My Life

The Summer That Changed My Life

I was 16 years old and it was summer. I was taking driver’s ed, working at my dad’s ice cream shop, taking piano lessons because my mom didn’t believe in taking a break from lessons over the summer, and getting ready for 11th grade.

Fast forward to the last week of July. I spent that week waking up at 6:10 am every morning, attending classes on prayer and discernment, spending an hour each day in silent prayer…and having the time of my life.

Yes, I spent a week in the convent when I was 16. And two weeks when I was 17. And a month when I was 18 and another when I was 19. Then at age 20 I entered the Daughters of St. Paul and the convent became my home.

What?!

Let’s flashback to a few years before I spent that first week in the convent at age 16. I grew up in a small town outside of Buffalo, NY. I was into soccer, piano, reading, and movies. My dad owned the local grocery store and ice cream shop, and my mom homeschooled me and my brothers and sisters.

I had thought about being a religious Sister when I was young. My family went to Mass every Sunday, and in the back of our church, there was a photo of St. Bernadette in her religious habit. I read her story and thought that someday I might be a sister. Key word: someday. I had other plans first — finish high school, go to college, major in English, get a job… and then ask God what he wanted for my life.

I first met a Sister when I was 14 years old at a youth conference. I liked hearing her story (enough to put my address on her mailing list so she could send me a magazine with more vocation stories!), but it didn’t change my mind about my future plans.

So what did? Two years later, after I had all but forgotten about meeting that sister, I received a brochure for the St. Paul Summer Program. From what I could tell, it was an invitation to spend a week with the Daughters of St. Paul at their convent in Boston, getting to know the Sisters, their mission, and their prayer.

But why?

I don’t know why I decided to go. No, that’s not true. I do know why — I wanted to go. I don’t know why I wanted to, but I did. Even though I had never traveled by myself before, and I was shy and not all that excited about spending a week with a group of people I had never met, I couldn’t deny it — I wanted to go.

So I did! I got my parents’ permission, filled out the program application, and a couple months later was on my first flight ever. And as you already know, it was the best week of my life.

There were about ten of us from all over the country who had come to live with the Sisters for a week. We lived their daily schedule with them: morning prayer, Mass, meals, Hour of Adoration, recreation. The Sisters gave us classes on discernment, prayer, being a missionary. We had a day of sight-seeing and I saw the field where the Revolutionary War started.

We got to help the Sisters in their mission (the Daughters of St. Paul use the media to tell people about God and to help people grow in their relationship with him). I remember I got to read stories that had been submitted for the children’s magazine and give my opinion on whether or not they should be published! Now young women who come have the opportunity to put together web pages or create social media posts.

Eyes on Jesus

When I look back on that week, I still smile at how much fun I had and my heart is still grateful at how profoundly I encountered Jesus. I learned how to pray during that week — how to really pray. I learned how joyful the choice to commit yourself entirely to God could make you. And finally I learned that it was not too early to start asking God what he wanted for my life. I was not too young to think and pray about giving myself entirely to him.

Well, you know the end of the story. It wasn’t a straight path from the St. Paul Summer Program to entering the Daughters of St. Paul, and by no means was it a straight path from entering the community to making my vows (a process that takes about four years to first vows, and another five years after that to final vows). There were plenty of times when I wasn’t sure what God wanted, when I considered doing other things with my life, or when I wondered if I had made the wrong decision.

But the St. Paul Summer Program had taught me something essential, something that I carried throughout my entire discernment and vocational journey: to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. When I kept looking at Jesus, I knew that he would show me where to go—if not right away, then eventually. When I kept looking at Jesus, I got to know him, and in relationship with Him I gradually discovered my vocation. When I kept looking at Jesus, I had peace.

Your Turn

You may have thought about religious life before… or it may be the furthest thing from your mind! I encourage you to do one thing: keep your eyes on Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him by going to Mass and receiving Him in Holy Communion. Keep your eyes on Him by going to Confession and allowing Him into your brokenness. Keep your eyes on Him by taking a few minutes every day just to talk to Him. Keep your eyes on Him by letting Him into your life.

God bless you!
Sr. Emily Beata

For more information on this year’s St. Paul Summer Program, visit www.daughtersofstpaul.com/vocation or contact Sr. Emily Beata (vocations@paulinemedia.com or 617-522-8911).

About the Author

Sister Emily Beata

Sr. Emily Beata Marsh, FSP, entered the Daughters of St. Paul in 2007 and since then has served in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Palermo, Rome, and Alexandria, VA. She is the National Vocation Directress for the Daughters of St. Paul.