It was a sunny, warm late summer day in 1979. I was attending the 4 pm Mass alone and as I knelt near the statue of Mary, my thoughts were calm and free. I was at a similar age and time in my life when Mary Johnson received her calling. Suddenly, a voice that had no sound called to me. “I want you to be a nun.” I looked around and realized this voice was heard only by myself and quickly construed it was not a human source. Immediately I felt repulsed. “Eeew, no!” I responded quickly in an equally soundless fashion. “I want to be married, have children….” I felt bad. The soundless voice left me alone. I realized that God had called me and I said no. I was shaken, relieved and saddened.
Years later, I listed to a catechist recruit new teachers at a late summer Sunday morning Mass. Telling his own story, he encouraged anyone who hears God’s call to teach in the religious education program for school-aged children. It was 1996 and at that point, I had been married since age 23 and was the parent of an 8 year-old boy and a 6 year-old girl. I was ready to say “yes” to this call. God was very patient in waiting for a response on my own terms and that fall, I became a catechist at the 1st grade level. A found this level appealing as it is the foundation upon which additional years of learning are built. It is far away from complicated theology and I have always felt a kinship with Jesus and how he taught the same easy to understand lessons.
Browsing through the new nonfiction section at my local library in August 2012, “An Unquenchable Thirst” quickly founds its way into my hands. Immediately I felt a kindred spirit while reading the inside jacket cover. Starting that night, I read at a galloping pace in the week ahead, during my free time. I felt drawn to this story as I had rejected the path that Mary had chosen. Raised in a large and very Catholic family, I felt comfortable within the folds of my faith that still plays a major role in my identity. In elementary school, the Felician sisters contributed to the development of my faith, character, value system and high ethical standards.
When the paperback came out earlier this year, I purchased and reread “An Unquenchable Thirst” slowly and thoughtfully. Profound amazement, pain and compassion found its way into my heart for Mary Johnson’s experiences as a sister with the MC’s for 20 years. At the conclusion of Mary’s story, I was shocked with the realization that Mary had stepped away from organized religion, including the Catholic faith. This choice made me question what I believe in and I began to scrutinize my faith choices. Were they made willfully or did I get swept in the stream of Catholicism? I never got out of the boat to see where I was heading and why. Was I on the right path? What is the truth? I was disturbed for quite some time as I examined my belief system. I work with a person who practices no organized religion and he does not believe in God. He seems to be a very good and honest man, but I felt disconnected to his choice as compared to Mary Johnson, especially after reading her intimate thoughts and experiences. I wanted Mary to make the right choice but was my choice the truth?
After much thought, I came to the conclusion that we freely make faith choices based on our experiences, what we know, have learned and most importantly, what we feel in our hearts. We need to live our lives fully, honestly, with goodness and compassion for one another. I cannot imagine a life without God as a higher power. When our time on earth is done, perhaps we will find the answers that we seek. Until then, it is important that we have a life well-lived.
Doreen Notaro has been a catechist and Team Leader at St. Christopher Church in Tonawanda, NY for 15 years. She has been married for 31 years, is the parent of 3 children, ages 25, 22 and 14 and works as registrar and insurance specialist at a medical office in Williamsville, NY. Doreen is a sometime freelance writer and has written on family, spiritual, historical and inspirational themes.