Serve the Lord with Joy
Mother Mary Timothea Elliot, RSM
Vocation stories begin at Baptism. I was born to parents who treasured their faith and was taken to the parish Church for Baptism when I was about two weeks old. One of my earliest memories is of kneeling between my parents and praying night prayers before being tucked into bed. I also have recollections of Sunday Masses when I was held aloft in my father’s arms so that I could see the altar. My parents provided twelve years of Catholic education in schools which were at that time completely staffed with teaching Sisters. My faith was nourished there. I had a great aunt and three cousins who were Sisters, and an uncle who was a priest, so the concept of a religious vocation was familiar to me.
Until I was eleven this faith rested on the Baltimore Catechism and more challenging material in High School. One sunny June day when I was eleven years old, the secure foundation of faith took a dramatic shift. A brother, only twenty months older than I, died. We had been very close from childhood and I was totally shattered. My parents were so grief-stricken that they wouldn’t speak about him nor could I talk about him to them when I saw how much it pained them.
So, I began to speak with God, not in prayers that I had learned from memory, but with tears of hurt and loneliness, with questions and wonder. At times I was filled with fear that God who gave us life could also take life away so suddenly, fear of the awesomeness of God. As I matured into my High School Years, the fear lessened and the reality of the supernatural world opened. Prayer deepened into a more intimate relationship to a Father who loved me, who had a plan for my life, and to Jesus Christ my treasure
One evening, as I was reading in my room, I was suddenly filled with an experience of Christ’s love that was overwhelming. I knew that he was calling me to be all his own, and forever, and that no one or no thing could match that love. I knew that I was called to be a Religious, but not how or when or whether to a contemplative or active community. Discernment over the remaining years of High School made it very clear.
I attended Our Lady Mercy High School in Detroit, Michigan, taught by the Religious Sisters of Mercy. They were remarkably joyous women and obviously loved and cared for each other. I was drawn to the day to day unfailing joy that I saw in them, and upon graduation entered the Institute of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1955
However, a vocation story does not end with the act of entering a Religious Community. The unfolding of the vocation takes a life time. Sixty-two years have passed quickly. The six years of basic formation were perhaps the easiest, although there were some very purifying sufferings in that time. The living out of the profession of vows, the daily “Yeses” to new assignments, the challenges, the joys and sorrows along the way, these are the realities that unfold the mysteries of God’s plans for our life and our sharing in his mission which He entrusts to us.
In these years I have been given an extraordinary education through a College degree, a Masters in Theology, a Doctorate in Sacred Scripture, and Certification for Spiritual Direction. I have had the delight of teaching just about every grade level, of preparing children for their First Communion and Confirmation, and teaching in Colleges, Universities and Seminaries. This education, provided by my Religious Community, has enabled me to participate in extensive expressions of the apostolates of Mercy.
Life in Community has been a joy and a strength, especially when particular assignments “seemed” beyond my human limitations. However, they all turned out to be experiences of trust and growth, and mere preparations for assignments to come. Seven years I was entrusted with basic formation of postulants, novices, and Sisters in Temporary Vows. Participation in the re-founding of our renewed Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan based upon the original charism of Venerable Catherine McAuley after Vatican II, preceded seventeen years of study and teaching in Rome. Long summers permitted travel and teaching in Germany, France, England, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines, Kenya, and throughout the United States.
Twenty years of teaching in three Seminaries, involvement in the formation of future priests and permanent deacons, and over twenty years of accompanying persons in their spiritual growth through Spiritual Direction has been a challenge and mutually enriching apostolate.
Eight years ago I left the confines of a typical classroom to take up Christian Formation for the wider classroom of the entire Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Now, in “retirement” I continue serving in teaching, giving retreats, days of reflection, parish conferences, spiritual direction, writing, etc. at a slightly slower pace. Prayer and community life continue to be a joy and a strength.