Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Vocation to Religious life ‘was born and nurtured in community’
by Katie Harris, for the Inland Register
(From the November 17, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
Katie Harris (center) with her parents, Mary and Todd, and Father Pedro Bautista-Peraza, pastor of Katie’s home parish of St. Paul the Apostle in Eltopia, Wash. (IR photo courtesy of Father Pedro Bautista-Peraza)
A vocation calls you outside of yourself to something – Someone – bigger than you. Jesus’ words, “Come, follow me,” are a call to give yourself radically and totally for love. When you answer such a call, you are never alone. You commit to love and serve God in community, whether that be a family, a parish, a Religious community, or the whole Church.
So it makes sense that my own vocation to Religious life was born and nurtured in community. The seed was planted at my baptism, when my parents and Godparents claimed me for Christ. At that moment, I was set apart as a child of God and entered the universal community of the Church.
I also entered a loving Catholic family, as the second of six children. My parents chose to homeschool us, so we had freedom to learn our faith at home. But even more valuable were the lessons in love and service that were taught in our little “domestic Church.” Dad worked hard and long hours in the grass seed industry in the Columbia Basin, while Mom ordered curriculum, taught lessons and ran the household. Early on I learned what love looks like: folding laundry, changing dirty diapers, making dinner. Love must be put into action, but that doesn’t mean you have to perform great deeds. Little, everyday things suffice, even if they go unseen, if they are motivated by love.
My family has always been active at our local parishes. When I was 4, we moved across the river from the Yakima to the Spokane Diocese and began attending Mass at St. Vincent Parish in Connell. Some of my earliest memories of going to church are of Father Gene Tracy’s rousing homilies and my classes in the church basement. My mom started teaching religious education classes and my dad joined the local Knights of Columbus. We soon felt the joys of being part of such a close-knit parish family. Everyone gave something, whether it was singing in the choir, serving at Mass, directing the Christmas play, or working with children at Vacation Bible School and RE. It was the kind of parish where everyone brought a casserole or salad to a funeral and friendships were formed and grew outside of Sunday Mass. Even as a young girl, the many examples of self-giving that I witnessed at St. Vincent had an impact on me. I was inspired to give of my own time, talent and treasure in the same way.
After seven years in Connell, my family moved to Eltopia and St. Paul Parish. The small farming community made for an even smaller parish family, but that just meant it was easier to get to know each other. It also meant that nearly everyone had a part to play. I have fond memories of Father Richard Poole’s church history lessons at high school RE, the big annual dinner and auction after harvest, and ornament-making on Advent Day. Again, everyone had something to give, and no small thing was left undone. St. Paul had its quirks, like every parish does, but when help or a good meal or even a smile was needed, you could never say the folks at St. Paul didn’t give it.
As my brothers and sisters and I grew up, we started to pitch in with our parents. My older sister and I taught Sunday school and did music at VBS in the summer. My younger brother taught himself how to play the guitar and started to play in the choir at Mass. I began to understand how serving cannot be done begrudgingly or merely to check off volunteer hours or even because it is necessary. Service is a way of life. We are meant to live and love in imitation of Jesus, who bent down to wash his disciples’ feet and who loved us to the end on the cross.
In 2006, I left home to start my freshman year at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. I felt called to spend my college years growing in my faith and discovering God’s will for my life, and Franciscan University definitely nurtured that desire. Of course, I thought “God’s will for my life” would include marrying a great Catholic guy and raising children together. That was all that I knew. As I grew in my relationship with the Lord, I began to realize that he may be calling me to something entirely different: Religious life. And yet it was the same. It was the same call to love and to serve. I would still be a spouse and a mother, except that my spouse would be Jesus and my spiritual children would include anyone I prayed for or ministered to. I could give my whole self, holding nothing back.
On campus, I encountered a beautiful Religious community, the Franciscan Sisters, Third Order Regular of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. They are a small contemplative-active order founded in 1988 in Steubenville. I knew them first because of their work with students on campus, but they also serve the poor and homeless in the downtown area through a thrift store and soup kitchen ministries. All of the Sisters exuded the joy of knowing the Lord, and I couldn’t resist it. During my junior year, I visited their monastery for a discernment retreat, and I returned a year later to experience their way of life. I knew that their rhythm of prayer, work, ministry and fraternal life was exactly what I was looking for, so soon after I began the application process. On Aug. 14, 2011, I finally entered the Fran-ciscan Sisters as a candidate.
The life is challenging, but I couldn’t be happier. Of course, it was scary leaving home, and I miss my family and parish and all I left behind, but I feel I’ve finally begun the adventure of love that everything until now prepared me for. To the outside world, my life here at this quiet monastery in Ohio probably seems like anything but an adventure. I fold laundry, clean bathrooms, cook and pray all day. I visit a nursing home once a week and play board games with my Sisters on Saturday night. But these little things are beautiful and great when they are done with love. In each new day, I discover the Lord’s love for me and I am given the courage to love and serve my Sisters and all those I encounter.
I am so thankful to all those who showed me how to follow the Lord’s call to love and service - especially my family, friends and parish family. My prayer is that everyone may have the courage to follow the Lord in the particular way he calls them. You may never know who looks to you to witness the Gospel call to love and serve.