might be a bit influenced by secular culture, but instead, she founded a worship club and organized a shoe box drive, collecting many gifts for poor children.
She then went to Salve Regina University, where she also organized opportunities for worship and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. She met her best friend Raquel, who would end up marrying my oldest son Alex and now they form a beautiful Catholic family.
The biggest challenge to get into the convent was the enormous debt she had upon graduating from college, which exceeded $50,000.
We did a fundraising campaign and some concerts. I was a little doubtful that we could raise what we needed, but she said: “Dad, when God wants something to happen, he has all the money in the world.”
Her faith and determination were teaching me not to doubt and to have confidence in God.
After three months of fundraising, thanks be to God, she reached her goal, paid her debts and entered the convent as a postulant and later as a novice.
We now look forward to her monthly phone call to hear about her life and the different ministries she is doing.
We also look forward to next summer, to visit the convent for the ceremony when she will take her first vows as a religious woman and exchange the white veil for a black veil over her gray habit.
As parents and mentors in our communities, the best thing we can do is to support our young and encourage them not to be afraid to accept that call from God, to enter that process of discernment toward the priesthood or religious life.
It may require several people to tell the young man or woman that we believe he or she has a call to the priesthood or religious life before they decide to accept this challenge.
It is very important that, as parents, we prepare that ground, creating homes where there is an atmosphere of prayer and service, which is like a fertilizer to prepare the fertile ground where a vocation can emerge.
Finally, we must be open to God’s call and support our children and young people when God calls them and continue to pray for them during the process of their discernment and formation.
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Silvio Cuéllar is a writer, liturgical music composer and journalist. He was coordinator of the Hispanic Ministry office and editor of El Católico de Rhode Island newspaper in the Diocese of Providence.