Vocation Stories

Sister Thérèse Haydel, OSB


It would be far from the truth to say that either the desire or the decision to become a Sister was a “given,” although, in truth, both have been God-given gifts. Growing up in a Roman Catholic family and attending Catholic schools staffed by women religious were strong influences in my life, but the internal nudge that directed my thoughts and interest toward religious life definitely came from some mysterious and deeply-hidden spring.


I was in first grade the first time that I ever expressed an interest in becoming a Sister. I loved my first grade teacher, Sister Gerard Leahy, O.P., and I wanted to be like her. After school one day I told my older brother that I wanted to be a Sister like Sister Gerard. His response to me was, “You can’t do that!” Needless to say, I was crushed; however, I retained a speck of hope that he could be wrong and that it might be possible. I kept this little speck well hidden, not sharing my thoughts or hopes with anyone for a long time.


It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I shared my interest in religious life with my parents. They were cautiously supportive, emphasizing their wish that I at least finish college before making any final decisions. At this point in my discernment journey, nothing was clear. A nebulous desire continued to manifest itself in my thoughts and desires while I continued to live life like an ordinary American teenager.


After graduating from St. Mary’s Dominican High School in New Orleans, LA, I attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL. The Catholic identity of the Jesuit institution attracted me very much, yet it seemed to me a work of God that made attending Spring Hill financially possible. Sensitive to the possibility that “God has a plan for me,” I became more serious about entertaining religious life as an option. Prayerfully, I even made a deal with God on a retreat during my first semester: “I’ll do whatever it is that you want me to do, but you have to give me something more specific to work with. I give you a year to make your will known to me or I’m going to go my own way.” God heard my prayer and took it seriously. Opportunities opened up for me that I never expected, and I was more at peace with the mystery of God’s loving will unfolding.


During my four years in college, I learned much about prayer and theology. I learned about good friendships. I kept my options open. I continued to ask, “Yes, Lord, but where?”


I discerned seriously with a small Dominican community in my home state of Louisiana for a couple of years, thinking that my many years of Dominican education might have been providential in that way. However, in the spring of my senior year I experienced an unexpected “shift” in my inner self that seemed to indicate that this path was not God’s choice for me. All of a sudden, it no longer felt right, and this was difficult to explain to the vocation director with whom I was in dialogue.


It was around this same time that I was introduced to a Benedictine Sister from Cullman, who came to Spring Hill for a lecture. There was a period of time in which she taught English courses at Spring Hill. My theology advisor and spiritual director made it a point to introduce me to her after the lecture. Sister Marian Davis, upon hearing that I did some volunteer work the previous summer stated, “Well, there is always some work needing to be done at the monastery.” After exchanging letters multiple times, I surprisingly committed myself to a two-week stay for volunteer work the following summer. I had no vocational interest in monasticism whatsoever but kept myself open to whatever God had in mind.


What I did not expect was to find myself so naturally “at home” in the monastery environs once I arrived. The rhythm of prayer, work, and community felt more natural than anything else I had ever experienced. I found myself equally shocked and excited. I asked God, “Was this what you have had in mind all along?” Recalling the deal I had made with God years earlier, I prayed with trusting hope, “Lord, if this is what you want, you need to make it happen. I don’t know how to explain this to my family. And I do not know how my student loans are going to get paid. But I trust that you have a plan for that, too.”


Before leaving Cullman, I formally asked the Prioress to be an affiliate. At the beginning of November I called to inquire about beginning the application process. In April, I received formal approval to enter the community as a postulant the following August. Everything I worried about fell into place with little trouble at all. It seemed surreal yet certain.


Over the last twenty years of my monastic life, the mysterious, deeply-hidden spring has continued to nourish me.

 

Sr. Therese currently ministers as Assistant Director of Benedictine Manor, serves on the Vocation Team, Finance Committee, Liturgy Committee, on the Board of Hope Horses, and teaches in the Initial Formation program. She also finds time to pursue her interests in photography and art.


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