A sister’s journey: Be open to your own holiness

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Image: SISTER NICOLE Trahan, F.M.I. talks with student Kyle McKinney.

As many women and men
in religious life have discovered, the journey to vocation is not always a straight one. It’s steady movement but often deepening, winding, cyclical. In some ways that was true for Sister Nicole Trahan, F.M.I., who discovered a vocation unfolding within another vocation.

A native Texan, Sister Nicole graduated from Monsignor Kelly High School in Beaumont and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in science from Texas A&M University. While there she was active in the Catholic Student Center on campus. When a friend asked her if she’d thought about religious life, “I blew him off,” she said. She loved her Catholic faith, was involved in it, and planned to continue being an active laywoman in the church.

An “aha!” moment
She began her career in the classroom teaching for a year in an elementary school and while doing that earned two master’s degrees, in education and pastoral ministry. Then, during a summer workshop for educators, she mentioned she was transitioning to teaching at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio. Another participant in the program mentioned it was a school connected with the Society of Mary. Over the next few weeks he brought Nicole books about the founders of the community and information on Marianist retreats. “It was because of his enthusiasm and love of the Marianist charism that my interest was piqued,” Nicole said.

Sister nicole with some of her students.
SISTER NICOLE with some of her students.
She said that what surprised her when she started working at Central was the school’s inclusivity. “Here I was, this young ‘green’ laywoman on staff with experienced, older clergy and religious, and yet my voice was equally valued. That was certainly a new experience for me. The brothers, priests, and sister on staff didn’t get special treatment because of their title or status,” she said. “We were all equal.” Eventually she had an “aha!” moment: “Everything I believed about God, the church—the way I was trying to live—suddenly it had a name: Marianist.”

With that discovery, she decided to become a Lay Marianist, which is one of the community’s four branches. She found participation in the life of Lay Marianist communities energizing and spiritually fulfilling. There were regular meetings with like-minded men and women, symposia, community gatherings, and Sunday afternoon meetings at the home of sisters. Nicole thought this was it—a good mix of spirituality with her career as a teacher and then as a campus minister.

Good enough is enough
While working as a campus minister, however, she found herself thinking about religious life. “I thought I’d be able to come up with at least a few dozen reasons why I shouldn’t become a sister. But I really couldn’t,” she said.

Nicole had dated in college and after college. Like anyone discerning religious life, she still had to discern her initial dreams of marriage and family. And she also grappled with not feeling “good enough.”

When a diocesan priest who was her boss in campus ministry told her he was being reassigned, she felt she should let him know that she, too, might be leaving because she was thinking about becoming a sister. “He had just hired me six months before with hopes I would stay on long term, so I felt I owed it to him to share what I was discerning,” Sister Nicole said.

Sister nicole and other Marianist Sisters at community prayer.
SISTER NICOLE and other Marianist Sisters at community prayer.
But instead of being unhappy (at least outwardly!) with her news, her priest-boss “was really supportive,” she said. “We talked and prayed together, and he gave me a book, Vocations Anonymous [for more discernment books see the article “Help is at hand: Guidebooks on the way to religious life” at VocationNetwork.org], and suggested I read and pray with it.”

With his continued encouragement, conversation, prayer with a lay colleague, and continued interaction with the Marianist family, Nicole made her decision. She joined the Marianist Sisters in San Antonio in the fall of 2005 and professed final vows in 2013. She is now one of about 300 Marianist sisters serving in 13 nations on five continents. The sisters minister in all areas of education and in catechesis, campus ministry, pastoral work, and social services.

Although her father and two older sisters were raised Catholic and had attended Catholic schools, “they didn’t really understand why I was doing this,” she said. “But they were supportive.” One of her sisters, she said, “wrote me a letter—she just wanted to make sure I really knew what I was doing and had thought it through, especially not getting married,” Sister Nicole said. “Once she knew I had, she was OK with it.”

Sister Nicole is now in the classroom again—this time transplanted from Texas to Dayton, Ohio.

She teaches a sophomore religion class at Chaminade-Julienne High School, a co-ed school jointly sponsored by the Marianist priests and brothers and the Sisters of Notre Dame.

In Fall 2012 her U.S. province tapped her to serve as vocation director as well. In addition to working one-on-one with women in discernment and answering vocation queries and e-mail, Sister Nicole is on a joint vocations committee for the sisters, priests, and brothers and attends vocation conferences around the country. While it’s a busy schedule, she finds the inclusivity and family spirit among the Marianist men and women nourishing for her own call.

She also admits that living in community, especially where she’s the youngest member, has presented both challenges and growth. “I lived alone for seven years, and I’m an introvert,” she said, but she finds that the gift of community living outweighs the challenges. “We’re different people with different personalities and styles, of course. . . . But it’s a gift to live with people who are passionate about the same things, the mission.”

Sister nicole shares a light moment with her Marianist Sisters at a community meal.
SISTER NICOLE shares a light moment with her Marianist Sisters at a community meal.
As a teacher of scripture, she said she wants to emphasize for her students “God’s love in their lives. . . . What’s really important is that people understand that God is a God of love, a God of no limits—no matter what mistakes we make, we’re always loved. And that calls us in turn to reflect that love to others in concrete ways.” That’s where her specific call to be a Marianist Sister plays an important part too. “Our love for Mary means we’re invited as she was to share in bringing Christ to the world, to make him present.”

Prayer is an important part of knowing how to do that. Besides communal prayer, personal prayer undergirds Sister Nicole’s life. Morning is her best time for that. “I start the day before most people [in her house] are awake, usually with a half-hour to 45 minutes in quiet, contemplative prayer. And then praying with the day’s scripture.” The community prays evening prayer together; then before bed Sister Nicole tries to build in another period of personal prayer. After a full, busy day, praying at night is more of a challenge, she admits, but “I’ll usually read the scripture for the following day.”

Where a heart finds home
But all work (and even prayer) makes for a dull sister—and Sister Nicole is anything but dull.

For hobbies she enjoys jogging, cooking, movies, spending time with friends. “I love to sing”—she also plays the guitar—“and I like listening to all sorts of music.” And reading, definitely reading: fiction, historical fiction, memoirs, “a lot of periodicals.” Her favorite authors run an eclectic gamut from spiritual writers to essayists. “For me, a great evening is being with cherished people in my life, a glass of wine, good conversation.” Nurturing and developing friendships, she said, is “key for living a healthy celibate life.”

Finding where one belongs may involve discernment, she said, but may not be as hard as one might think. “I really believe that each person who’s called to live as a religious already has a charism within them; that’s where they’re ‘connected.’ ” So it’s simply a matter of taking the time to explore, inwardly and outwardly, “where my heart said, ‘This is home.’ ”

Sister Nicole is also encouraged by the fact that God’s invitation is to ordinary people. “I am constantly reminded of the fact that God doesn’t call perfect people. If so, no one would be called to religious life! You don’t have to be at a certain ‘level of holiness’ to enter religious life. You just have to be open.”

Pat MorrisonPat Morrison is editorial director of ICS Publications, the publishing house of the Discalced Carmelite Friars/Institute of Carmelite Studies. She is a vowed laywoman in the Carmelite tradition and a member of the Association of Contemplative Sisters.




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