Tuesday, 26 October 2021 11:14

Answering God's call to religious life

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Answering God’s call to religious life
Celebrating National Vocation Awareness week

National Vocation Awareness Week, celebrated Nov. 7-13, is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promoting vocations to the religious life through prayer and education, and to renewing our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations. In this edition of Catholic Times, we highlight two religious vocations stories that prove God can work in mysterious ways. Also, for parents and grandparents who see a religious vocation in their son, daughter, or grandchild, read Hey, Father!, in which we answer the question, “How do I talk to my kids about vocations?” 

He grew up non-Catholic. Marriage was ‘on the horizon.’ Then he had this ‘crazy thing’ 
The story of Father John Titus

Fr Titus 2 with Deacon Gene UptmorIn a sacramental way, the journey of God’s call in my life began on May 13, 1956, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. I don’t suppose, however, anybody in the Bradbury Free Methodist Church, north of Toledo, Ill., knew about Our Lady’s feast that day. Surrounded by cousins and folks in love with God’s Word at Bradbury, as a young child, my family moved to Mattoon where I attended the Presbyterian Church through my college years at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) in Charleston. Active in Sunday school and church activities, I became friends with a few future Presbyterian ministers and felt God’s call to the ministry myself. During my college years, I visited a Presbyterian seminary but never took that “next step.”   

Growing up, I had Catholic relatives and friends and would sometimes attend Mass at Immaculate Conception in Mattoon and other parishes. Becoming involved in the pro-life movement in high school and college years, I was struck by the predominance of Catholic Christians among its ranks during those early days. I wondered to myself: Where were the people I had been praying with all my life? I was drawn to a faith that impacted how we lived our lives in the public square. Having been involved in political campaigns since high school, it just made sense that the most important choices we make for the greater community would be informed by our religious faith and the values of the Gospel. I loved the idea of a faith that informed our actions and choices not only as individuals but in the public square. 

At EIU, still “spinning my wheels” regarding a future field of study or career choice, I fell back on majoring in history which I had always loved. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman once said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be protestant.” While none of my professors would have suspected me of being very “deep in history,” my study did lead me to an awareness that divisions in the Body of Christ were the fruit of human sinfulness, culture, and politics and certainly not the will of God.

Ultimately it was of course my desire for the holy Eucharist that led me to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. Praying with John 6 and time spent before the tabernacle opened up to me the desire for the graces of the sacramental life. I had been attending daily Mass for some time when I finally stepped out in faith and talked to a parish priest about more formal “instruction” in the Catholic faith.

Fr Titus 1I was living in Decatur and working for Walgreens when I entered the Church at St. James. I became involved in the parish as my schedule permitted. “Thursday Night Parties” bingo was my main volunteer activity. I was dating a lady at the time who had a young son. The relationship was going well, and it seemed marriage might be on the horizon.  I shared with her that before we could take the next step, I had this “crazy thing” I had to get “off the table.”  I explained as a protestant minister, a wife and family was the norm, but if God was calling me to the Catholic priesthood, that could be a “deal breaker.” 

I assured my girlfriend that there was nothing to worry about, however. As far as I knew, Catholic couples brought little baby priests home from the maternity ward with little Roman collars around their neck. I was sure I would never be accepted to study for the priesthood anyway.  I wasn’t smart enough.  I wasn’t holy enough. I hadn’t been a Catholic all my life. It just wasn’t going to happen.

Once again, I sat down and visited with my parish priest and soon began a journey that continues to this day. The doors that I expected to close kept opening. An uncertainty about so many things developed into a quiet confidence and renewed hope. I learned priests aren’t ordained on the first day of seminary.  Formation is a process including prayer, study, and pastoral experiences where the Church gets to know you and you get to know the Church in fuller ways. With each passing month and new opportunity, I learned more and fell in love more with Christ and his people. 

The joy of walking with Christ’s risen body, the Church as a Catholic and a Catholic priest, is incomparable with any other experience of my life. I have learned God never wastes any experience and helps us to use in for the common good when we place it in His hands. Thirty-three years after my ordination as a transitional deacon, I have never looked back but get up each morning joyfully anticipating what surprises the Lord may have in store. 

Father John Titus is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Mattoon and St. Columcille Parish in Sullivan

‘He told me I would be a Dominican nun’
The story of Sister Mary Grace, OP

SR MARY GRACE OPMy family was blessed with an ideal childhood: a devout Catholic mom, devout Presbyterian dad, and children. We attended a Catholic grade school and a Catholic high school. I was the youngest, very close to my sister, and adored my brothers even though they teased me to no end.

I was in the third grade when I received my first clue that I had a talent for art. The third-grade sister was showing the fourth-grade teacher one of my pictures. My art was encouraged at home in many ways and has been a big part of my life to this day. 

During those formative years, I was attracted to Catholic Church things and persons. In high school, a sister sat me down one time and suggested that I might have a vocation to the religious life, but I quickly rejected that thought. I imagined I was destined for marriage and family life.  

