I enteMother M. Vaclavared the convent when I was 30 years old and my native land, Slovakia, was still under the communist regime. Before it really happened I never thought about being a Religious Sister except when we were joking with my high school classmates that if we do not get married by the time we were 25, we would enter the convent. Most of the people, including me, lived under the impression that religious convents did not exist any more and those few old Sisters would just die out.

 

Well, years started passing by and even though I was thinking that I should get married to really fulfill my life, somehow it was not happening. I was always helping somebody and there was no dull moments in my life, but I felt like it was not enough and I could not figure out what was missing. By the time I was 25, I forgot about entering the convent even as a joke. At that time my brother was facing a new chapter in his life and he wanted to go to Mass, so I accompanied him. It was in the middle of the week and I was surprised to see that there were only a few elderly women in the church. I faithfully attended Mass on Sundays, but that evening I felt like it was not fair to God that in the middle of the week the church was so empty, so I decided to attend Mass even daily if possible.

 

I would like to mention that even though I decided to go to Mass daily, I never considered myself "pious". I would call my life style - Give God what belongs to God and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.
 

In our church there was a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with all of His promises to those who would revere Him. Once in a while I would read those promises and I was becoming more and more attracted by them. Finally I decided to make the Nine First Fridays, which included going to confession monthly and thus obtain one of the promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus - to die in God's Grace. Again, I did not make my decision for some pious reason; it was simply something like to be on the safe side, and I also felt like there was some responsibility on my part - since I had knowledge about this offer on God's part, my response had to be to accept it. God in His generosity did not wait until my death to give me His Graces; He immediately showered me with them.

 

During one of those nine consecutive confessions a priest (whom I had not met before) invited me to talk with him. At my first visit, he offered me two books to read. One was about married life and the other one was about Religious Life titled "Come, Follow Me".

 

I felt like I knew enough about marriage so I started reading the other one. I was wondering - there is no possibility to enter the convent, so why would he give me such a book to read? But at the same time I still remember the moment when I realized that "It Was It". It was exactly what was missing in my life. God was calling me to do something more for Him. I did not know how it was going to happen, but it was an awesome feeling to come to this point. I went to see the priest and God was quite clear through him. He confirmed that Religious Life still existed underground. It also consisted of young Sisters living secretly in small groups in various apartments and working at various places. The Sisters could go to the Motherhouse convent only on weekends or for some special Holy Days. Father felt that I was fitting to become a Religious Sister and I said "Yes" on the spot, so he was going to make arrangements for me to go to the convent to ask for acceptance.

 

I have always wondered how the priest knew that he could trust me, when seeing me the second time in his life he told me about the underground church. Somehow I have never asked him; I just knew that God was undoubtedly present in this happening.

 

It was clear that God called me, but at the same time he started testing my love for Him. Since I had no idea where the Motherhouse was in Bratislava - the capitol of Slovakia, somebody was supposed to wait for me at the bus station to take me to the convent. The Sister (one of the young ones in street clothes) thought that I was going to arrive by train and because I was not there she returned back to the convent. Fortunately, I knew the address of one of the apartments and with some difficulties I managed to get there. It was a twelve story apartment building and I had no idea about the exact apartment number, so I started checking all of the doors until I found the desired name on the eighth floor. God was almost palpably present there again, because as I reached the door, the Sisters were just leaving for the Motherhouse. Had I arrived just one minute later I would have missed them and it would have been the end of my whole trip. The Sisters took me to the convent and after a very short talk with Mother Superior I was accepted. Mother Superior told me that I could actually enter the convent as soon as they could find a job for me. Of course, they warned me that everything was strictly confidential and I was not allowed to tell anybody except my parents and my two brothers (if I considered them trustworthy), what was going on.

 

Well, I found out that it was not easy to actually "enter" the convent. After the Sisters called me that there was a job opening, I left my home with three big heavy bags and took the bus to get to Bratislava again. It was a very cold winter morning and the bus had some mechanical problems so we arrived at our destination many hours later. The Sisters who were waiting for me did not know about the bus problems; since there was no way to find out why I did not arrive at the expected time, they left the bus station.

 

I had no idea what to do. I could not go back and I could not wait at the bus station without drawing attention. I tried to remember what local buses I took the last time to get to the apartment building. I was fortunate to get there quite quickly, just to find out that nobody was home. During my visit at the Motherhouse I learned the addresses of two other apartments, so I had no choice just to try to get to them.

 

I had no idea what bus connection to make and my bags felt heavier and heavier, so I took a cab to get to the first address. Nobody was home! I gave the cab driver the second address hoping that it would be it. Oh, no. On the way there the cab got a flat tire and I had to wait in the bitter cold on that evening at the beginning of January until the driver fixed it. Finally we came to the building and I went in to check the door. Nothing! I was afraid that it would look suspicious if I told the driver that nobody was home again. So I pretended that I found my relatives, took my bags and in the stairway of the apartment building I started thinking about what to do. I could not believe what was happening to me. It was like a nightmare, except that I could not wake up from it.

 

I decided to try again the very first apartment, even though the thought of changing buses and climbing those steps with my heavy bags was something that I dreaded doing because by then I was hungry and exhausted. But I did not have a choice, and of course, nobody was home. Not knowing what else I could do, I decided to stay in front of the door and spend the night sitting on my bags. It was very late by then and I was hoping and praying that nobody from the neighboring apartments would show up in the hallway. I did not know what I would have told them as an explanation and I wondered if they would have called the police to "take care of me". At about four o'clock in the morning I decided to try to get to the last place that I could remember, which was very close to the convent.

 

Of course, the easiest thing to do would have been to go straight to the Motherhouse, but it was impossible. The convent was adjacent to a government owned hospital, so when the young "secret" Sisters spent their weekends with the Sisters, it looked as if they were visiting somebody in the hospital, which was not suspicious. But to go there with a lot of luggage, early in the morning, everybody would know that something peculiar was going on; and with secret police around, it would not take long to find out. I am not going to describe my desperate traveling there, but finally, I rang the doorbell, and familiar faces welcomed me with shocking surprise. Only then I realized how dangerous the past twenty four hours, since I left my house, were.

 

The reason I am writing about these experiences - and there were many more - is that I never considered these difficulties as signs not to enter the convent. These struggles come to my mind when I read the letters from young women talking about their discernment process. I am afraid that if we take too long in this process, we may lose the faith-filled vision. If God is calling, He has His ways of making this clearly known. In my experience the best way to know is to talk sincerely with a priest.

 

As clear as my calling was to me I still had my fears that I would possibly be a burden to my community for whatever reasons I came up with. The priest always made it clear that my worries came from an evil spirit who was trying to get me to turn from God's will.

 

I could continue about my adventures that followed after my Superiors decided to send me to the USA. It was not easy at all. But I have never had any doubts that it was God's will and He knew exactly why I had to go through those difficult experiences. When I was single I wanted to do something more for God. Once I entered Religious Life I realized that my desire had come true. Finally I was able to do anything and everything for God and to live for God only. He has been very generous to me and every day He sends me opportunities to express and prove my love for Him and to say my "yes" again and again - and I am very happy to do it.

Franciscan Sisters of John the Baptist

1209 E. Lake Avenue

Peoria Heights, IL 61616

309-688-3500

 

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