A vocation is a call from God who created us for a purpose…for a mission to be fulfilled in a specific way, place and time. God speaks to us from within, through events and people. He speaks gently, kindly…never forcing anyone to accept His call. God has called people throughout history, He has called us “from our mother’s womb” and by virtue of our Baptism we are called to join in his mission. Here are some stories of our own calls.
Sr. Riccardina Silvestri
Last year, May 6, 2007, my hometown parish ‘remembered” the death of my brother Riccardo, a Consolata Father. Fifty-one years ago he drowned in the Rio Branco, in the northern part of Brazil, while we were waiting for him at home, after 10 years of ministry in Roraima.
The day the news of his death arrived is still vivid in my mind. It was May 15, 1957. The mailman knocked at our door and delivered a letter. The returned address filled us with joy: Consolata Missionaries. But, the unnatural paleness that grew on my mother’s face, as she scanned the letter, spelled trouble. The exuberant expectation turned into anxiety when she repeated over and over, “Oh, No!” Her whole demeanor bespoke bad news. The unthinkable befell us: Fr. Ricardo, the brother we were so eagerly waiting for, had tragically died in the water of the river he had cruised so many times. It was so difficult to accept his tragic death. He was not even 43 years old.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24) The proof of the truth of this biblical verse is hidden in the story of my missionary call, which was born from my brother’s tragic end.
The experience of that June 2, 1958 is carved in my heart. We were celebrating the Eucharist on the first anniversary of Riccardo’s death. His best friend, Fr. Marco Lonati, presided over the celebration. I was kneeling at the communion rail, waiting for the priest to give me communion. Suddenly, from the depth of my being, I heard myself begging the Lord, “Send me!” And God, who inspired my request, accepted my gift and sent me.
My dream was to be a priest, to go to Roraima and to be Fr. Riccardo. But … the road that God had in store for me was so different: school, United States, Kenya and United States, again.God’s faithfulness, though, is eternally surprising. On August 15, 2003, God offered me a gift: a field where I can truly be Fr. Riccardo. In fact, I am the pastoral administrator of two small parishes in the Diocese of Saginaw, in Michigan: St. Michael, Wilmot and St. Joseph, Mayville, in Tuscola County.
When I wait for the parishioners in the morning to celebrate Word and Communion…when I sit for hours by someone who is at the point of death…when, after baptism, I introduce a new member to the faith community…when I meet with adults who wish to learn about our faith…when I prepare engaged couples for their wedding…when I go bowling with the youth in order to then engage them in a dialogue of faith and service…when I sit with the pastoral council to explore ways to make our parish more vibrantly gospel-oriented, then, in the depth of my being, I know that, for me, there is no more meaningful way to be a Consolata Missionary Sister and to be my brother Riccardo than the way I am living now.
Today, the refrain that reoccurs in our reflective encounters as Sisters is: “We are called to be signs of consolation.”
When I look around, when I read or listen to the news, I realize that one of the greatest needs of humanity, today, is truly consolation. The consolation I am talking about is the one that springs from the awareness and the truth of a world in peace, a world where one’s basic needs are met, a world where the diversity of language, ethnic background, religion, status, color is appreciated as a richness and not a cause of hatred and discrimination, a world that is in harmony with the whole of creation.
I see myself again kneeling at the communion rail in my village church on the first anniversary of my brother Riccardo’s death, where I was waiting to receive communion. I hear again my voice coming from the depth of my being with a request, “Send me!”
In the awareness of having been sent, a prayer grows, “God, your glory is the person fully alive. Make me a simple presence, which, like my great brother’s, fosters fullness of life, “in this place that, for me, never will seem far from heaven.” By Sr. Riccardina Silvestri
Sr. Adelangela Paita
When I think of my vocation I see a returning pattern, like a theme repeated over and over again in the music of my life. The movements and the notes are different, but they are surprisingly coordinated to produce an incredibly simple tune.
A missionary vocation is a special call to love. A first sign of this for me goes back to the time when I was preparing for my First Communion. I was deeply moved by Jesus’ love for me and for all people, and vaguely remember that I wanted to do something good about it, maybe like St. Therese of Lisieux. I was five years old.
During my teen years I was convinced that I could make one person happy and would be able to love him all my life. My prayers were then directed to spot out this “one” individual on whom to concentrate all my energy. To my surprise instead I met some missionary Sisters who, from what they told me of their lives, had made so many people happy, sharing the experience of consolation from their own faith and generously spending their energy in different forms of service. What a shock!
So these women without forming a family of their own made so many people happy in life, much more than the one I thought to ‘make happy’ with the outpouring of my love, as a wife and mother. It took me a bit of time and a lot of prayer and consultation before I could see this.
