|Sister Emily Beata Marsh pronounces|
her first vows, Jan. 28, 2012.
There aren’t any sisters living or serving near Bemus Point—population 364—so the kids’ exposure to religious life comes from reading lives of the saints. Emily’s first contact with a real live sister was FSP vocation director Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis, whom she met at a youth conference in 2000. Three years later she was introduced to our community when she visited our mother house in Boston for the weeklong St. Paul Summer Program. When you ask her what it was about this introduction that convinced her to keep walking with us along the road of her discernment, she smiles. “I saw the sisters praying with joy,” she recalls. “They had a relationship with Jesus. At table and at recreation they were very joyful and normal. That visit helped me to know Jesus and myself, what I wanted. I asked myself, Who is Jesus? What type of relationship do I have with Jesus? And after that I wanted more.”
Like life in a large family—“all boys except nine,” as John describes it—the religious life option was in the air Emily breathed. “When we talked about what they might do when they grew up,” Ruth says of her brood, “I listed things: doctor, janitor, religious. All of these were of equal worth.” John adds, “We had a priest who was good about suggesting to young people that they at least think about it. We just wanted them to work hard to reach their potential. It was important that we let her know it was OK.”
While John was raised Catholic, Ruth’s religious upbringing was more checkered. Her mother died when Ruth was on the threshold of adolescence, and the more her father told her she didn’t have to go to Mass, the more she went, “more out of rebellion than anything.” When she met her future husband at college, they both knew that a vibrant faith-life would mark whatever future they would make together.
|Youthful looking Ruth smiles at far left, and John proudly stands behind Sr. Emily.|
Ruth exclaims, “Emily was such an easy baby, she tricked us into thinking we wanted more!” Obviously they haven’t been disappointed by subsequent arrivals; in our conversation I didn’t hear either of them say, “Enough already!” They admit that everyday, anywhere they go, they get comments about the number of their offspring… “not always negative,” says Ruth. John claims it’s “a conversation starter,” and Ruth adds, “Yes, and in deciding to go out or not, I have to ask myself, Am I ready for the conversation today?”
|Younger sister Molly cantors at the|
Sr. Emily's profession liturgy.
Molly married last year.
Being homeschooled prepared Emily to evangelize when at 16, she and a boy her age team-taught—and wowed—a religious education class in her parish. Today she’s able to articulate what she picked up from that experience and relate it to her current mission. Her two favorite aspects of this mission are direct contact with people and working now as co-children’s editor at Pauline Books & Media. “I really like it, because I think of the children reading our books and of this influence on their lives. I have eight sisters and three brothers, so this apostolate is very close to my heart!” Still, she’s not tied to any one ministry within the mission. “The apostolate is to communicate Jesus. I offer Jesus to this person [in what I do]. It doesn’t matter what work I do, because I can be in communication with Jesus.”
You would think that growing up with your own baseball team, it would be an easy slide into community. As inspiring as community living is to Emily, it’s also the most difficult aspect of religious life for her. Novitiate, the period of formation that culminates in the first profession of vows, “is a time to learn how to be myself and give myself, but this process is not comfortable!” What helped her rise to the challenge was “the belief that this is my place and also the belief that all the sisters are trying their best.” But will that be enough for her going forward? “We read a lot of beautiful things about this life. It is beautiful and can be. Then life happens, and what I read comes to mind. I had a hard time [initially] putting that together. But what helped me was the conviction that I belong in community and that I want to be in community even when it’s difficult.”
Mom and Dad had their own version of the Community Challenge. While Ruth didn’t feel it was “any more difficult than her going to school or getting married, when we took her to St. Louis,* that was the hardest part. I felt the need to communicate in some way: an e-mail or a letter. Then she told us we could call. I was glad, but I knew we shouldn’t be holding her back.”
Emily felt the separation too. “The youngest was four months old when I entered. It was hard to leave, because I wouldn’t see them growing up. But I find myself involved in their lives in ways I wouldn’t have been otherwise. For example, my brother James just got accepted into the seminary, so he shared that journey with me. Discernment has made us close, even though I don’t share his everyday life. It’s been a consolation that the relationship has still developed.”
|Co-novice Sylwia Skonieczna|
returned to Poland where she will
profess her vows on Feb. 5.
Novice director Sr. Carmen Christi
Pompei rejoices in both of them.
“Excess” is the operative word here. Worry about making ends meet is something we share with most of our contemporaries. The sister who pays the bills is just as bound by the vow and spirit of poverty as newly professed Sr. Emily Beata. But it’s the trust factor that’s important. Trust keeps us attentive to finances and things at our disposal, but it also keeps us from worrying ourselves sick. It comes from the faith-conviction that sees beyond the value of visible creation and its tangible goods and knows that the best is yet to come.
* For postulancy, or the first two years of formation