Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 18, 2009
Religious sisters take countercultural path
Vocations are scarce for the religious, but still some obey the call of God
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
These women who are exploring a vocation with the Sisters of Providence, Christina Wong, left, Margarete St. John and Catherine Chan, say it fills them with joy.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — In a world increasingly cynical about God and religion, the decision to become a religious sister cuts against the grain.
Nevertheless some congregations continue to receive vocations, although those are few and far between.
The Sisters of Providence, with 800 members around the world and 53 in Western Canada, currently have 30 women in formation worldwide, including three in Western Canada.
The Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood, an independent Edmonton congregation with eight members, have two women in formation who came from the Philippines.
All the women seem to share one thing. They were all invited to join at one point in their lives and they all feel called by God to serve as religious.
A PRAYER IS ANSWERED
Sister Margarete St. John, a social worker in Edmonton, entered the Sisters of Providence in 2001. “I had been praying and asking the Lord ‘How can I serve you in my life?’ and then I met a Sister of Providence that I was actually doing some work with,” she explained.
“I noticed how loving and compassionate she was in working with people who were really suffering, people that were broken. And I wondered inside myself why she decided to be a sister because she has lots of gifts and she could have many choices.”
St. John watched the sister “and (the sister) seemed to be happy and she seemed to be grateful for the opportunity to give service especially with the very poor,” she explained. “One day out of the blue she said, ‘Come, join us.’”
Inside, St. John thought, “Why would she ever think that I would want to be a sister? She continued praying and realized, as she got to know more about the Sisters of Providence, that the world really needs the values of the order.
“The world really needs compassionate love and it needs it to be proclaimed and the Sisters of Providence have such a deep trust in providence and also in working in solidarity with the poor.”
St. John is happy with her choice, which she thinks is a radical choice in a world focused on materialism and consumerism. “(But) Jesus was a radical so I’m in good company.”
RELIGIOUS LIFE FITS
Asked why she thinks religious life is for her, St. John said, “It fits. The values, the freedom that religious life offers to be able to journey with other women who are loving God and have a prayer life and are interested in serving the people of God, which is everyone.”
Sister Catherine Chan, a native of Hong Kong who serves as a pastoral worker at Father Lacombe Care Centre in Calgary, entered the Sisters of Providence in 2002 and is in temporary vows.
“It’s a mystery and a special calling,” she said. The call comes from God and was sparked by an invitation from “a few sisters” she once met in Calgary.
“I really want to serve God; that’s the main thing for me. It is the spirit that brings me to go for it.”
Asked about the challenges she faces entering a religious order, Chan said, “My challenges are multicultural, international and intergenerational.”
Her order, she continued, has sisters from the Philippines, Cameroon, El Salvador, Chile and Vietnam. “It’s a good thing to see, but it is also a challenge; it’s a reality we have to face.”
Sister Christina Wong, a Hong Kong native who serves as a pastoral worker at Mary Help of Christians Chinese Parish, joined the Sisters of Providence in 2004 after a long relationship with the congregation.
Wong said she is cut out for religious life because she likes to help. “I know I can help without joining the community, but if I enter a community, I will have their encouragement and their love.”
She currently lives in community with two other sisters. “There are many challenges (in religious life). The challenges actually give me life and help me to understand myself a bit more.”
PRECIOUS BLOOD NOVICE
Alicia Magayaga, 44, is a novice with the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood, a contemplative order.
She was a member of the Dominican Sisters in the Philippines for seven years before she came to Edmonton in April 2006 to join the Precious Blood Sisters. She became a postulant with the congregation three months later and has been a novice since July 2008.
In an interview Magayaga said she felt a strong call to join the Edmonton congregation and trusts that the call is indeed from God.
“I like prayer and I want to be a contemplative (sister),” she explained. “As a contemplative you pray for the whole world and for the salvation of souls. That’s what I want to do.”
There are eight Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood in Edmonton, five of them Filipinos, including Magayaga and postulant Florentina Mercado, 36. a recent arrival.