One day, while speaking to the Lord whom I had received in the Eucharist, I understood that it was He who was calling me, presenting me with another alternative. I was free to choose and still I had neither peace nor joy in my heart until I chose Him. The Lord would be the One whom I would love and make happy. I was seventeen.
For two years I kept my choice a secret so as to gain the strength I would need to say good-bye to everyone I loved and knew, in order to venture on a new path of life as a missionary. I was nineteen.
In the years of my formation I saw a strong trend to be molded, to strengthen my will and to form my mind. Religious discipline was challenging and enriching at the same time.
The day came when I was to embark on a big boat and leave my family and my country behind as I disappeared into the distance ready to venture into those “far away places”. I was twenty-six.
Rough seas, strong winds have come along throughout the years in different forms and shapes. The journey is at times difficult but the Lord’s love for me and His people and my desire to be used by Him has brought me great joy and a peaceful assurance that He is always with me. I am seventy-one.
By Sr. Adelangela Paita MC
Sr. Cecilia Clara Zamboni
During my teen years I desired very much to learn how to be in touch with God and the mystery of those who gave their lives for something big.
I always went to public school: did my share of laughing, complaining, doing homework and helping in the house. After all, I was the first born of eight children and always had some little brother or sister to carry around or baby-sit. I grew up in Italy right after World War II and life was not easy… but I did not mind. I loved my family and the love and fun we had; what we missed, I did not really see.
At fifteen, I went with my Church group to another city to visit a famous hospital where all those who nobody wanted or were too sick for any cure, were taken care of by religious sisters and brothers. I was very shocked and silenced in seeing, for the first time in my life, so many sick people – young and old – in the same place.
Right before going back on the bus to return home, we went to visit the Chapel of the hospital, and there, in my troubled heart, all of a sudden, I heard like a call: “ What about if you were to offer your life to God to serve people like the ones you have seen today? Does not the Gospel say that whatever you do to a little one you do to God? It was a very clear question: one that I could not dismiss… where was it coming from?
My answer for the moment was quick: “ I am only fifteen years of age, I am in school and need to finish and do well. So much for that!”
All throughout my High School years, the question stayed with me. I said to myself that if God really had a plan for me, it would become clearer. In my junior and senior years (high school for us was five years and tough) school was loosing out as a priority, and I struggled to pass my classes. When I finished, I enrolled myself in College to become a Social Worker. I figured I could do something for others, while sorting out what my life should be. That first year of College was quite hard not for the studies, but for the life-making decisions I was involved with. Was God really calling me, and for what and where? In my Country, the religious women groups were very many, doing all kinds of services. I asked the help of a Priest to sort all those questions out. He asked me to commit myself to pray quietly every day for at least twenty minutes, listening to God in my heart, and he taught me a way to do that. I tried to be faithful. During my first year of College, it became clear to me that God was really asking my life for Himself… Could I give it to Him? Where would I go? What would be the meaning of it all? What would it imply?
In the end, I chose a Missionary Congregation because it seemed to me that it would be the kind of life where I could give God everything: my life, my family, the things that I knew, security… and be only for Him.
So, on November 5, 1959, I joined the Consolata Missionary Sisters, whose Mother House was in Turin, Italy, a city 130 miles away from where I lived. I had never met these Sisters before, but it did not matter because I was really going there for God.
My journey, started so long ago, is still going on…it has taken me to so many places (Kenya, Africa, Michigan and Alabama, USA and so many other Countries around the world), it has led me to encounter so many cultures, touch and be part of so many gifted people, wounded ones as well, and share life with Sisters from around the globe…I could never have imagined it…! I have done so many different things and worked in so many different roles and services…
The real journey, however, the one that has made all the difference, has been coming to know the tender mercy and the awesome faithfulness of our Loving God. To be consoled by God in moments of sadness, when one is not able to be good, when one seems to have lost the vision, when making mistakes, when wanting to quit, has become a real and constant experience of life…in turn, in my smallness, I have hoped to be a presence of consolation among the little people of God. I certainly can say that, if I have been a missionary at all, it’s not for what I said, or taught, or for whatever service I have given, but for what my life stands for: God’ s primacy, His compassion given to everyone, His faithful love, His peacemaking showing through the little things and events of everyday life.
During my retreat in preparation for the celebration of my 25 years of vowed life, in May 1987, in the silence of the cloister of the Visitation Sisters in Mobile, Alabama, God gave the grace to desire intensely to become a better, more committed peacemaker…I have been on this journey of disarming the heart, with all its graces, turmoil, difficulties, risks, and peace, ever since.
