There have been certain aspects of my vocation that I have spent years trying to figure out and understand, but there have also been times when God couldn’t be more clear about what He wanted for me. Sometimes I spend years stumbling around in the shadows and grasping desperately at glimpses of the light, and other times I only realize that I’ve been blind when I suddenly walk into a wall when I’m blinded by the light of Christ. Sometimes I spend hours in prayer trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do next in my life, and other times my future falls into my lap with flashing lights that scream “DO THIS!” My decision to leave the convent would fall into the former category; my decision to work at Mt. Carmel, the latter.
As I wrote in an earlier post, I stumbled upon the position at Mt. Carmel quite by accident. When I decided to leave formation and return home, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Certain aspects of my vocation remained cloudy, and I had absolutely no idea what I might want as a future career. I had already received my Bachelor’s degree in Theology and had been working on my Master’s in the same area when I decided to enter with the Salesian Sisters, but I honestly didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my degree. I had done well in school, and I had even enjoyed my studies, but when I left the convent, there was one huge question that loomed in front of me: WHAT NEXT? No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with an answer.
Within a week of returning home, I had restocked my closet with a limited amount of dresses suitable for job interviews, and I was spending hours on the computer every day, pouring over the job listings on countless websites. I really had no idea what I wanted to do, and I was skeptical of my qualifications for any position. I had a Bachelor’s degree and half a Master’s, but I was positive that there were myriads of applicants much more qualified than I was. Even as I filled out application after application, I was skeptical that I would ever receive a call from anyone other than the local pizza place or Barnes and Noble. I applied for teaching positions, ministry positions, and retail positions, praying that someone would hire me. Ironically, I never heard from any of the retail locations, while I received a handful of emails inviting me to interview for several teaching positions. Unfortunately, even as I was being praised for my passion and volunteer experience, the inevitable answer was the same: you don’t have the experience that’s needed. Teaching was the one career that I thought I could be halfway decent at, but my lack of experience prevented me from breaking into the world of education. With every rejection, I became more discouraged, and I began to struggle to keep up my optimism about my future. Even though I had been top of my class and had dedicated hours of my life to ministry and service, my lack of experience in the classroom seemed like it was going to be the death of me. And then everything changed.
\An old friend told me about a posting that I might be interested in, and even though I was skeptical about my qualifications, I agreed to interview. It was a position in Religious Education, something that I had absolutely no experience with, except for a few months that I had spent as an aide to an elderly sister who taught CCD to a group of under-privileged, special needs children. Despite this, I decided to go for it, figuring that I had nothing to lose. I tailored my resume to emphasize the instances where I had taught during retreats and other ministry experiences, and sent it to the program director. Even though an interview had been secured, I had little hope of getting the job.
Naturally, I was shocked when I was offered the position. I was even more shocked when I realized that I really loved what I was doing. Don’t get me wrong- I assumed that I wouldn’t hate it, but I didn’t think I’d love it. I liked working with children, but I had a very particular vision of what Directors of Religious Education were like. They were old and boring, and probably had lectured Jesus Christ Himself during His childhood. I figured that I was an anomaly among DREs, employed by a progressive parish that was ready to move into the twenty-first century. In some ways, I was right. As I quickly observed, I was the youngest DRE by twenty years, and most DREs didn’t know how to use DVD players, never mind YouTube. Though I have always considered myself to be technologically naive, I was light-years ahead of my companions. I was praised for my ability to combine teaching and technology, and after working with my students for a year, I am proud of the fact that they can recite the Our Father from memory and understand what it means to have a relationship with God, even if they inevitably bring up images of the spirit of the lion Mufasa in the sky as they discuss it.
When I was hired, I thought I had found a job that I could tolerate for a few years. I never would have dreamed that I would fall in love with it, or that a year later, I would be preparing to leave. In fact, these two discoveries seem rather counter-intuitive. You don’t find a job that you love and then leave after a year. But that’s exactly what I am preparing to do.
My life has been full of surprises since I left the convent. I have found the career that I want to dedicate my entire life to. I have found the man who I want to spend the rest of my life with. I have found my vocation. I have found more love than I ever thought possible. And that is how I have come across this last surprise: because of these wonderful discoveries, I cannot stay here.
The Lord is calling back to the place where it all started. Three years ago, I moved to DC looking for answers to so many questions. I was hoping to find my vocation. I was hoping to find a life-long career. I was hoping to find love. I loved Theology, and this passion was the one thing that I was sure about. When I began at the Institute, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t know how I was supposed to use the gifts that I had been given. I didn’t even know what gifts I possessed. I didn’t know where God was calling me, and even though I knew that the Lord was calling me to marriage, I didn’t know who God had in mind for me. Three years later, I finally am beginning to find the answers that I have spent all this time looking for.
The Lord has led me on a windy, scenic path since I left DC, and now my journey is leading me back. When I moved down to DC the first time, I went with a lot of questions. As I prepare to move down for the second time, I do so with a lot of answers. I know what I want to spend my life doing, and who I want to spend it with. After years of discernment, I know that the Lord is calling me to serve as a Director of Religious Education, as well as a wife and, God willing, a mother.
