KCKCC nursing student finds open door with Sisters, Servants of Mary
by Jessica Langdon
BONNER SPRINGS — As one of 12 siblings ranging in age from 31 to 10, Teresa Seaton knows something about living in community.
“There’s a lot of excitement and noise, and there’s always somebody doing something,” said 21-year-old Teresa of her family’s home in Bonner Springs.
She knew the community life she was heading toward in Oxnard, Calif., this fall was bound to keep her just as busy — but in far different ways.
Teresa, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Basehor — but also a young-adult leader and daily communicant at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan. — recently entered formation with the Sisters, Servants of Mary.
“I’m entering a bigger family,” Teresa said as she prepared to leave for California to begin nine months as a postulant. “I’ll be with more sisters there than I have here, so there will be more people that I have to live with and get along with and learn to love.”
Although this new family is bigger — with roughly 1,200 Sisters worldwide — Teresa expected more moments of quiet, along with much joy.
Not long after she made her decision to enter formation, Teresa sold her laptop computer, abandoned her cellphone, and, on Oct. 17, made the trip out West to join two other postulants and two novices in formation.
She couldn’t wait to learn more about her new order, which has a motherhouse in Kansas City, Kan., and 30 Sisters here, and is dedicated to the care of the sick and dying.
Caring for Christ
“Our charism,” said Sister Catherine Bussen, vocation direction for the Midwest with the Sisters, Servants of Mary, “is the care of the sick in their own homes according to the Gospel passage where Christ says, ‘I was sick and you visited me.’”
Many Sisters heed the call to this order with no prior nursing experience. So after entering the order, they study nursing along with theology, in order to become registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, or certified nursing assistants.
Teresa, however, brought an avid interest in nursing to the table when she began discerning her call to religious life.
The Bonner teen started college at Kansas State University in Manhattan, but decided early in 2011 that physical therapy — her intended major — didn’t suit her.
So she set her sights instead on nursing, which would enable her to care for a broader population and give her skills she might someday use as a missionary — or a mother.
About the same time, however, a persistent thought kept popping into her mind. She wasn’t seeking out the religious life, but the idea of becoming a Sister wouldn’t fade.
“There was nobody around me that was doing that with their life,” she said, “or nobody was telling me, ‘Oh, you should be a Sister.’
“It just kind of came to me.
“It wasn’t until later that I realized that the thought came from God, obviously.”
As she gradually weighed the pros and cons of a possible vocation to religious life, the call only grew stronger. But she still wasn’t even sure how to broach the topic with an order.
She didn’t know any nuns, and the thought — “Do people even do that anymore?” — crossed her mind.
Sparking a conversation
A big piece of the puzzle fell into place when she moved home and started nursing classes at Kansas City Kansas Community College the fall semester of 2011.
“The Sisters [Servants of Mary] actually go to school there,” Teresa said. “And all of a sudden I see these nuns walking around the school.”
Dressed in traditional habits and veils, the Sisters are easily recognizable.
“So one day, I finally did it and I just asked them a question to make conversation,” she said. “They were so sweet.”
Contact information was exchanged, and Teresa attended a discernment retreat with the Sisters that October.
Next, Teresa made contact with the Apostles of the Interior Life, a group of religious women transplanted to the archdiocese from Milan, Italy, and whose primary ministry is spiritual direction.
She grew more familiar with their order by attending weekly discernment groups in Lawrence and participating in parish missions.
In fact, she even started going to one of the Apostles for spiritual direction and was encouraged by her to look at many religious communities and their ministries over the summer to find the right fit.
Teresa revisited the Sisters, Servants of Mary as well, arranging to spend several days with them.
During that time, Teresa accompanied the Sisters on day visits, which gave her a feel for how much the patients — as well as their families — benefit from the Sisters’ care.
But “the night visit was a whole different experience,” Teresa said.
“They said that sometimes they’re there the whole night and all they do is maybe just fix the pillow or give a glass of water,” she said. “But there also are some other nights when their patient needs them every 15 minutes.”
