Vocation is what God calls you to do with your life. Everybody is called by God to know, love and serve him. The difference is how each one of us does this. In the one life God gave you to live, you have one overriding purpose, to fulfil the will of God.
So our third vocation profile in this short series is from Sr Catherine from the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph based in Sway.
“I knew I had a great desire to help people to know and love our Lord.”
Q: Tell us briefly about where you grew up, your family i.e. do you have brothers and sisters?
A: For the slight majority of my life, I grew in Kentucky (yup, the great commonwealth from which KFC, Papa Johns, George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence, and the Kentucky Derby originate!) My family moved to Kentucky when I was 10 years old when my dad was stationed to Fort Knox (where the U.S. Gold is kept). Before that, we lived in Germany (where my sister and I were born), Virginia, and South Korea (where my mother is from).
I come from a rather mixed family. I have 3 older half-siblings (1 sister and 2 brothers), an identical twin sister in heaven, and a younger sister. And we’ve always had pet dogs. 😊
Q: What was the name of your school and were you a good student? Which subjects interested you in particular?
A: Since my dad was in the U.S. Army for most of my childhood, we travelled a lot and changed schools a lot; however, when we moved to Kentucky I went to Radcliff Middle School and North Hardin High School (Go Trojans!) I would say yes, I was a good student. I’ve always enjoyed school and learning new things. I’m fascinated by how the world works, how civilisations develop, why things happen the way they do, etc. The subjects that I found most interesting were music, art, history, literature, and algebra & trigonometry. (Yes, you read that correctly: I really enjoyed algebra & trigonometry! Haha!)
Q: What were your interests and hobbies at that time?
A: When I was in primary school, I was really interested in becoming either an astronaut – I loved the idea of space exploration! – or a Disney character animator as I really loved drawing! My hobbies in primary school were drawing, reading, roller skating, Tae Kwon Do (Korean martial arts), and learning the piano. In middle and high school, I was started playing the flute, piccolo, and percussion with our wind ensembles and marching band. Music, art, and reading were my biggest hobbies at that time. And coffee. I loved all things coffee.
“..for the first time, I could see someone that was so clearly in love with Jesus Christ and so radiated His love and goodness.”
Q: When did you begin to explore more deeply the possibility of seeking life as a Nun?
A: The thought of being a Nun never occurred to me when I was younger. I did not grow up Catholic and I had never seen nuns or priests in real life, only on television or films. I knew they existed, but they were never really a part of my world, so to say. However, when I went to university (I studied Music Performance and English Literature) I began exploring my Christian faith more deeply. I had only really come back to my Christian faith in the last couple of years of high school. Once I went to university, I began to take my faith a lot more seriously – I wanted to have more certainty about what I actually believed to be true. So, after a lot of praying, a lot of reading up on various Christian churches, and asking people a lot of questions, I found out about the Roman Catholic Church and became a Catholic when I was 19 years old. And once I became Catholic, suddenly I found out being a religious sister or nun was something people actually thought about pursuing…. Although, I was sure that wasn’t for me! I was meant to be a professional flutist!
Q: Were you influenced by a speaker or a particular book that sparked further interest in finding out more about becoming Nun?
A: One of the biggest influences regarding my undesired interest in becoming a Nun was my university priest chaplain. He just asked me out of the blue one day, “Have you ever thought about becoming a sister/nun?” To which I said, “No. Not unless there was a nun orchestra!” He then asked that I pray about the possibility that God could be asking me to become a sister/nun. I wasn’t too happy about that thought, but I really trusted this priest, so I prayed.
Perhaps a year or so later, I went to a national Catholic university students’ conference and met a sister for the first time. It was a Daughter of St Paul named Sr. Michelle who was at a book stall. She began chatting to me about the various books I was looking at – namely, Catholic commentaries on The Lord of the Rings (my favourite book!) – and for the first time, I could see someone that was so clearly in love with Jesus Christ and so radiated His love and goodness. And yet, she was so incredible normal and relatable! She fascinated me, and there was something about her that I knew I wanted to have for myself, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until much later: I wanted to love Jesus like she did. I wanted to give myself to Jesus completely, like she did.
Q: Why did you pick the Dominicans, in particular?
A: When I first began looking into religious orders, I knew I had a great desire to help people to know and love our Lord. I wanted to be involved in evangelisation and catechesis – a direct proclamation of the Gospel. And mostly, I knew there had to be so many others out there, like me, who had never heard of the Eucharist or the Sacraments, who never knew the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith. Becoming a Catholic changed my life in so many ways and helped me to grow in my love of our incredible God and His Church. I so wanted others to come to love the Lord to know just how much they are loved by Him, just how much He seeks their happiness and salvation. But I also knew, I needed a very balanced life of prayer, community, and study – without these, a mission would run dry; I would run dry. One of the mottos of the Dominican Order is “to contemplate and to share the fruits of contemplation”; I needed to be able to contemplate the Truths of our Faith in prayer and study, and whenever I find anything that sets me on fire, I can’t help but desire to share it with everyone! When I found out about the Dominican Order, I thought to myself, “Well, here we are!!!”