My life is full – joys, sorrows, bright and low moments, fulfillments and disappointments, strengths and weaknesses…everything fits perfectly into God’ s design… I regret only my incapacity to love Him more radically; but He loves me as I am, and this is so good!
Life with God is an everyday surprise, an adventure; it is being in love anew with every rising of the sun; coming closer to a Mystery so unspeakable, so profound, so engaging and challenging, so unimaginable, knowing that when one’ s moment to meet him comes, He will be there welcoming us unconditionally. NOTHING COULD BE MORE !!!
If God calls you who are reading this, do not hesitate to say “ YES!”. You will never be sorry.
Sr. Maria Dina Puddu
“Ask and it will be given to you… for everyone who asks receives” Matthew 17:7-8
Jesus’ promise became a reality when I think of the gift of my vocation. My aunt who felt the call to Religious Life had to make the sacrifice of staying home and taking care of my grandmother who had a very precarious health.
My grandparents were very much aware of my aunt’s choice and in their guilt, decided to ask the Lord for the gift of Religious life for one of their grand children.
I remember vividly when every evening as we prayed the rosary together they added a prayer to the Holy Spirit after each mystery. When I was seven or eight years old the teacher of Faith formation taught us how to pray the Rosary, and I realized that my grandparents had added a prayer that made the rosary longer. With this new finding, I went home and told my grandparents that the prayer to the Holy Spirit was not part of the rosary and that we should omit it. My grandparents, with a smile on their faces, told me that they knew it, and one day, they would tell me why, but for the moment they said it was better to continue to pray it and pray it with faith.
As we continued to pray day after day, the Lord had already put in my heart the desire to follow Him in the consecrated life. In my room, I had a special corner in which I spent time in silence talking to Jesus. He became my best friend and filled me with deep joy and peace, and with a desire to consecrate my life to Him. I wanted not only to love Him, but also to go far away where people did not know Him and let them know of his great love for each of them. I wanted to take care of the poor and the orphans; I wanted to teach them to be better persons, I wanted to be a missionary.
One day, when I was ten years old, I disclosed my growing desire to a priest to whom I regularly went for confession. He encouraged me to pray and to prepare myself in the best way I could, and if the Lord was calling me, I would be able to do the things I desired.
When I was sixteen, I wished also to have a large family of my own and I started dating the boys of my age group. To be a mother attracted me, but even the largest family, was not enough for me. The Lord was calling me to embrace a larger family, his family, He was giving me the world.
Just before I finished High School, my grandfather, who was terminally ill, called me one day and asked me what I planned to do with my life. I told him that I wished to become a Missionary. With tears in his eyes he embraced me and said, “ From the time you were one year old, we always prayed the prayer of the Holy Spirit for you that you may be given the gift of a religious vocation and the Lord has blessed you with this Missionary vocation. May the Lord be praised for He answers the prayers of his people”.
By Sr. Maria Dina Puddu
Sr. Maria Provin
God has so many ways of calling his children to follow Jesus’ ways of living and He leaves us free to respond. I consider my call to religious life very simple and yet, amazing. I come from a family that loved and respected God. He was the center of our lives and we always had some time in the evening to pray together.
Since my childhood, religious life has attracted me very much. At home, we had several magazines about vocations, especially the vocation to religious life from my father’s uncle, who was a Franciscan Friar. In one of the magazine there was a prayer for vocations, very lovely to me. Frequently, instead of doing my chores around the house, I would get lost looking through those magazines, praying the prayer for vocations and wondering how religious life would be. Another thing that has enchanted me was that in the magazines there were some pictures of mothers praying to God asking him to call one of their children to religious life and I wondered if my mother also was praying for me like those in the pictures.
One day in my class a priest came to talk about priesthood and religious life. I became even more enthusiastic about my vocation, but I did not say anything to the priest. I felt that I would need more time to hear and think about it. Another thing that helped me to make my decision to become a Consolata Missionary Sister was that I had a cousin in the seminary studying to become a Consolata Missionary priest. Near the seminary there was the Consolata Sisters’ convent. Coming home for vacation, my cousin talked about how good and holy the Sisters were. He also talked about their prayer life, their work in the school and parish and even about their traveling to other countries as Missionaries. I still did not say anything to anyone, but I had already made up my mind to become one of them.
One day, before the school year began, I told my mother about my intention to be a Consolata Missionary Sister. Surprised, she looked at me and after a while said I should wait and pray because I was only 13 years old. I needed to take time to see if God was really calling me to follow this vocation. I did not want to wait and I kept on insisting day after day that I wanted to go with the Consolata Sisters. My parents, then decided to take me to the to the Sisters, hoping that they would not accept me because of my age. After inquiring about my family, the Sisters said yes. Of course, my heart was overjoyed with such good news and I started preparing all that I needed. My oldest brother opposed me, he did not like the idea of having a sister in the religious life, but I was lucky, my parents took my defense and let me free to follow God’s call.