A secular university took me farther away from my earlier pious tendencies although I never neglected the basics of my faith. I achieved degrees in applied arts and teaching. After graduation, I taught art in an inner-city public school which taught me that teaching was not my thing. So, three of my fellow classmates and myself began a business out of my father’s second floor retail stationary store. That was an adventure and lasted until my associates began wanting more funds and better clothes. I lingered on for a while and eventually tried teaching again with the same conclusion. 

Several jobs later and all the time dating and hoping to settle down, nothing clicked in that process. Eventually I came to a crossroad in my life: I needed to make a strategic choice for which I was not prepared. By now I was 25 years old and, remembering a piece of advice in one of the many letters I received from my brother (who was a priest), that if I ever needed to talk with someone, this priest would be a good one. Not remembering the name of said priest, I went to the drawer in my room where I kept all his letters in random fashion and found the name in the first letter I picked up. 

Father Wenzel agreed to see me. After hearing my tale of woe, he suggested I join a sodality sponsored by Xavier University, which I did. The meetings and the required exercises, which I faithfully practiced, brought me back to a closer relationship to the Church. Around this time, the company I was working at went bankrupt, and I was looking for the next door to open. It did. A fellow sodalist mentioned that a missionary group, the Verona Fathers, were looking for a secretary. I loved that job and flourished there. 

In the meantime, because we were required to have a spiritual director, the first time I met with mine, a Jesuit, he asked me what kind of a man I was looking for. Wow! Was he going to go out on the campus and see if he could fulfill my requirements? I told him that I was beginning to think maybe God was wanting me to enter a religious community. “All right,” he said. “This is what you do: Give yourself a certain amount of time, pray very hard about this decision, and God will lead you.” So, I did, and before long it became very clear to me that I should enter religious life. But where?

sr mary grace op the artistSo, my director took me to the library and took out the large religious directory containing lists and descriptions of all the congregations in the United States. I was to write to any that would allow me to develop my art and one that was well established. I received stacks of mail, but nothing attracted me. Stalemate! I kept praying and one day, a woman visited the Verona Father who had a reputation for holiness. I got to talking with her about my problem and she suggested that I go to confession to a very holy priest, which I did, on April 1, 1962, April Fools’ Day — but what the priest told me I did not take as a trick. He heard me out in silence, followed by a sacred silence, and then he told me I would be a Dominican nun.

Although I knew nothing of cloistered life, nor that there was a monastery in Cincinnati, I immediately and wholeheartedly accepted his directive as the greatest gift I could be given. 

As I look back on my life, I realize that I did not have, at that time, the psychological maturity to discern for myself God’s will for me. And so, God took over in a very direct way which, after 56 years of monastic living, I can see as the very best possible solution for me, and I never cease being grateful for that day.

I was kept waiting to meet the prioress of Holy Name Monastery. She encouraged me and after many weekend visits there, the date was set for my entry on Dec. 8, 1962. Of course, the separation from my mother, the only family member still at home by then, was excruciating, for her and for me, more so for her who had been widowed at age 52 and now was facing life in the homestead by herself. When I was a postulant and in the presence of the prioress and myself, she asked how I was doing. The prioress answered that I was doing very well, and my mom’s reply was: “I was afraid of that.” Nevertheless, she never objected to my vocation and supported me and the monastery in every way she could. 

I was 27 years old then and was used to an independent life of my own choosing. The discipline of monastic living was jarring in many ways, but I was happy. All throughout my 56 years, the sisters have allowed me to continue developing my art. 

I cannot say that I am a born contemplative by any means. I pretty much began the spiritual life from scratch. I am still climbing slowly, but I value all the opportunities and even the atmosphere that are most conducive to living as close to God as I have grace for. Grace is never lacking but, as my Jesuit brother once told me, I am a slow learner.

Dominican monastic life for me has been and is a nurturing home and community which allows one to be who they are and to strive to become the best they can be in God’s plan.

Sister Mary Grace, OP, is a sister with the Monastery of Mary the Queen located in Springfield

Have you considered becoming a deacon? 

Deacon Kessler baptises babyThere are three informational meetings in different parts of our diocese for men interested in becoming a deacon. The first takes place in Jacksonville at the Knights of Columbus Hall (320 E. State) on Saturday, Nov. 13 from 9-10:30 a.m. The second takes place in Mattoon at Immaculate Conception Church Parish Center (320 N. 20th St.) on Tuesday, Nov. 16 from 6:30-8 p.m.  The third takes place in Quincy at the St. Francis Parish Center (1721 College) on Sunday, Nov. 28 from 1-2:30 p.m. The meetings will present information for those interested in the permanent diaconate formation which begins in the fall of 2022. Applications are being accepted at this time.

The permanent diaconate is open to men between the ages of 32 and 57 who are active in the practice of our faith and who desire to grow in their relationship with God and in their service to the Church. If interested, and if married, wives are welcome and encouraged to attend. For questions, email Deacon Dave Sorrell: . You can also visit