by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The persistence of God’s call drew Teresa Seaton to a religious vocation. But it was the compelling charism of the Sisters, Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick that attracted her to this particular religious community.
On Dec. 8, Sister Teresa affirmed her response to the call and her commitment to the charism of ministry to the sick as she professed perpetual vows during a special Mass at the Sisters, Servants convent in Kansas City, Kansas.
In doing so, she became one of only 10 or 11 U.S.-born members of the Sisters, Servants since the congregation’s founding by Saint Maria Soledad in Spain in 1851. Her profession marked the culmination of thoughtful discernment and years of prayerful formation.
Growing up in Bonner Springs, Seaton was the fourth oldest of 12 children of Cheryle and Jerry Seaton. She attended Catholic school through third grade, was home-schooled through middle school and graduated from the local high school. While she learned to appreciate the value of her faith, she had very little exposure to women religious.
As a freshman at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Seaton enrolled in a prephysical therapy program. In the midst of rethinking her career direction, however, she experienced a call to become a Sister herself.
She returned home to Bonner Springs with plans to apply for the nursing program at Kansas City Kansas Community College. In this setting, pieces of the puzzle in Seaton’s vocational discernment began to take shape.
This was the last place she expected to encounter nuns, she said. But it was in a nursing class that Seaton first met a Sister, Servant of Mary. All the while, the Lord’s call seemed to intensify.
Seaton participated in a discernment group at St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence, facilitated by the Apostles of the Interior Life. She learned about and considered joining other religious communities.
But then she visited the Sisters, Servants at their convent and had the opportunity to accompany a Sister attending a sick patient in their home. The incredible simplicity of this ministry of presence struck a deep chord and changed her perspective.
“I realized that we don’t need titles and advanced degrees to serve people,” said now-Sister Teresa. “It’s more important to operate on the level of the heart. The service the Sisters, Servants provide — as humble as it is — opens people up to the Lord.”
Seaton, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Basehor, believed that she would be at home in this charitable ministry of service and that this community was her place as intended by God. She entered the Sisters, Servants novitiate in Oxnard, California, in fall 2012. Over three years there, she experienced community life by living it.
“You can’t learn the life of a Sister from a book,” she said.
With other novices, she studied church teachings and documents. She also learned Spanish, the first language of the majority of Sisters, Servants of Mary. The novitiate was bilingual and the repetition of materials in English and Spanish proved helpful.
Toward the end of the novitiate, the novices participated in active ministry, serving the sick in their homes. First profession of vows followed. Seaton then came to the Kansas City convent for her juniorate. This structured program likewise incorporated formation and ministry. During this time, she earned her nurse assistant certification at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas.
For the next four years, formation continued at the Sisters, Servants convent in the Bronx, New York. She became immersed in religious life and ministered to the sick in their homes six nights a week. She spent the final six months in Azpeitia, Spain, with six other women from different continents preparing to profess their vows as Sisters, Servants. This was an intense time of spirituality and prayer. Seaton returned to the Bronx and then to Kansas City in late October for a family visit.
Leading up to the recitation of her vows, Sister Teresa admitted to being both nervous and excited. But once she spoke the vows, she experienced a moment of grace. She knew she meant the words she was professing and that being a Sister, Servant was her calling.
Sister Teresa’s first assignment as a newly professed has been to care for elderly sisters in the infirmary at the Kansas City convent. She considers this a privilege because these Sisters dedicated their lives to caring for others.
“It’s our turn to care for them,” she said.
She will begin nursing classes in fall 2022. In the meantime, Sister Teresa will rotate through ministering days and nights to the sick in their homes and caring for the elderly Sisters.
While she has found it somewhat intimidating to go into the home of a new patient, she understands that it’s all about building a relationship with the person.
“You go with faith,” she explained, “knowing that this is the one God asks you to care for.”
Like other Sisters, Servants, Sister Teresa will begin everything she does at the foot of the cross. Prayer and time with the Lord will be the impetus to reach out and serve others.
As a living witness that happiness is found in God alone, she will bring care and joy to the sick and dying, seeing Christ in them and embodying Jesus’ words — and the Sisters, Servants motto — “I was sick, and you visited me” (Mt 25:36).