Franciscan’s final vows seen as ‘ultimate commitment to God’

Intense prayer and a Franciscan spirituality were already part of her life when Sister M. Faustina Chesnut, OSF, started exploring a vocation with The Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis in East Peoria.

A Secular Franciscan with three regularly scheduled hours of eucharistic adoration each week at St. John Vianney Church in Sherman, she also had a house and a good job as a licensed practical nurse. What was missing was a sense of community.

At the East Peoria motherhouse of The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, Sister Faustina found what she was looking for.

“I enjoyed the fact that they were in health care and the fact that they wore their habits. That was important to me. They were obedient to the magisterium,” she told The Catholic Post last week. “I was impressed with their mission to serve God’s people with the greatest care and love.”

Entering the community on Aug. 11, 2002, the feast of St. Clare and her mother’s birthday, Sister Faustina made her first vows in 2005. After five years of temporary vows, she professed her perpetual vows on Feb. 11, at a Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and in the presence of Sister Judith Ann Duvall, major superior.

According to Sister Agnes Joseph Williams, OSF, director of vocations, “the profession of perpetual vows is an expression of ultimate commitment to God, to live more and more for Christ and for his body, the church.”

Growing up in Springfield, Sister Faustina was exposed to consecrated life at an early age.

“I went to Christ the King School. We were taught by the Dominicans there,” she recalled. “It was a nice experience.”

One of the people who made it so nice was Sister Nina, who took Sister Faustina under her wing when she was struggling with math in the fifth grade and helped her to catch up after school and on the weekends. That patience and gentle concern made a lasting impression.

Her rapport with women religious grew at Sacred Heart Academy, which was staffed by the Dominican Sisters of Springfield. Sister Faustina got to know the Sisters while working with them in the chapel and said, “They set me at ease. They were people you could go to and talk to.”

While she always wanted to be a nurse she made a short detour into secretarial and office work before fulfilling her dream in 1987, earning a degree as a licensed practical nurse from the Capital Area School of Nursing in Springfield. Her work experience includes caring for the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis at their motherhouse, which is also in Springfield.

Sister Faustina said her new job as a medical office assistant at an occupational health facility near OSF Saint Francis Center Medical Center in Peoria allows her to combine her training as both a secretary and a nurse.

While she once wondered what she would be doing during her eight years of formation, Sister Faustina now marvels at all of the “wonderful things” she has been able to do. That includes learning more about St. Francis, theology and the church, and deepening her life of prayer.

“We have time for meditation and communal prayer in the morning before Mass — we go to the chapel between 5 and 5:30 a.m.,” she said. “Then there’s breakfast and everyone goes in different directions — class, if you’re in formation, or wherever you’re assigned.”

That might sound a bit early to some, but Sister Faustina told The Post she likes to start her day at the foot of Christ.

“You get to take Mary along with Martha,” she said.

Sister Faustina didn’t enter The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis until she was 40 and she spent a great deal of time in prayer and spiritual direction before she decided to start the application process. She advises women of all ages who are discerning a vocation to consecrated life to do the same.

“It’s important to follow your heart and pray for God’s guidance,” she said. “If you’ve truly searched your heart and feel there’s a chance, eventually you have to put out into the deep. Our history is full of women who were willing to do something different with their lives and be totally open to God to the best of their ability.”

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