by Sister Marie Tersidis, O.P.
I grew up in East Africa. It was in 1977 that my vocation to religious life began to stir. I was born and raised around religious. My schoolteachers were 80 percent religious sisters. Besides, I have an older sister who is a religious. Providentially, our home is very close to the motherhouse of my sister's religious community so I had the privilege of attending daily Mass at the convent before school for seven years from the age of 10 to 17.
As I grew, observing the sisters coming to Mass in procession after their morning prayers and making their profound genuflection on both knees two by two, made my heart dance with joy. I could hardly wait to be one of them.
As soon as I completed elementary school, I sought to enter the convent, but by this time I did not want to join the community that my sister belonged to. I chose an international congregation, which meant I had to learn English. I did well with English. However, as I advanced in my religious training, I faced a challenge that threw me off my horse. The senior sisters who returned from their missionary activities shared with the novices their experiences in the missions.
The spirit of the founder was to preach the Word to all people and especially to the people in the remotest parts of the world. There are parts of the world where education is unheard of, and people are really primitive in many ways-clothing and eating, to mention a few. Now, one of the challenges at the missions was to identify with the people in their way of eating and dressing. That was way too difficult for me to conceive. I was too afraid to face this reality so I chose to go back home and pursue high school studies.
I tried to silence the voice within me. I thought I had succeeded when all of a sudden, [during] the final year of my studies, the desire came back stronger than ever. Now the dance changed. It was no longer an outward dance, but an inward dance of the heart. I had now to face the reality that I could no longer quench the desire to consecrate my life to God. It felt so unreal and yet so real. A mixed feeling! I started asking advice. My parish priest did not seem convinced of my vocation. This was very painful, but I trusted in God. Finally, I decided to go back to the same community I left.
I applied myself to my religious training. Two years passed. Then my fears about the missions began to build up. I could not believe I was to step out of the convent a second time.
And now, what next? What a dilemma! What a disappointment! I was plunged into a dense cloud where I was drawn to pray and to meditate on the word of God. I had within me the faith to seek the will of God in my life at any cost. My family was very mad at me because I had given up what was "the most important in the world," namely education and the good jobs that go with it.
Finally, the Lord, in his own mysterious way, led me to my true vocation. This I cannot explain because I never wanted to become a cloistered nun. Providentially, I was acquainted with a Dominican priest who wanted to establish a contemplative religious community in his country in West Africa. The priest was a good friend of the Dominican nuns in Lufkin, Texas, U.S.A. He managed to convince me that nuns live a normal life and that I should come to the States to be trained so that I could be of help in the formation of those interested in the life back in Africa.
I came to Lufkin and met the nuns. I was so scared that my neck hardly moved. I looked at them so carefully. I noticed they were happy. They dressed the same. There was nothing that indicated different classes in the way they dressed. Then I was led to the enclosure where I awaited strange things to happen. Nothing extraordinary happened. I noticed, too, they ate from the same table with the prioress and did everything in a good community spirit. I began to feel at home and at peace. I began to realize and savor the nobility of the life.
Before I knew it, my time for training was over and I had to go back to Africa to help in the formation of the postulants and novices. There I met another disappointment. The original vision of the community had changed remarkably within the two years I was away. I realized then that my real vocation was to be a cloistered contemplative after all. I sought to come back to Lufkin, and here I am.
All I had to do was to say yes to God, try it out, and let God do his work. I felt like Peter and the apostles when they spent all night fishing with no success. When the Lord gave the command to cast the net into deep water they caught more than they could handle. The same could be said of my vocation story. The Lord let me try so hard with no success until he plunged me into the enclosure.
Sister Marie Tersidis, O.P. is a sister of the Monastery of the Infant Jesus in Lufkin, Texas. Her story is reprinted with permission and adapted from Vocation in Black and White: Dominican Contemplative Nuns Tell of How God Called Them, from iUniverse and available from the major online booksellers.