Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

India trip leads to realization of vocation to Religious life

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 1, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Sheila Donovan will become a member of the Missionaries of Charity later this year. The Religious community was founded by Mother Teresa. (IR photo)

World travel can be life-changing. Ask Sheila Donovan of Spokane who, after a trip to India a year ago, will join the contemplative branch of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Living with the Sisters in a foreign land allowed Donovan the time to discern a call to Religious life, a possibility she “had had no thought of whatsoever.”

Donovan spent a year in Calcutta, working at Daya Dan, the Missionaries of Charity’s orphanage. In the Bengali language, Daya Dan means “Gift of Mercy.”

“I’ve always loved Mother Teresa,” she said about her decision to travel to India.

At the orphanage Donovan and the other volunteers helped the children. They ranged in age from birth to 17, and were afflicted with all kinds of physical and mental disabilities. Donovan said they would tend to the children’s basic needs such as bathing, feeding and changing them. “We also played simple games and did artwork to stimulate them,” she said.

Donovan also did other work at Mother Teresa’s facilities. She worked a few times a week at Kalighat, the Sisters’ home for the dying, and spent some time assisting in the office that is working to promote Mother Teresa’s cause for official sainthood.

Once she got past the cultural shock – “it was very overwhelming the first month” – she soon entered into the rhythm of life at the Missionaries’ facilities. Donovan said she loved the Sisters and their simple way of living.

One of Mother Teresa’s rules for her Sisters was that they spend an hour a day in Eucharistic Adoration, believing that daily Mass and Adoration are the foundation for a life of service. That became part of Donovan’s life, too, and was one of the major factors in her decision to join the Missionaries.

One particular memory that stands out for Donovan is when she went to stay with the contemplative Missionaries of Charity in Pokhara, Nepal. It was during a two-hour period of prayer that she finally “fell in love with Jesus and wanted to give my whole life to him.”

Even so, as she finally became aware of what God was asking of her life, she “dug in her heels a bit,” saying “please don’t let it be this kind of life.” Finally, she said, “I consecrated myself to Our Lady and I found the courage” to answer God’s call as she discerned it.

After her return to the United States, Donovan went to work at St. Anne Children’s Home in Spokane. She quit there in April to spend time with her family before leaving for New York, “hopefully in August,” she said. She will spend one to two years with the Sisters in the Bronx and then will move to the Sisters’ facility in Plainfield, N.J. where, after three years, she will make her first vows.

Donovan said after that, she will “get sent somewhere.” The Missionaries of Charity can be found all over the world. Final vows will come five years later.

The Missionaries live simple lives – no television sets or even washing machines – and Dono-van’s work will be prayer and adoration.

The Sisters depend entirely on the generosity of others for their subsistence. While she can receive letters and phone calls from her family, she won’t get to come home again for 10 years.

One sign that Donovan might be on the right track with her vocation was the payment of her students loans. Canon law does not allow people to enter Religious life unless they have no debts. “I owed $23,000 in student loans,” she said. Through the generosity of parishioners in north Spokane parishes, Donovan became debt-free in four-and-a-half months.

The 24-year-old Spokane native is a social work major who graduated from the University of Portland in 2001. After graduation she had thought she might go into teaching. She is a graduate of Mead High School and confesses she was just “an ordinary Catholic kid growing up.”

As she waits for her acceptance, Donovan continues to deepen her spiritual life. She has a strong support group in her family and friends, with whom she prays and plays. She assists with youth groups at St. Mary and at St. Francis Xavier parishes.

Her parents are Tim and Suzy Donovan of Spokane and she has two older brothers and a younger sister. “They’ve been supportive of my decision.” Donovan said.

Nevertheless, Donovan’s decision to enter the contemplative life is at times “scary,” she said. “I feel like a young bride feels before she gets married. But I am mostly at peace with it.

“I believe with my whole heart this is what Jesus wants me to do.”

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