Among the many gifts of religious community, there are also plenty of challenges. Sister Barb Giehl shares her experience.
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This Random Nun Clip is brought to you by A Nun's Life Ministry. Our guest today is Sister Barbara Giehl, a Sister of Mercy of the Americas. Sister Barbara just made her first vows in September 2022 and lives and ministers at the Mercy by the Sea Retreat and Conference Center in Connecticut. Sister Barbara grew up in Rochester, New York, where she encountered both the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, and the Sisters of Mercy. She was taught by sisters during grade school, high school and nursing school, as well as working in the Sisters of Mercy motherhouse. Sister Barb was drawn to religious life in high school, where she began a pre-postulant program with the Sisters of Mercy. But once she began nursing school, she told her formation director she needed a break, but would be back. Little did she know but that break would last over 40 years. She met, fell in love, and married her husband Jerry, and they had four children. Barb stayed connected to the Sisters of Mercy through the years and eventually became an associate of the Mercies. Five years after her husband passed away, the thoughts of religious life returned. Well, I'm wondering if you can talk about -- because you come from a different lived experience than a lot of your sisters, being a wife and a mom -- what challenges have you faced living in community?
I think the first challenge, I would say, is people trying to understand why a woman in her 60s would even want to consider religious life. A lot of people in the community just focused on, "How can you give that up? How can you give that up?" You know, I was I was very fortunate. My husband and I, before he died, we had purchased a home on one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. And so it was lakefront property. We had jet skis. We had a motorboat. It was beautiful. You know, wake up in the morning and you're on the lake. And I ended up selling a couple years ago. And, you know, it was all questions like, "Do you have any idea what you're giving up?" I had to think about that. Absolutely. And it was not something that was easy -- some was easier than others. But I had to do it. I couldn't give everything up cold turkey. So I did it very kind of thoughtfully and slowly. The first thing I got rid of were the jet skis. And then I got rid of the boat. And it was kind of like, every time it was a whole process I had to go through. And, you know, once I did let go -- I would say "letting go" was really the right term -- once I did let go, it was gone. There's lots of wonderful memories, but I don't feel deprived. I feel like it was the right thing to do. So you know, kind of working with people, trying to explain. I think it's just an amazing, amazing blessing to be offered a second vocation in life. And it really was not anything I was looking for. So it really is a gift. You know, other things, it's hard. I found it really, really hard. I was very established in the community I was from -- both the wider community, as well as the Mercy community.
In Rochester, right?
Right. People knew me very well. And to go someplace where nobody knows you is very unsettling. It was really hard for me. People knew who I was before. They knew what I could do. They knew how I did things. And it was like, I was starting all over again, you know, I don't want to say proving myself, but letting them get to know me. And it was hard. You know, I remember one sister asked me once if I knew how to use a dishwasher. That was one of my favorites. [laughter] I'm kind of lucky in that lots of times, I can turn stuff like that into humor -- you know, "They don't really mean that." So it's things like that. The other thing I struggled with -- and I still struggle with sometimes -- is not being in complete control of my life and my decisions, that there's other people that are involved. And you know, it's a discernment process, and I just can't decide I'm gonna do something major with my own decision. That's taken me a bit of learning, and being able to accept it. The other thing I had to get used to was when things didn't always go my way. You know, in life, there's big things and little things. I just learned, you know, big things are things that you want to kind of stay connected with and follow through. Little things -- when you wake up in the morning, it's probably going to be changed. And so I just learned really to weigh things, not to make a big deal about everything. The next day, it's probably all gonna look different anyway, so that thing that you thought was a big thing probably isn't anymore. I find myself really lucky in many, many ways, to be part of a community where conversations can happen -- that if there are things that I need more information about or need to understand better, that I can ask. There's usually opportunity for conversation. Every once in a while, a decision is kind of rethought about, when I have some input in it, and other times, I just gain a better understanding of why that decision was made.
That's a beautiful way of saying about the communication, right? It is ongoing, for sure. And you're right relationships take a lot of time to build. They don't just happen overnight. To hear full episodes of A Nun's Life podcasts, visit the podcast page at anunslife.org/podcasts.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.