Q: What circumstances brought you to come and live in Sway?
A: I found out about my congregation through the internet! When I was in the U.S. I had looked into and visited a couple of Dominican congregations, but I knew through prayer and discernment that our Lord simply was not calling me to be a school teacher or a nursing sister. While those professions and apostolates are noble and much-needed, I knew I wasn’t meant for it. I so desired to live the Dominican life like the Dominican Friars – a life free and given totally to the contemplation and preaching of Jesus Christ in community, rather than teaching secular subjects or nursing by myself.
I heard about the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph from an online friend who had visited the sisters. She had mentioned that their life was fairly similar to the friars in that they have no institutional jobs or salaries and because of this, are free to preach wherever and whenever asked depending on availability. Their life is centred around the Holy Mass and Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), so that also appealed to me, as if I did not have the “peer pressure” to pray, I’d probably have ended up a pagan in the world…! Sad, but most likely true!
“I so wanted others to come to love the Lord to know just how much they are loved by Him, just how much He seeks their happiness and salvation.”
Q: Describe a typical day or week for you.
A: Even though our days are fairly similar and routine, I can honestly say there is never a boring day in the convent! As stated above, our days centre around our life of prayer. We wake up at 5:45am (that’s the hardest part of the day for me!) and are in the chapel by 6:30am for silent prayer. At 7am we pray the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer (the official prayer of the Church is called the Divine Office and is composed of scripture and holy readings, as well as intercessions. This is followed by breakfast (silent) and two hours of individual study (usually something scripture or theology-related). After that we have work time – which is probably very similar to the work you do in your own home: cooking, cleaning, planning for the day/week, etc. And at 11am, the sisters in formation (the newer sisters) have classes taught by the older sisters on various subjects to help them in the religious life.
At 12pm we return to the chapel for the Angelus/Regina Caeli, Midday Prayer, and Holy Mass. This is followed by lunch, wash-up, and then a bit of time in the afternoon to catch up on work, take a walk, or do a hobby. We’re back in the chapel at 5pm for Rosary and Evening Prayer. After that is supper, wash-up, recreation, and then back to the chapel of Adoration and Night Prayer (Compline). This finishes usually around 9:15pm. After that there is the Grand Silence as we prepare ourselves for the next day. During that time, we can take showers, read/study, do quiet hobbies by yourself, or go right to bed!
It’s a fairly packed day, and when we’re asked to go out for apostolate (preaching work), we try to fit that around our prayer times, if possible.
Q: When you go on hols, are you able to go where you like?
A: Usually for our individual holidays, we go to visit our families as they don’t get to see us very often (unless they come here to visit). When with our families, we’re pretty much free to go where we like as long as it wouldn’t cause scandal or be inappropriate. (For example, since we wear our habits [the “robes” or “dress”] all the time, it would not be appropriate for us to go swimming in a public pool or beach in bathing suits/costumes.)
Q: What are your duties as a Nun within your community at the Priory and outside of that place i.e. schools/colleges.
A: My personal duties within my community are: Vocation Director (I help people to discern their vocations), Choir Mistress (I help the sisters sing), Website and Social Media maintenance, and I teach some classes for our younger sisters. I also go outside the priory to help with school groups, retreats, university chaplaincies, and conferences. It’s a good life!
Q: What are your hobbies today? I think you are an artist no? If so what do you like to paint or draw.
A: I’ve recently taken up watercolour painting! I was always a bit intimated by watercolour – you can’t really “cover up” your mistakes by adding more paint over something, like you can with oils and acrylics! However, our Sr Lucy is a beautiful watercolour artist! She really inspired me to try watercolours again, and this second time around, I’m finding so much fun, and so relaxing! It allows me to create something beautiful for God, to express His beauty in the world through paint. Currently, I’ve been painting flowers, leaves, and cacti! Ooh, and galaxies!! That’s good fun! And for drawing, I love drawing people. I’ve been working on St John Paul II for quite some time now.
I also love playing the flute and piccolo, and I’m trying to learn the ukulele. 😊 Ah, and I like to knit, read books, play Bananagrams, and drink tea while having a nice chat with my sisters.
Q: What are the types of things you do during “down time”?
A: I’m really an introvert, so I like to do things that help to “refuel the batteries”: have a bit of quiet time, drink tea, read (or listen to) a book, and paint leaves. (I could paint leaves all day!) And when you need a good “pick me up”, funny animal videos on YouTube are always appreciated! Cat fails are particularly enjoyable!
Q: Have your parents been over to see you?
A: My mom and younger sister came over in 2016 for my Perpetual Profession (the day I gave my “forever yes” to the Lord) and stayed for about two weeks. My dad hasn’t been able to make it over, but says he’d like to come with my stepmother. God willing, one day they’ll make it over the pond!