Easter Wednesday was sunny, warm, breezy—just as spring should be. I got out of work early and decided to visit our Benedictine plot at the cemetery across town, specifically to visit our sister Mary Lou Kownacki, who passed away on Epiphany this year.
All of religious life is in a very noted transition time, and I thought maybe I could harness some of Mary Lou’s resurrected energy; Sister Mary Lou was instrumental in the peace and justice movement, in making feminist spirituality accessible to seekers worldwide, in creating ministries here in the city of Erie that gave dignity to the poor. She was a force.
And she was brutally candid.
Most days she wondered to herself if she should leave religious life.
And after sixty years, each time she chose to stay.
But, of course, not only Mary Lou’s grave caught my attention. The names of so many sisters, both those I knew and those I never met, were inscribed there in that communion of saints. The energy standing in the middle of our plot is something to experience—years and years and years and years of faithful commitment to religious life, to community, to prayer, to bringing about God’s reign—it was all right there, all so palpable.
I wondered to myself about the doubts, the questions, the fears not only of Mary Lou, but of all of those women. I thought about my own. I thought about how many times I have considered throwing in the towel and leaving the monastery. Sometimes it feels so much easier, especially as we struggle to bring forth whatever comes next, whatever will be the resurrected life we create from the history and traditions of our sisters who came before us.
We all have our reasons for answering the call of our vocation—some unique, some more universal. Women like Mary Lou were my reason. And now they’re the reason I choose to stay, too. Their fidelity to the life—challenging, painful, contradictory as the life was at times—is an essential witness in a world of instability and instant gratification. Mary Lou quoted her friend, the Jesuit Daniel Berrigan, citing the same reason he did for staying; “It was the life itself. It was friendship, community, the promise of support for one another, a vision of great work to be done, which those before you had done so well.”
As we look ahead to World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us pray for all the people who grapple with their vocation. Let us be faithful witnesses to the joy that this life holds. Let our communities welcome seekers everywhere. And may we pray for one another as we live our own vocations anew each day.
Sister Valerie Luckey, OSB, is a Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania. She is a member of the Vocations Team and works for Emmaus Ministries, the community’s outreach to the poor of the inner city. Aside from this, you’ll find Val on her bike, in the kitchen, or among the trees.