On February 13, 1959 I said goodbye to my family and joined the Consolata Missionary Sisters formation program. At that time, I did not know exactly all that it meany to be a consecrated person, but I was determined to be one and forever. To me, to be a person consecrated to God and a missionary was the most beautiful goal that I could achieve as a woman. No homesickness or other sacrifices could stop me from following Jesus as a Consolata Missionary Sister.
I am very thankful to God for giving me the gift of a missionary vocation. To follow Jesus and to have Him as the center of my life continues to be my goal. It gives me deep joy and a willingness to serve Him in my ministry.
Sr. Josephine Galbusera
I was born in 1948 and grew up in a small, pretty town North of Italy. During my teenage years I came across an interesting book about the life of a Consolata Sister, which fostered in me an enthusiasm toward a missionary commitment and at nineteen I joined the Consolata Missionary Sisters.
In 1980 I came to the United States and for the last eleven years I have been working with the African-American poor in Greene County, Alabama. The primary purpose of the Consolata Missionary Sisters ministry in this area is to be a presence of Jesus’ love and consolation among the people of every race, color, creed, and belief. Children are very special and dear to my heart. I love and enjoy being around them. Their presence always energizes me, even when I meet them in situations of poverty and neglect as I do here in Greene County.
The Gospel of Luke is the one shaping my spiritual journey and ministry. Luke shows a Jesus that is meek, gentle and merciful. He does not make oppressive laws nor does he force people to follow him out of fear. He is an open-minded person, totally forgiving and with a deep concern for ordinary people: the outcasts, the Gentiles, the poor, the children, the women, and the sinners. Luke assures me that to proclaim the good news of the kingdom (Luke 4:18-19) here in Greene County, is a fundamental gospel call and needs my unconditional contribution in the here and now. Now is the time of compassion, love, prayer, consolation, service, forgiveness, empowerment and inclusion. Now is the time to believe in myself and to be sensitive toward others; to suffer with the suffering and to rejoice with the joyful; to be open and let my world get bigger and bigger; to experience more life and consolation coming from the kingdom lived from the heart.
My gratitude to God for who I am today and for my missionary call as Consolata Sister, a religious-missionary commitment that is really worth living.
Sr. Jo Marie Williams
My name is Sr. Jo Marie Williams. I am the first of twelve children born to Helen and Don Williams.
I never grew up with the idea that one day I would be a missionary. Though, after high school, as I felt more and more the call to give my life to the Lord as a religious I became aware of an unusual desire to share my faith, to share this knowledge that I had of Christ with those who did not yet know Him.
I grew up in St. Alphonsus Parish, which was and still is run by the Redemptorist Fathers, a missionary congregation. Without my realizing it this too may have had a great influence on my missionary vocation. I would eagerly listen to the visiting missionaries share their experiences with us. And I can still remember how willing I was to pray, collect money and make whatever sacrifices were necessary in order to put some pennies into our “Holy Childhood” banks, which would eventually be sent to help the poor children in the mission countries around the world.
The seed of my call to religious life, I believe, was planted by my parents. Throughout my growing years I witnessed the simplicity and sincerity with which they always strove to deepen their own faith. Though they willingly spoke to us of God it was also the witness of their lives that touched us.
My mother was the principal agent in helping me respond to my missionary vocation. In my junior year of High School I was very familiar with two local congregations and so, aware of my call to Religious Life I was trying to discern between these two. Meanwhile in my quest to have a leading role in a play put on by my high school I visited yet another congregation who were to have been Irish Sisters. This I thought would give me an opportunity to learn their Irish accent and get a part in the play. Well, my friend and I soon found out that they were not Irish Sisters but rather Italian Sisters, quite new to this country. We were fascinated by them and willingly listened to what they shared with us. Following that visit my friend decided to abandon her choice of a local congregation and felt pulled by this new missionary order. The Sisters were called Consolata Missionary Sisters. I couldn’t believe what my friend was doing. How could she leave her family and country in order to serve God’s people in a “foreign” country? I certainly would not do that.
I was soon approaching the end of my senior year. What would I do after High School…go to work, continue with college or enter the convent? Though I loved the missionary sisters and felt very much myself around them I couldn’t think of leaving my family or my country for a mission far away. Therefore I decided to enter a local congregation.
