Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 17, 2003
She heard her call, heeds it still
Parents wept as their daughter became religious
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
After Grey Nun Sister Marcia Wiley had been in the religious life for years, her father shared his thoughts the day she left to become a sister: "I wanted to pull you with one hand and push you with the other."
He wanted the vibrant, young Marcia to go because he wanted what she wanted. But he had a divided heart because he also wanted his only child to stay.
"My mother would have been of the mind, 'Don't go'," Wiley told the WCR.
So her parents were heartbroken when she entered the convent. They expected her to get married and raise a family.
"I think that was probably the hardest moment in my life - to leave home.
But she kept on saying, "This is my call. I had to follow or at least . . . find out if this call was for me, if it was true."
Coming from a religious family, this sister from Toledo, Ohio, remember going to church on Sundays and participating in the life of the parish.
"But we weren't ultra religious," she said.
She had a lively teenage life, partied and dated guys. "Our place was the house to be on the weekend."
That's why it came as a bit of shock when she announced that she wanted to be nun. Wiley attended a Catholic school and even went to an exclusive school for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy.
Yearning to know God
But even as a child, she knew she had a vocation. "I didn't know in what shape or form." What was clear was "the yearning to know God and to delight in God."
From high school she entered the Grey Nun-operated St. Vincent's School of nursing in her hometown. That was the same school her mother attended.
When she had finished her training as a nurse, she joined the Grey Nuns and became a postulant in Boston in 1967.
Her postulancy was followed by novitiate in Manitoba, after which she had the privilege of going to Chesterfield, NWT because she's a nurse.
The short stay in the NWT was followed by a ministry in a nursing home in the U.S. before she was called to go back to Montreal for her juniorate years.
What attracted her to this congregation was its charism, that is to serve the poor of many faces - material, psychological, emotional and spiritual. She saw that the sisters were involved in health care, in schools, in parishes and in all kinds of social services.
"That attracted me because I understood that no matter what talents God gave me, they could be developed and used to help others.
"And no matter what gifts I have, it could be used in the Grey Nuns congregation."
She also saw the collective witnessing of the sisters in the hospital where she was doing her training.
"I was impelled. In a way, I was left with 'no choice.' In order to be true to who I am, I needed to follow this call, although I did not know where it was going to lead."
During her junior years in Montreal, she had the opportunity to come to Edmonton with two other sisters, who wanted to experience living a new way of community life, by living in a small house. With the permission of their superiors, they lived in this house on 123rd Street in Edmonton with four guiding pillars: a life of prayer, commitment to a strong community life, involvement in a full time apostolic ministry and hospitality.
She lived there for a number of years and worked at Edmonton General Hospital as a nurse while studying for her nursing degree at the U of A.
However, because she is an American, she had to go back to the U.S. to obtain her landed immigrant status in Canada. While waiting for her immigration papers, she took the Clinical Pastoral Education program.
When she came back to Edmonton, her provincial said, "You won't be a nurse anymore. We'd like you to start a pastoral care program at Edmonton General."
She started doing pastoral care of the sick. She later became the chaplain at the palliative care, ICU and emergency.
Loved being chaplain
"I just loved it. Loved it," said Wiley, who is now the provincial treasurer of the Grey Nuns in Western Canada.
She experienced the presence of God more deeply in her interaction with the sick and dying and their families.
Reflecting about her aging congregation, she said the time for doing seems to have come to a halt. "Not that we don't do anything. We still do lots. But I think our emphasis now is more in the being, being present in the moment, whatever is happening."
Her congregation pioneered in many ways. The sisters gave their lives in the North, in the residential schools, in the hospitals, all around Alberta and Western Canada.
"Maybe that was the real adventure of religious life. We went where nobody was. We responded to so many unmet needs. Some places we were the first women (religious)," said Wiley.
But because her community is aging, they turned over their institutions to the Alberta Catholic Health Corp over the last few years.
"I think this made us pioneers of the 21st century."
Institutions they have begun and helped establish were transferred to lay people who have the same vision and dedication.
"For us it was a letting go. I think the growing point is how do we let go graciously, with dignity and courage."
The experience has biblical undertones in what Christ said, "Unless the grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies . . ." (cf. John 12:24).
"In our letting go, I believe a new shoot will come. There will be new life because the work of religious is God's work, the charism is the flavour."
She is convinced this is a transformation, a growth in consciousness that instead of their doing everything independently, interdependence has become a clearer part of the picture.
"I think my generation is a bridge between what has been and what will be. If our generation can live this moment of history with faith, hope, charity and integrity, it'll be the bridge that will yield more fruitful results."
Religious life is not dying, she said, because God has always called people. The people will still be called but the expression will be different.
She firmly believes there are men and women who feel the call and who hunger for the word of God, but they are not called to what has been.
"Right now, to be a religious is a stand of faith as you see the reality of our aging community and the de-institutionalization we experience."
Little did it occur to her that the number of sisters would go down.
"I always thought there will always be 30 sisters in the hospital. Well over time, when we said the number diminishing it was difficult to face such reality. But it's a journey of faith."
"That call that I felt when I was young is still there. I also found kindred spirits with others in my community, a sense of belonging, a sense of we're in this together, and trying to be women of courage, faith, hope and charity."