How did I end up here? That’s the question I ask myself as I ring the bell for Angelus or mop the sacristy floor in the chapel or wipe the last cleaned dish from dinner. I’ve only lived in Oregon since 2008 and had never known a SSMO Sister before 2013. In February 2014, at age 43, I left my career as a psychology research project director and entered the SSMO convent as a postulant. Was this a midlife crisis? No. I don’t think a midlife crisis would have prompted me to give up my car, my apartment, my single life and its freedom, to live a life in a community dedicated to serving the Lord. Perhaps this is more like a midlife wake-up call.
Born and raised Catholic, I was not exposed to many women religious while growing up, yet have been asked several times in my life if I had considered religious life. I certainly was not drawn to it during my 20s and 30s as marriage, children and career were my goals. I received my degree in social work, lived near family in Michigan, worked as a child counselor and then as a research associate in child research. I dated, traveled, spent quality time with family and friends, sang in the church choir, concentrated on my career, and waited for the Lord to send me a husband.
After moving to Oregon in 2008, I continued my usual single-life activities but noticed an increased thirst for spirituality. I sought spiritual activities, attended retreats on a regular basis, participated in the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Living program, became a Stephen Minister, and received spiritual direction. The new experiences exposed me to women religious, and I realized that Sisters were not what I had thought. Although still leery, for the first time in my life I decided to give the vocation an honest to goodness “rule-out.” Perhaps the process would provide me some type of movement on what I needed to do with my life and this thirst I felt. I figured I would “pilot” this like a research study, conclude it was not right for me, and then proceed with another plan.
Throughout the discernment process, however, I could sense a change in me and wanted even more to surrender to this new feeling. I was falling in love and realized the Lord was calling me to marriage with HIM. A marriage I had not considered until now but that, I think, was staring me in the face for many years. My prayer changed from “What’s in it for me? Where is my husband?” to “Where do you need me next? How can I serve you, darling?”
Ultimately, those prayers led me to the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon where (as of August 2015) I am in my second year as a novice, studying for a pastoral ministry degree at the University of Portland, involved with ministries on campus and with Holy Trinity’s Stephen’s Ministry, and being trained to coordinate our annual Soup’s On fundraiser. I have never been happier! The gentle tug from the Lord, once I started listening and responding, has wonderfully changed my life. I do not regret my earlier years nor would I change the path that has led me to this moment. The Lord’s plan is timeless and ageless.
In 2019, Sister Colleen now ministers as a counselor at Valley Catholic Middle School and has professed vows. You can view a photo album of Sister Colleen’s profession of vows which took place in August 2019.