When I made my decision to move back down to DC this summer, I did so somewhat reluctantly. After an amazing year at OLMC, I did not want to leave. Even though I knew that completing my Master’s degree would be important to securing a future as a DRE, I was apprehensive about returning to school. It’s been a while since I last studied for an exam or wrote a paper. More than that, the knowledge that I would not be able to continue as a DRE was devastating. After years of searching, I had finally found my passion and a career that I could dedicate my life to, and I did not want to give that up, even temporarily. However, reason insisted that I put my vocation as a DRE on hold for a year. School work and classes would demand a great deal of my time, and I knew that I would not be able to do the children justice if I could only be present to them for a few hours a week. My heart was torn, and once again, I found myself hoping for the impossible.
With little reason to believe that my efforts would be fruitful, I sent an email to the Archdiocese of Washington that explained my predicament. I wrote about my experience as a DRE, as well as my decision to return to school. Trying to avoid sounding desperate, I wrote about how bittersweet this decision had been and how much I had loved my time at Mt. Carmel. My request was simple: if the catechetical office knew of any parishes looking for part-time assistance with the Religious Education program, could they please send my resume and references to the pastor? My limitations were many, and I realized that I was hoping for a position that was highly unlikely. Most parishes will not hire a DRE that can only work 15-20 hours a week, and even those who do often expect that they will put in significantly more hours. I knew that I needed to be reasonable. After I pressed ‘Send,’ I moved on to other preparations, and eventually I forgot that I had sent the email at all.
To be completely honest, when the email popped up in my mailbox, I assumed that it had been a mistake of some sort. Nevertheless, I found myself scanning the email, hoping that this could somehow be real. It was an email from a pastor in residence at a very small parish in southern Maryland. He briefly explained his parish community, which was incredibly small, and his needs, which seemed much larger. He wrote that the present DRE, who was preparing to retire, coordinated the Religious Ed program, oversaw the sacramental preparations for children receiving First Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation, assisted with marriage and baptismal preparations, and looked after the parish cemetery, among other things. This long list of responsibilities was followed by a promise that the position could be tailored to suit my needs. After researching the location of the parish, I resigned myself to the fact that it just wasn’t possible. I even wrote back to the pastor to turn down the offer, citing distance and time commitment as my main difficulties with the position. After a moment of unrestrained excitement, reality came crashing down and I had to admit the truth: the job just wasn’t going to work.
The second email was even more surprising than the first, if that’s possible. Less than twenty-four hours later, a follow-up email appeared in my mailbox. I had already accepted the fact that this job opportunity wouldn’t work- the parish was over an hour away and the responsibilities were just too many- and I opened this second email without much hope of anything changing. As I skimmed the new email, it became incredibly clear that the pastor was insistent. Most evidently, he had ignored my rejection, and once again promised that he could tailor the job responsibilities to my particular needs. He asked if I might be in the area in the near future, and suggested that I come by to interview for the position, if I changed my mind.
Since I already had plans to visit DC that same weekend, it seemed like too good an opportunity to turn down. I scheduled the interview, and I made the necessary arrangements to get there. Just a few days later, I found myself sitting across from the pastor in the manor house that also served as a meeting space for the parish. To say that I had been blown away by my surroundings would be a vast understatement.
The church was beautiful, and sat on the side of a hill overlooking the Potomac River. It was a picturesque area, completely removed from any other type of civilization. The only way to reach the parish was to follow a country road that wound through mostly untouched forests. I immediately fell in love with the parish, but I was still apprehensive about the position.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been so relaxed during an interview. Since I was aware of how much the pastor appreciated my experience (even if it had only been a year) and my Theology background, I arrived with a definite sense that I had nothing to lose. At best, I would end up with a part-time position doing what I loved, but even the worst case scenario didn’t seem that bad: I got to visit a beautiful parish in a gorgeous area of Maryland that had a ton of history.
By the end of the interview, it had become clear that we shared a similar vision for the future of the parish. He had been looking for a DRE with knowledge of the faith and the inner workings of Religious Education, passion for the work, and a youthfulness that would allow for an easy connection to the students. Though he had interviewed nearly a dozen other applicants, he made it quite clear that he had not been impressed with any of them. On my part, I had been searching for a severely part-time DRE position where I would be able to minister to the children to the best of my ability while balancing an intense school workload. It was very obvious that we had both found what we were looking for.
And now, I am happy to announce that I will not be putting my career as a DRE on hold while I finish my Master’s degree. As of July 15th, I will be the DRE at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, and I am so excited to see what the Lord has in store for the year. I will be ministering to a little over one hundred children, helping to form catechists, and teaching the confirmation class. I will help with marriage prep (there are only three or four weddings a year) and baptisms (there aren’t that many of those either), but most of my time will be dedicated to Religious Education. I still cannot believe how well everything has turned out, and this, like so many other events in my life, is just another reminder of how important it is that we hope and trust in the Lord. He is always faithful to those who love Him.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!