Felician Sisters of North America: Sister Desiré

Sister Desiré on pilgramage

“God’s call to religious life was like an invitation. It started out as a simple thought in the back of my mind. When I was young I would read about saints like St. Teresa of Ávila or St. Catherine of Siena and I would think to myself, “It would be amazing to live that kind of life.” That was it. A simple thought. Then I met the Felician Sisters on a 100-mile walking pilgrimage and I saw a depth in them that I knew I longed for. I saw it in their relationship with God, with each other, and with those around them. I knew I would regret getting married if I never gave religious life a chance, so after spending some time with the Felician Sisters, I entered the Felician Congregation after graduating with my Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education.

I could have visited other communities, but I loved the Felicians as soon as I met them. They were helping me to see my life and talents for what they were – gifts from God to be shared with others. I was a dancer, and to me dance had always been a performance, but they showed me that it could be a prayer. To see such meaning in something that had only been entertainment before told me these were the women I needed to journey with. God had placed them on my path at just the right time – at a time when I could see the difference between how I was living my life and how I wanted to live my life, a time when I was ready to start making serious decision about my future – so I didn’t question it.

An immediate blessing I received when I entered was a sense of peace. It told me I was right where I belonged. It kept me going even in the challenges. One challenge in particular was not being home with my two younger sisters. My sister, who is just a few years younger than I am, had two children while I was a novice and I could not be there for her. My other sister was barely five years old, and I felt like I was missing out on her childhood. At the same time, this gift of peace told me that I was where I needed to be – for my sake, and for theirs. Just as my life was in God’s hands, I knew theirs were, too.

Something that has brought me closer to God in my journey is creativity. In my prayer life I take time to listen to God through my art and writing. I used to just pick up a brush or pencil and create what I wanted, but now I wait until there is an energy inside me, urging me to create. That is God’s way of speaking with me. When I have something to say to God, I dance. It is in this depth of meaningful creativity that my relationship with God grows.

It is also in this creativity that I feel God working in and through me. I share myself and God with others mostly through my love of dance, through crafts that I teach or share, and through correspondence in many forms. I have taught choreography and ballet to women in Haiti; I make and sell rosaries that benefit a young woman in the Philippines; and I take the time to stay in touch with people through my gift of writing. All of these activities touch upon the creativity God has given me, and enable me to share myself and God with those around me.

Where I see God at work in my community is in my sisters and their commitment to the life they have chosen. It’s the depth of relationship I saw from the beginning, and it leads the sisters in a continual giving of self. For example, we have food pantries with mobile trucks for remote areas; after-school programs in neighborhoods with bad reputations; and sisters living among the individuals and families they serve. We are committed to God, to each other, and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

When COVID-19 showed up in the United States, I had no idea how much it would impact my life. As a vocation director my days were constantly full of people and travel. With COVID everything I did went online. Instead of visiting a school or youth group, I was now being invited to Zoom call after Zoom call with groups from all over the country. While I was happy to continue my ministry in some way, I was really missing the beauty and energy of being with people in person.

I fought the “new normal” for a while, hoping like so many others to have things go back to the way they were. But as time goes on, I’m glad humanity has had to look at how we’ve been living and how possible it is to change. For example, travel has slowed down tremendously because of the pandemic, which has shown us how much of our travel before was unnecessary. I’m sure it has given the environment a chance to breathe, so maybe instead of going back to frequent travel, we can continue to “gather” virtually when possible so that we don’t continue our overconsumption of fossil fuels.

I feel similarly about the current struggle for racial justice. While I wish we didn’t have to see the violence taking place toward black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC), I’m glad we can’t look away. It’s all over the news and our social media pages because it’s something we need to look. Not the violence itself, but the issue. Why go back to the way things were? Because it’s more comfortable? For who? The conversations around racism aren’t easy for anyone, but I’m glad we’re having them. Will it continue to be difficult? I’m sure it will. Transformation is never easy, but it is always necessary and it seems like both COVID and the recent heightened awareness of BIPOC issues are both invitations to transformation.

For anyone finding it hard to keep faith right now, I’ve learned it helps to remember God’s picture is much bigger than mine. First of all, each one of us has a very limited perspective. We can only see things in certain ways because of our limited personal experiences, whether it’s culture, family background, socioeconomic status, etc. So while I may be focused on a certain details – even something as big as a collective trauma – I have to keep in mind that God’s picture includes infinite other details in addition, like healing and change that awaits us in the future, but which we are not yet able to see.

Secondly, I know that I have to be honest with God, but also do the hard work of finding where God is even in the pain. For example, when I first heard of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, I was filled with grief and anger and I didn’t hold back from God. I asked him why he would let something like that happen. I even blamed him, but if anyone can handle a hurting heart, it’s God. So God let me rail and rant, but slowly, I started to see the good in the midst of the pain. I saw people sending and signing petitions, calling for justice. I saw people stand up and work for justice no matter what others said. And that’s when I saw God. I had to look past the hurt, but there he was, in the courage and compassion of the just. Sometimes it’s easy to see God and sometimes it’s not, so when it isn’t easy, we just have to work a bit harder.

I am so glad this platform provides an opportunity for Catholics all over the world to learn and love and grow together. If I could think of anything to say to an international audience, it’s important to remember what we’ve learned from the pandemic and the awareness of racism all over the world – no one is “untouchable”. We are all vulnerable, all capable of experiencing tragedy and disaster. But just the same, we are all vulnerable together, which makes us capable of greatness. Despite the divisions our governments, structures, or countries may try to create, let us continue reaching out to one another. Let us continue to share faith, hope and healing across the borders in whatever way we are able. Perhaps that is by reading literature about great people from other nations; or maybe by remaining active on platforms such as this one; perhaps even starting Zoom groups where people around the world can pray and learn together. No matter what, unity is possible because as we know, “with God, all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26).”

Sister Desiré is a Felician Sister of North America, dancer, writer, and so much more! To continue to follow her journey, you can check out her blog and her Instagram.

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