Vocation Story by Sister Maria Sophia Gerlach, CSFN
Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth
Des Plaines, IL
A not-so-small miracle in my adult life is that I did not stop going to Sunday Mass when I went off to college.
It was not until after I graduated that I got involved at the Catholic Center (CC) of my undergraduate institution. Through the ministry of the chaplains and staff, and through the witness of students and fellow young professionals, God brought me into a closer relationship with Him and kindled in my heart a very strong desire for prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
After a couple years of working as a high school teacher and planning my out-of-school hours around daily Mass and CC activities, grabbing moments at adoration wherever I could, Jesus brought me to a point where I was given the advice, “It’s not a career question, Maria, it’s a vocation question.” On the eve of my 25th birthday, at the Sunday vigil Mass with friends, I prayed, “Jesus, I need to hear what You are asking of me – how would you have me spend my life?”
The next two years were an interesting adventure. Fortunately, I was able to take a year’s leave of absence from my teaching position and journey back to my hometown before heading for a volunteer stint with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (CSFN) at one of our convents in Poland. I wanted to both volunteer and try to learn more of the Polish language, so a Sister involved with vocation work connected me with a convent where I could do both.
Meanwhile, at home, I was invited to spend one academic quarter as a part-time substitute teacher at my high school, a CSFN school, of course. During that time, the Sisters there connected with me and began inviting me for prayers and supper in not one but two local homes. By the time I left for Poland and my live-in volunteer experience, there was a definite tugging at my heart and soul. The time away and having more time for—it helped that I could not understand a lot that was going on around me and that I had free access to the Sisters’ chapel—really helped solidify things. While I was in Poland during that Easter season, I wrote to the Vocation Director in the States to ask for admission to the congregation.
You see, through it all, everything I could imagine for my future was now connected to this congregation, this group of women who welcomed me so lovingly into their midst in every place I encountered them. The tagline for our USA Province, “Family is the heart of our mission”, resonates with the home where I grew up; there was always room for one more around the table. Hospitality, a particular characteristic of Nazareth, fits just right in my heart and soul.
To this day, I get excited when I find a chapel with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and I cannot fathom ever living in a home where Jesus is not present. I am home!