Vocation Story by Sister Sara Fairbanks, O.P.
Adrian Dominican Sisters
One of the first things I did when I went away to college was to quit going to church. While I wanted a relationship with God, I felt a new freedom to pursue that relationship as I wished. Uppermost in my mind was succeeding in school, making a career for myself, building friendships, and finding a loving boyfriend. I chose European history as my major with the thought of becoming a teacher.
In my junior year, my academic advisor directed me to take a course on the Protestant Reformation through the religion department because that particular split in Christendom had powerful political ramifications for all of Europe. So quite unexpectedly, I ended up taking my first college religion class. In class, our professor, who was a Presbyterian minister, explained that a key theme of the Protestant Reform was the right of every Christian to read the Bible in his or her own language. He concluded his lecture with this summons: “I challenge each one of you to pick up the Bible and read one of the gospels all the way through.”
Being a good Catholic, I didn’t own a Bible. So I borrowed a Bible from a Protestant friend. One night I decided to take up his challenge. I opened to the gospel of Matthew and started to read it. When I got to the passage of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Mt 7:7), for the first time, I sensed the personal presence of God with me, speaking these words directly to my heart, awakening me to a divine love that I had never known before, a love unsurpassed.
“Ask and you shall receive!” What open-handed, unconditional love! It wasn’t, “Get good grades, and I will love you!” or “Do what I say, and I will love you.” Rather, I experienced God as an awesome, yet incredibly humble and alluring presence. “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” The creator of the universe is granting me easy access and inviting me to come near. In God’s presence I felt these new eyes beholding me in love. I was in tears and full of joy! I realized that night that God’s love was real and my life was changed forever.
This falling in love with God propelled me into a lengthy and adventuresome discernment process that involved developing a prayer life, voraciously reading the mystics, seeking personal counseling, pursuing graduate studies in history, falling in love and exploring the possibility of married life. Most telling was the unexpected opportunity to join the Covenant House community, a Franciscan lay community of seventy young women and men dedicated to three hours of daily prayer and ministry with homeless, runaway teenagers. After three years with Covenant House, I knew that my deepest desire, which is God’s desire for me, was to enter religious life as a Dominican Sister of Adrian.