Our good and loving God, we thank you today for mothers, for grandmothers, for great-grandmothers, for aunts, for neighbors, and for every wise and kind woman you have put into our lives. We are grateful for the many ways they have nurtured us.
In this reflection, I would like to share with you my own dear Irish Mother, Mary Dolores Conway. She has nurtured me on my life journey of living and loving. My mom was in her early 20s when I was born, the youngest of her first four children, on December 8. My mom had a steadfast devotion to Mary the Mother of Jesus and, since I was born on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was named Mary Catherine, dedicated to Mary. Throughout my life, she reminded me that I was a “Mary’s Girl.”
Growing up in Baltimore City, we did not have much money but we always had a lot of love. My mom did not experience much love as a child but, as an adult, always had a heart for those who were in need. The spirit was nurtured by her high school days at Seton with the Daughters of Charity as well as her part-time job ministering alongside Daughters at St. Vincent’s Infant Home.
My mom valued Catholic education. When I went to first grade, she went to work in a department store in order to pay our tuition. The Daughters had a home for children in the neighborhood and, each morning, the children would arrive at school packed in a station wagon, fit right into our school community, and then head back to the orphanage at the end of the day. I told my mom about these children who had no parents and no home. I told her that I was going to be a Sister when I grew up so that I could take care of orphans like them. When my friends were playing school with their dolls, I was lining mine up and playing “orphanage.”
In our day, if you were Catholic, you went to a Catholic school and you had sisters as teachers. Catholic families were honored to have one of their children become a priest, brother, or sister. In fourth grade, I had a Sister of Mercy as a teacher. This teacher wrote a letter to my mom (which I found in her things after she passed) saying that she believed I had a vocation to be a religious sister and it was my mom’s responsibility as a Catholic mother to encourage me.
When I was in high school, sowing my wild oats, my mom believed becoming a sister was no longer on my radar. (You made big life decisions young in those days.) However, my three siblings married and I went off to the Daughters of Charity. It was very hard on my mom and my dad to let me go. The day they took me to Emmitsburg, Maryland, my mom told me that the sisters would “test me” and that I would have to live the life of Mother Seton. She gave me a dime and told me: “Put this in your shoe. If you do not feel this vocation is right for you, just give me a call and we will come get you.” (Pay phones were just a dime back then.)
But here I am, 56 years later and still a Daughter of Charity. There were ups and downs, just like in any vocation. But I think they were just all tests, remembering this too shall pass. God kept me and I am grateful, as were my mom, dad, and family, who have encouraged me all through the years.
To this day, I will say the hardest thing for me to give up to become a Daughter of Charity was to marry and have a family of my own. However, God has still blessed me with a very large family. After myself and my older siblings had left home, my parents gave birth to three more children. My siblings are continuing to bring even more beautiful children into this world and into my life.
As the Mother of Jesus, Mary’s vocation was to receive Jesus in her heart and give Him to the world. As a “Mary’s Girl,” my vocation is to have Jesus in my heart, to give Him in love to all I encounter, and to receive back His love to refill my heart and to continue the giving.
Written by Sister Mary Catherine Conway, D.C.
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