Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 11, 2002
Sister finds her dramatic path
Making the choice to love God allows her to love many
By BYRON PRICE
Special to the WCR
Picture this. A woman helps other women explore their inner feelings and spirituality through drama and body awareness.
This is the life of a Faithful Companion of Jesus (FCJ) in the modern world. For this is the ministry of Sister Pat Desnoyers.
This was not the life Desnoyers imagined for herself when she was 17 and living in Edmonton. Although she was educated in the Catholic school system, Desnoyers' parents, two brothers and two sisters were not churchgoers, nor were they particularly interested in the Catholic Church.
At 17, Desnoyers wanted to be married and have 12 children. She remembers telling her Grade 12 teacher, "I do not want money to rule my life and control how I live."
The teacher replied, "Have you ever thought about being a sister?"
Desnoyers thought about the teacher's suggestion but, like most young people, went on with life's pursuits - dating, graduating and then dating someone special.
But like the hound of heaven, her teacher's suggestion kept coming back to her.
Desnoyers thought, "If this is a question that keeps coming back, how can I make a decision if I don't know any sisters?"
Until this point, the only image Desnoyers had of sisters was from the film The Sound of Music.
Desnoyers is sincere, open and honest as she paints her journey with heart, passion and her great love of Jesus. "At that time, I went to see a priest in Edmonton and asked for advice on my spiritual journey. He gave me a diocesan directory with all the religious orders and said I should speak to them."
She went from door to door of the religious orders asking questions as she tried to decide if the religious life was for her.
Desnoyers found herself attracted to the FCJs because many of the sisters were unique and talented within the simple lifestyle, yet they exhibited a great love of community.
At this point, Desnoyers had to make serious decisions about her life's direction, particularly regarding a serious relationship. She recalls walking in the rain on the beautifully treed property of Calgary's FCJ centre by the Bow River. As Desnoyers walked into the FCJ Centre, she cast her eyes towards the city's downtown office towers.
And at that moment, she knew for certain she wanted to be a FCJ sister.
From novitiate in 1982 to final vows in 1991, Desnoyers says, "It was God's love that kept me going and touched my passions.
"Final vows brought a realistic structure to my initial insight in my early awakenings to what God wanted for me.
"If I were married, I would be committed to loving and caring for my children. Religious life opened up a life of depth where I could care for more people.
"There were many more people I could touch with God's love than if I were married with children."
Desnoyers' ministry as a FCJ included teaching. As she interacted with the students during drama, she recognized a creative process. Through drama, she was able to connect the arts spirituality and personal growth, much more so than when she was teaching religion or language arts.
After 10 years of teaching, Desnoyers could build on these insights. She left for England in 1996 for a tertianship - a time of renewal in mission work, personal enrichment, apostolic experience and study.
Desnoyers chose to go to Payatas (Smoking Mountain) in the Philippines. Here the poorest of the poor try to eke out a living by picking through the garbage dump.
Her work involved teaching calligraphy to the poor. They would then use these skills to create cards to be sold on the streets.
The sister experienced a deepening awareness that people need community to survive. The tertianship also included teaching drama in Brussels and embarking on studies in England that focused on the effectiveness of arts and spirituality in a spiritual direction.
During further study at St. Regis College, Desnoyers discovered the power of body awareness. She found the tools of body awareness, spirituality and the arts to be effective in spiritual direction.
In many of her workshops, she has seen just how effective these tools can be in the healing of people.
Desnoyers tells of an experience she had in Chicago where she ministers every two months to abused women living in a shelter.
"One woman was very abused, had very rigid body movements. After working with her with the arts, spirituality and body awareness using dramatic characters to explore her feelings, she was able to look at herself as she was in relationship with others and God.
"She changed. Now she can respond, instead of just reacting to others.
"The experience of this woman was simple, yet profound."
Desnoyers' vocation is continually evolving as she finds new ideas to show her great love of God. In today's world, sameness is worshipped: Yet in the FCJ's concept of vocation, they respected the talents of Desnoyers and enabled her to develop creative processes to help God's people.