Paul Moore: A tale of two vocations, and their parallel paths decades apart

In My Father’s House / By Paul Thomas Moore

On April 29, feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, my wife and I witnessed one boat launch out into the deep, and another arrive at a far shore.

That morning, we said goodbye to Sister Mary Jane Herlik, OP, the best friend of fellow Dominican — and my wife’s aunt — Sister Sue Klein. The funeral was offered at the Sinsinawa Mound Motherhouse in Wisconsin. (See the obituary in the May 8 edition of The Catholic Post.)

In the evening, after driving back home to Metamora, we tuned in to a YouTube livestream emanating from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, as Maria Arsenault, the daughter of our friends Marcel and Carmen, was consecrated to a life of virginity.

FORKS IN THE ROAD

I didn’t connect these two celebrations at first (duh), but hearing more about each of these women, their parallel paths became clearer. Mary Jane, professed more than 70 years ago, found her first calling as a nun teaching in the baby boomer parochial school classrooms of the 1950s and 1960s in Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, and Tennessee.

Maria has for many years served the Lord as a single woman at the other end of the educational spectrum as a missionary on university campuses in British Columbia through Catholic Christian Outreach.

At a certain point in their vocational journeys, Mary Jane and Maria each came a fork in the road. In Mary Jane’s case, that point came in the early 1980s. Then working in pastoral care in Tennessee and Georgia, she noticed medical and pastoral care people were often hesitant to enter hospital rooms of those dying with AIDS — a fear many of us can probably relate to from that time.

The consecrated lane of life often involves lesser-traveled streets outside church doors, where the living Body of Christ thirsts for encounter in the faces of the poor.  

Not Mary Jane. She became an administrator and director in AIDS/HIV ministry in Mississippi and Florida, and was quoted by the Tampa Bay Times as saying, “I felt I was being called to minister to those dying with AIDS.” As her roomie Sister Sue said of Mary Jane at her wake, “She often reminded me that ‘God comes disguised as our lives.’”

Maria came to her own fork in the faith road. She had first experienced the personal love of God at a youth retreat. “I knew at that moment I was loved for who I was, just as I was, Maria. . . . With all the determination of my 14-year-old self, I wanted to become a saint!”

Still, in the following years, the specifics of her saintly commission remained indistinct. Her first thought was the convent. After discernment though, that wasn’t it. Marriage? Not that either. Then what?

Maria continued to serve in student evangelization, eventually becoming campus leader of a group of young missionaries at the University of Victoria. The Lord’s campus is anywhere his people are, and he can meet us on any wavelength. Maria happened upon an internet thread that led her to information on the ancient rite of consecrated virginity — living in, but not of the world — a rite restored after Vatican II. This at last sounded right to her soul.

 SPIRITED WOMEN, OPEN TO THE SPIRIT

Perhaps due in part to living lives open to the Holy Spirit, Mary Jane and Maria have reputations as spirited women in other ways.

In the seniors’ community where Mary Jane lived her retirement years, she was never one to let a lively tune go undanced to, and she wasn’t shy about getting the old guys on the floor.

During Maria’s rite of consecration, Victoria Bishop Gary Gordon related how one day a few months before, he was driving his truck when someone on an electric bike misjudged a turn and swerved into his lane. He hit the brakes and managed to avoid a collision. “And as I was doing that I glanced and I thought, oh golly — that’s Maria!”

He summed up, “Please God, she will stay in her lane, and live a long and happy life.” Yet, Bishop Gordon also acknowledged the consecrated lane of life often involves lesser-traveled streets outside church doors, where the living Body of Christ thirsts for encounter in the faces of the poor.

In a similar vein, as the Lord greeted his compassionate servant Mary Jane with a holy hug upon her arrival, might he not have said, “I know your hug through those you hugged in my name. May I have this dance for the rest of your eternal life?”

PAUL THOMAS MOORE is a Catholic communicator and singer-songwriter. He and wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills. He can be reached at paulthomasmoore@hotmail.com.

 

 

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