My name is Sister Cathy Lynn. I am a Franciscan Sister of St. Elizabeth. I reside in Parsippany, New Jersey at the Delegate House of our Community. I serve as principal at our school St. Elizabeth Nursery and Montessori School. We educate and care of children from age 2.5 years old through grade 6. I recently completed two terms as the secretary for the Diocesan Pastoral Council for the Paterson Diocese. In the past I have volunteered to teach CCD in local parishes in the Paterson Diocese at both the kindergarten and high school levels.
I was born in Massachusetts and my family moved to sunny south Florida when I was entering middle school. I have always loved the outdoors and especially loved the warmth of the southern sun. I was not always a religious sister. In fact, I spent sixteen years following college graduation working as a public school teacher plus a part time adjunct professor teaching at the graduate level at a university in south Florida. I worked hard, loved my jobs and eventually saved enough money to buy myself a house. There my two little dogs and I lived happily for ten years. I loved working in my yard, tending my flower garden, mowing the lawn and sitting out on the patio. My favorite sport was paddle ball. It is a game similar to racket ball but played outside. It is fast and requires concentration, speed and accuracy (and muscles).
I was raised in a family that identified itself as Catholic, but never-practicing. My brother and I were driven each week to CCD classes, but that was the extent of our “church going”. When we moved to Florida we were once again enrolled in CCD since I had not yet been confirmed. The parish had a new young priest assigned to serve. He wanted to get a youth group started so he very cleverly started to combine CCD classes and CYO activities. You were never quite sure which you were attending at first. Finally the CYO formed and I tagged along. Eventually I became very involved in the CYO playing sports, attending civic and cultural activities and participating in weekend retreats. I was also involved at the ripe age of sixteen starting to teach CCD beginning at the first grade then second grade preparing students for First Holy Communion and the high school level. Plus for a while I ran a CCD children’s choir, taught at Summer Bible School and more. I guess you could say I threw myself into my parish.
At the same time, ironically as I was walking out of Mass which I very rarely attended, I was put on the spot and asked if I wanted to learn how to play guitar then eventually play at a newly forming guitar folk Mass each week. Back then playing guitar was a cool thing, so I said yes. I borrowed a guitar from a lady I babysat for until I could save my money from babysitting and working part time at a gift shop to purchase a guitar. Many years later, that same guitar is still being used at our convent.
I enjoyed learning how to play guitar and the friendships developed in the guitar group helped shape who I became. I never believed we would end up playing at Mass, but sure enough, after only six or so months of lessons, we teens, along with our teacher started playing music and leading the singing at the Sunday night 7PM Mass… and the rest is history. I was hooked. I fell in love with the Eucharist. Eventually as we grew older, members went away to college and moved on and I took over the leadership role of the group. When I went back to school for a graduate degree I stepped down and put the music on hold. Unfortunately I also put God on hold and stopped attending Mass regularly.
This holding pattern lasted several months after graduation and then I started to get a gnawing feeling. It was strange the friend I carpooled with to work said one morning that she and her family needed to get back into going to Church each week. It was like a slap in the face and I knew I needed to get back to Church too. This time I stayed. In fact, after a few years I once again began playing guitar at Mass and continued until I joined the convent.
Life for me at that time was a bustling time of activity. I enjoyed socializing and going out with friends yet I also enjoyed quiet nights at home. I enjoyed camping, except for the night an alligator visited the campsite next to my tent and chomped down on their dinner trash, but that is a story for another time.
As life went on, I suddenly started feeling different, nothing in a bad way, just different and I couldn’t say why. I just was not as interested in doing things that before were fun to do. I seemed to be pulling away from my friends. Slowly I did not get excited to go out or hang out as I always did in the past. Something was happening to me and I did not know what it was. The only indication I had at that point of something “good” happening was that I started to pray, daily. Each night before I went to bed I would meditate and pray. It got to where I would not go to bed without taking time to pray, even if I did not get home until well after midnight, I still had to take the time to pray.
I finally confided with a parish priest about how I was feeling. His first comment was, “I was wondering what was happening to you”. See he also played guitar at Mass so he had gotten to know me pretty well. He never said anything to me until I opened up to him. He directed me to keep praying and to start contacting religious communities for he thought I had a religious vocation. To be very honest, I was extremely scared. After all, I had a successful teaching career (I had been Teacher of the Year several times, won a state level teaching award plus other accolades), I owned a home and two cute little dogs; I had friends and a social life. I did not know any religious sisters or any religious brothers. This couldn’t be happening to me, especially since my name had just been suggested for a new position in the field of education working under an $8 million dollar grant. How could God allow this to happen, especially at this point in my life?
I felt like I was battling with God. I prayed and prayed and I put up a good fight offering every excuse possible as to why I should not be a sister, starting with “I’m not holy enough, I never attended Mass until I was a teen!”, but I lost the battle, God won but in the end I think we both won.
I contacted many religious communities, read about them and spoke to some. I visited a few communities. I found I felt very drawn to Franciscan communities. There was always such a special joy and warmth in Franciscan convents. After much praying, thinking and talking, or in vocation terms “discerning” I requested entrance in the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth. I guess the one point I forgot to mention was, by then I was in my mid-thirties, but the community welcomed me with open arms. Often I read about people in their thirties and older seeking to enter religious life and they are referred to as “late vocations”. I have never thought of myself as a “late vocation”. I have always looked at my entering religious life in my thirties as God gave me the opportunity to have some great experiences and time to gain knowledge that I can use while serving Him in my community.
So now I can happily say I am serving and loving God in a completely different way than I did earlier in my life. Now after school, instead of picking grapefruit in my backyard or playing a game of paddle ball, I am spending that time adoring my beloved Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during a daily Holy Hour. Instead of eating quietly by myself day after day at an empty dining room table, I indulge in entertaining conversations with 24 other religious sisters at our convent.
Yes, my life has changed and has evolved but I would not swap out any part of it. I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching career, I learned much from the experiences I shared with both my young elementary students and my graduate students and I now adore serving God through His people in so many different ways. I can truly say I am a soul that has been blessed. I feel God has embraced me and trusted me and has allowed me to have experienced both sides of life. There is no argument in my heart now for serving our dear loving Lord is the best! As St. Ludovico of Casoria once said, “Ask in prayer for zeal in work, love in God in encounters, in toils, in anguish and in contradictions, and exclaim always: either love, or die of love.” I pray I can live up to this command.