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Become a Sister

Fina a Congregation

Discerning a Call...the Journey to Religious Life

by Meaghan Patterson, SSJ Philadelphia

A year and a half ago, I made my perpetual commitment to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia.  Since that day, I have continued to grow more deeply in my relationship with God and with the “dear neighbor”.  The relationship that I experience with God is strong, and like all relationships, I have to work at it each and every day.  I have adopted a small ritual each morning to help me remember the public (and private) commitment I made to God.  Every night I remove my profession ring and when I put it back on in the morning, I re-commit myself to living out my life in the way I feel God has called me to live. 

When I was in my early twenties, I could feel God tugging at my heart, calling me to live my life in a way that would allow me to be free to minister to God’s people.  I initially felt attracted to the Sisters of Saint Joseph as I was attending our college, Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and I had been taught by the Sisters in grade school.  As a candidate, I began to investigate whether or not this life was the right fit for me.  During the novitiate, my love for God, our Sisters, and the “dear neighbor” deepened in my heart and I knew I was ready to make an initial commitment.  After First Vows, I embarked on a new ministerial journey, working as a second grade teacher in inner city Philadelphia.  

As I made my way through the phases of religious formation, I began to understand that the life I saw lived out by the Sisters of Saint Joseph was one of self-emptying love and courageous risk-taking.  Also, I saw the realities facing our congregation, which are the same issues that many other religious congregations are being called to address.  Fewer women entering coupled with aging members is a reality for many religious congregations throughout the United States.

Committing to this way of life while in my thirties certainly has its challenges, as can ministering in a poverty-stricken congressional district; yet it is my relationships with God, my Sisters, my family, and my friends that sustain me.  My work as a vice-principal in North Philadelphia is demanding, and it helps to be able to come home with women who have dedicated their lives to ministering with those who are surrounded by poverty.  All of the Sisters in my local community have worked in inner city ministries for a significant portion of their life in community, and it inspires me to see their dedication, commitment, and perseverance.  Their public witness in the way in which they are living their lives makes me want to continue the legacy they are leaving in our neighborhood.

What I had witnessed in the lives of the Sisters of Saint Joseph deepened my desire to be a part of their legacy.  Each year in formation, I grew stronger in my choice to live out my life as a Sister of Saint Joseph and, after ten years in formation, I was given permission to make my perpetual profession.

October 16, 2011, was probably one of the best days of my life; it was the day I professed my perpetual vows as a Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia.  I woke up early to get ready and went for a walk around the Motherhouse grounds, including a stop to our cemetery where our foundress, Mother Saint John Fournier, is buried.  Joined by one of our sisters, we walked, prayed, and took the time to honor the sacredness of this special day.  As we walked back to the Motherhouse, I could feel the excitement growing within me; it helped that some members of our church gospel choir began arriving to warm up before Mass.  I could not wait to let the celebration begin.

The morning continued with a prayer service with some of our Sisters, breakfast, and then the moment for which I had waited more than ten years, my perpetual vow liturgy.  The piano started to play; the drums began to beat; very slowly, the choir started out singing a gospel version of “Here I Am”.  Then the beat picked up and the celebration began!  Standing in between our congregational president and my formation director, we literally danced up the aisle as the choir kept up the beat.  Everyone in the chapel was clapping and moving with the music, and when the former pastor of the parish where I had been living and working stood up to say the greeting, he said, “North Philly is in the house”. 

It truly was a wonderful Liturgy that reverenced the many years I had spent learning about and living with the Sisters of Saint Joseph while deepening my relationship with God.  In some ways it feels like only yesterday that I made my perpetual vows, while in other ways it feels like a lifetime ago. 

All in all, as I look back over the last year and a half since my perpetual profession and the last twelve years since I first began this journey in religious life, I am forever changed because of my commitment to God.  In the days, months, and years that will follow I continue to deepen my relationship with God and with my Sisters as I strive to grow into the person I feel God is calling me to be.

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