The Sisters tend to their patients’ physical needs — and their spiritual ones. They serve patients of any religion.
“We can find something in common with [any patient],” assured Sister Catherine. “We are there to remind them that God is with them.”
Finding her path
Teresa not only felt a strong connection to the nursing side of the order’s ministry, but she also discovered something else that attracted her to the Sisters, Servants of Mary during that lengthier visit: a sense of family.
“It fit so well,” she said. “’After spending that week with them, I pretty much knew that I was called to them.”
Teresa’s mother, Cheryle Seaton, has prayed for religious vocations among her children and was thrilled to hear that her daughter was called to this order.
A lot of noise fills today’s world, she said, and she hopes Teresa’s willingness to listen to God’s voice will shine as an example to her other children.
“I hope they’re inspired to listen to God also for whatever God leads them to,” she said.
Teresa will be allowed to take the habit in July — in a ceremony her mom and dad Jerry plan to fly to California to see.
She will then spend two years as a novice, after which she could take her temporary vows.
At that point, “I’ll become a junior, and they’ll send me back here to Kansas City,” said Teresa.
Formation takes a total of nine years.
At some point, Teresa will resume her nursing education.
‘A simple life’
But for now, Teresa will focus on formation. Her willingness to put her religious vocation ahead of her professional education stood out to Sister Catherine.
So did her willingness to leave her family to follow a call from God.
Teresa was encouraged to call her family when she arrived in Oxnard, but after that, they’ll have the chance to talk on the phone just one Sunday each month.
Letters will be their primary means of communication.
“What caught my attention most was her spirit of simplicity. We live a very simple life,” said Sister Catherine. “She seemed to be a very simple person — in the good way.”
She noticed Teresa trying to find God in the small things in life. She also found her to be very prayerful.
“And she loves Our Lady very much,” said Sister Catherine. “We have a very strong Marian devotion.”
Teresa was thrilled that the day she had been praying about for so long had finally arrived.
“It’s really exciting that it’s happening, that the doors are opening,” she said.
Contemplatives in action
The Sisters, Servants of Mary were established in Spain in 1851.
To be a Servant of Mary today means many things, according to the religious order’s website at: www.sisterservantsofmary.org.
“It means to be totally consecrated to God whom we have come to know as the absolute and one necessary good in our life. It is worth leaving everything to follow Christ because love is the reason for our existence,” the site explains.
“It means making our life an offering to Christ so that through us, he can continue going about doing good and curing every ill.”
In discussing vocations with young women, the Sisters, Servants of Mary seek for the order women who are not only compassionate, but who have big hearts for people who are sick, explained Sister Catherine Bussen, vocation director for the Midwest region.
It’s important to her that women discerning a call to this order spend time with the Sisters and experience the ministry of caring for the sick, generally in the patients’ own homes, through simple nursing tasks and humble service.
“It’s impressive to them,” said Sister Catherine. “A lot of people are in their homes alone, suffering, and they see what it means to those people to have somebody look in on them.”
Entering formation doesn’t end the discernment process; that’s ongoing, she said.
Because the convent is the Sisters’ home, certain parts of it are closed to the public.
However, their ministry is out in the world.
The Sisters, Servants of Mary describe themselves as “contemplatives in action.”
“Our source of action comes from our prayer life,” explained Sister Catherine.
She says she enjoys introducing the life of the order to young people and opening their eyes to all vocations.
It’s important in Catholic schools and religious education programs to teach every young person that he or she has a vocation, whether that is to the priesthood, religious life as a Brother or Sister, marriage, or single life, she said.
“It is very important for all of them to realize that they are called to something,” she said.
Sister Catherine’s own family prayed the rosary together regularly and always ended with a prayer for vocations. She encourages every family to keep vocations in their prayers.
She also encourages a sense of curiosity in young people.
“We like their questions,” she said.
Some questions are heavy, asking what it’s like to be there when a patient is dying.
A few kids have asked how many times a year Sisters go to confession.
Some are even curious about whether they eat pizza.
“We say yes,” said Sister Catherine. “They kind of realize we’re pretty normal people. We just live a different way.”