By Sister Bernadette Radek, M.S.
It has always been a delightful experience for me to listen to how God has worked in the lives of men and women in calling them to the priesthood and religious life. No two stories are even remotely similar. In my own call to religious life, I never had the experience of searching or anguishing over whether I was called to religious life or not. For some reason the Lord spared me of that. I know that for some it has been a long, drawn-out battle saying “yes” to God’s call.
My home parish is St. Joseph in Geneva. The seed of a vocation was planted in my little soul at the tender age of 4. I remember it distinctly as if it happened last week. I was in church before Sunday Mass. I saw the sisters walking to their place in the front of church. I remember asking my mother about them and my response to her answer was, “I want to be one, too.” From that time on the little seed of the vocation took root. With a dish towel on my head, I often played being a sister. Once I started school, I loved being around the sisters.
One day when I was in the first grade, I was playing a little close to the rectory during recess and did not notice our dear pastor, Father Gilroy, sitting on the porch. He called me up and I sat on the chair beside him. He asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course my answer came quickly. I remember him being so kind and encouraging to me in my vocation. I see now that Father was watering the little plant of my vocation.
The years went by, but I never lost that vision of being a religious. My hand always shot up when the class was asked if anyone in the room wanted to be a priest or sister. There was never a doubt in my mind.
My parents had good Catholic magazines in our home. I would search the vocation ads in them and dream about whether I wanted to be a missionary or teacher. When I was a sophomore in high school, with my parents’ approval, I applied to be an aspirant with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Everything was in order, except that I needed a recommendation from our pastor, Father Ulenberg.
Father Ulenberg was my first experience of running into a brick wall in my pursuit of a vocation. He would not give me a recommendation. He said, “St. Louis is too far away. You will get so homesick that you will leave, and that will be the end of your vocation. Why don’t you think about entering the new order in Lincoln, the Mercy Sisters of St. Francis, (now the Marian Sisters)?”
I was terribly disappointed and told him I was not interested in the new order. I went home crying. Little did I realize that Father was safeguarding the tender plant of my vocation!
I finished high school and got a job in Lincoln. On our way home, the day I got the job, we decided to stop at St. Thomas Orphanage since I had not been there before. I had no idea that the Mercy Sisters of St. Francis staffed the orphanage. As the old adage goes, “It was love at first sight.”
I knew, without the slightest doubt, that this was where God wanted me. I wanted to be a pioneer sister in this new community. When I got back home, I wrote a letter to the sisters. They wrote back and I responded. Rather than write again, the sisters came to visit me.
The entrance date was in two weeks, and I told them I would be there. When my parents came home, the sisters were still visiting me. My news was a shock to them but they gracefully met the challenge of the moment. Mom prepared a feast before the sisters returned to Lincoln, and Dad visited with Mother Marta in Czech. (That made me a bit nervous, to say the least!).
When I went back to Father Ulenberg for a recommendation, he did not say “I told you so” but rather handed me a recommendation letter in an unsealed envelope so I could read it. It was a very beautiful recommendation.
I have nothing but praise and thanksgiving for all those good priests and sisters who were instruments in nurturing my vocation. I am grateful to my parents who were so very supportive in being willing to give a daughter to the service of the Lord. They never stood in my way but rather prayed that I would make the right decision.
My years as a religious in the Marian Sisters of the Diocese of Lincoln have been exciting and wonderful. I praise the Lord each and every day for his gift to me of a vocation to religious life.