Although most take their time, some know in an instant they want to become a Servant of Mary
by Kara Hansen
In some ways, it seemed like God was asking Catherine Bussen to do the unthinkable.
Though she was interested in joining a religious order and really liked the Sisters, Servants of Mary, the music major had no interest in becoming a nurse.
“I never felt called to this order because I didn’t want to be a nurse,” said Sister Catherine, now 32. “So I started visiting different orders.”
“I liked the other communities,” she said, “but none of them felt like home. Instead, I kept coming back here any chance I had.”
If, as they say, God does not call the equipped — he equips the called — Sister Catherine is a good case in point. With the guidance of her vocation director, Sister Catherine eventually realized God had been calling her to the Sisters, Servants of Mary all along.
“Even though I was nervous about doing the nursing work, the work is a lot different than what I pictured it to be,” she said. “Being one-on-one with a patient in their home is very different than being in a more intense hospital setting.”
“Plus, if God was calling me to be in this order, I figured he would give me the grace to do so. And he has.”
The roads to a religious vocation are as varied as the women who walk them. Some say they grow up with the prospect always in the back of their mind.
For others, a vocation comes as a complete surprise — albeit a joyful one.
“After I finished high school, I was ready to go to medical school. I wasn’t even thinking about becoming a nun,” said Sister Silvia Enriquez, who grew up in Mexico.
But as luck — or the Holy Spirit —would have it, she was introduced to the Sisters, Servants of Mary when she accompanied her older sister on a visit to the convent. Ironically, the one who walked in with an interest in joining the order was not the one who walked out with a vocation.
“Once I entered the convent for the first time,” said Sister Silvia, “I didn’t want to leave. I had an experience of such deep peace there, and saw the deep joy of the Sisters.
In fact, said Sister Silvia, now 41, “It felt like home.”
Sister Silvia did not know much about the Sisters, Servants of Mary’s mission before that weekend. But what she saw in the Sisters really intrigued her, and the nursing work the Sisters did seemed like a good fit with her interest in the medical field.
Sister Catherine grew up in a devoutly Catholic family in western Kansas, who prayed a daily rosary for vocations. But Sister Catherine did not tell anyone she was considering one herself until she was a student at Benedictine College in Atchison.
“I remember thinking about being a nun when I was young, but I didn’t really know any personally,” said Sister Catherine. “In college at Benedictine, I was really happy and enjoyed what I was doing. Yet, I still had this feeling that something was missing —there must be something more.”
“More” was to be had with the Sisters, Servants of Mary. But the process is neither an easy nor a quick one.
Any young woman interested in joining the order is first encouraged to participate in the sacraments more frequently and to get involved in their home parish’s activities. The order’s vocations director keeps in touch with those who have shown an interest in a vocation, providing support and guidance along the way of the discernment process.
“She will work with that woman to help determine if this is God’s call for her,” explained Mother Carmela Sanz, provincial superior. “It’s important for us to know what they understand about community life — to see if they have a clear vision for entering the convent and the commitment involved.”
Once a woman decides to join the Sisters, Servants of Mary, she undergoes a period of formation. The first year, or postulancy, is filled with regular spiritual preparation, including daily Mass, communal and private prayer, and meditation. The new Sister also studies morality, theology, and Scripture.
In her second year, a new postulant becomes a novice. In addition to ongoing spiritual formation, a novice also undertakes the apostolate work of the community: nursing.
“That first night of nursing really sticks out in my mind as being very scary, but also very beautiful,” said Sister Catherine.
“It was my first time of going out at night and alone to visit a patient,” she said, “but it had the beauty of helping a person in need.
“I got home thinking I had done something really fulfilling last night.”
Two years of novitiate follow the postulancy. First vows are taken at that time and renewed each year for six years. Then a Sister will make her final vows, after a year spent in Spain in preparation.
“During that time of preparation, a Sister does not do any nursing or other work. She only does spiritual exercises to help prepare her for final vows,” said Mother Carmela.
At final vows, each Sister receives a ring symbolizing her commitment to the order and to Jesus.
Joining the community is a happy time for the women. Yet, it is also a time of major life change and challenging adjustments, leaving friends and family behind for a new life.
“Everything was new; it was a time of detachment from the life I left behind and a time to spiritually grow both in my vocation and self-knowledge,” said Sister Catherine.
Living in community with such a large number of women can be challenging at first, but prior experience made the adjustment a little easier for Sister Silvia.
“I came from a family of 14, so there wasn’t a big change for me in terms of being around so many,” she said. “But it takes time to adjust and really give ourselves to the community.
“I think the schedule was the hardest for me at first. Before, I could do what I wanted, when I felt like it. After joining the community, there are set times for meals, prayer, class.”
“And it was hard to get up at five in the morning,” added Sister Silvia with a wry smile.
The small sacrifices and schedules are worth it, the Sisters say. Through their community life, they form a bond that in some ways surpasses the traditional familial one.
“We really depend on one another. We’ve given up our families, but have received so much more,” said Sister Catherine.
“Having the same mission and knowing we’re all called by God to be here is beautiful,” she concluded. “It truly is a family in a different way.”