When my mother heard from me of my decision she was not very happy. She couldn’t see me in that congregation but she would not tell me why. She simply encouraged me to get a job and continue to pray. “Didn’t I pray enough”, I thought. Well, I had two choices: either listen to my mom and get a job or not listen to her and enter the local congregation. I was confused. Was God using my mother to show me His will or was I to stand firm and proceed? Because of the good relationship I had with my mom I decided to pursue a job. I was hired at a Catholic Hospital and really cut my ties with any of the Sisters I knew. I felt it was important to continue to pray and let God be my guide. During that time the Lord let me know without a doubt that He had a special mission for me and would give me all the strength I needed to pursue this call.
After teaching here in the States from 1971-1985 I was sent to my first foreign mission experience in Kenya, Africa. There I worked as a teacher and pastoral worker for 21 years. It was a beautiful experience that I will never forget. I think that it is important if we can leave our own country at least once in our lifetime in order to really appreciate the culture of another. Presently I am back in the States and now working with women and possibly with young married couples in the future. I thank God for the opportunity He has given me in my life and above all for having given me the courage to trust Him to show me His way.
A vocation is not of my choosing but of God’s. He created me for a purpose and it is up to me to discover that purpose.
Sr. Christopher David Rizzon
My Vocation Story
When I was 10 years old, thoughts of a calling ran through my mind, but they were never expressed vocally. Our Lady always had a strong influence on my prayer life. My friend Beth and I were four when we started paying daily visits to the Lourdes Grotto located on the side of St. Isidore’s Church. She prayed for a brother and since I already had two brothers my prayer was for a sister. Instead of a brother, Beth got a very special dog. Three years later my sister joined our family.
I knew very little about the different orders so I simply asked Mary to choose one for me. My Uncle Gasper Dara belonged to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish and I met Sr. Ancilla through him.
When Mother Marguerita paid a visit to the States she gave me a picture post card of Our Lady Consolata and I stuck it in a mirror in my room.
I still had 3 more years of high school and so I gave little thought to any particular order. My friend Beth wanted to work with boys who were treated badly and that started me thinking of the Franciscans but Mary was still in charge so I never sent for any information. During this time I had no more contact with Sr. Ancilla.
Two more years passed and towards the end of my Junior Year my mother asked me to drive her to Our Lady of Sorrows Convent. She wanted the Sisters to pray for some family members.
Sr. Ancilla visited with my mom and I just waited not really following their conversation. The idea of joining a foreign missionary congregation never crossed my mind. We were going out the door when I turned to Sr. Ancilla and said, “How can I become a Sister like you?” Both my mother and Sister were speechless… and so was I. Mother Celsa’s telephone number was given to me.
After graduating a year later I left for Italy to begin my Postulant formation at Sanfre’ in Italy. Later I became part of the first International group of novices in Nepi.
During these three years many more Sisters crossed my path. Four of these Sisters had known the Founder of the Consolata Sisters personally and through their love, guidance and friendship, which continued even after I returned to the States, helped prepare me to say “yes Lord” to whatever He would ask of me.
My hopes and dreams of going to the missions was shattered after I was diagnosed with post-polio and had to walk with braces and crutches. Mother Zaveria disagreed with the Doctors here in the States so in 1974 I returned to Italy to be checked out at another hospital, Molinetti, a neuro-center in Turin, Italy. Mother Zaveria was correct. I did not have post-polio but rather M.S. At this time I had never even heard of the disease.
Shortly after the braces were removed and I began an extensive patient treatment I went into remission. Sr. Paolina had just returned from Brazil and Mother Zaveria asked her to oversee my rehabilitation program which lasted a good year. During this time Mother Zaveria brought Sr. Rosamilia and Fr. Merlo Pick into my life. These two helped deepen and strengthen my inner prayer life, enriched by their personal experience with our beloved Father Founder. The missionary flame that was planted in my soul years ago as a young novice in Nepi was rekindled and I left for Kenya a year later.
During my mission experience I had the privilege of spending time with Sisters like Sr. Efrem, Sr. Christiana, Sr. Roswitha and many other who were true examples of Consolata Missionary Sisters. Mother Zaveria had also returned to Kenya and the bond which took root when I was a postulant and novice in Italy only deepened. All of these Sisters showed me a different path to reach my inner prayer life.
The path of life is filled with love and crosses but His grace is never lacking. His Beloved Mother, under the title of Consolata, keeps us close so we do not focus on individual struggles. We come face to face with endless souls who need to be re-united to Our Lord and His Mother. One way is to help them experience His True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
Father Founder also says that “a missionary vocation is not a spur of the moment decision, but a calling from all eternity.” I did not merit this grace. He loved me and each one of His missionaries individually.