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From Convert to Convent

Sister Mary Bethany
(Sister Katherine Zeitler)

I’m normal! Really! I was just like any other fifteen-year old girl! Except for one thing…. I wrote love letters to God!  One day when I was in high school, my dearest friend popped the infamous question, “You’re not going to become a NUN, are you!?” What a silly question that was! And I had an equally silly answer,“That’s impossible!  I’m not even Catholic!”

Apparently I had yet to read, “With God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26)  After high school, I went off to Goucher College determined to become Roman Catholic.  My freshman year, during the Easter Vigil 2000, I received the Triple Threat -- Grand Slam selection of Catholic Sacraments J Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion!  Suddenly the “I’m not even Catholic” part of my answer became even sillier…

I realized then, and I know now, that the most important thing for me to do in life is to become a saint.  To do so I need to grow in holiness and achieve sanctity by uniting my will to Christ and living the life He has called me to, be it a married, single, or religious vocation.

Somehow even back then I had an inkling I was being called to be a Sister.  At first it was easy to reject these perpetually recurring, and sometimes downright annoying, thoughts.   I came up with great excuses! “I’m not worthy!” was one of my faves. These excuses only last so long…. Eventually I began to realize that no one is ever truly worthy of Christ and all He has done.  And hiding from Him doesn’t make us any more worthy! 

During my sophomore year, the Holy Spirit infused in me enough guts to share these thoughts with a priest, who later became my spiritual director.  Through his counsel and a lot of internet “research,” I found a number of religious orders that seemed to fit my desires and interests.   I also determined some criteria to aid me in my search for the “perfect fit.”  I desired most of all a Community in which:
  1. Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, is the source and summit of the life.
  2. True devotion to Our Lady is central.
  3. Faithfulness to the teachings of the Holy Father and Church teaching are a given.
  4. A habit is worn, as a witness to the world of consecration to Christ.

The first community I fell in love with was a teaching order from Nashville, TN: the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia.  I was greatly impressed with the Nashville Dominican website. Wow, Sisters in full-length, white habits, and 15 decade Rosaries! They definitely seemed happy!

While I loved this community, at the recommendation of my spiritual director, I knew it would be best to at least look into other communities as well, to get a sense of different spiritualities.  My junior year in college I visited the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  This 48-hour high-powered vocation discernment weekend convinced me I was being called to religious life.  The religious life, if lived authentically, can be radical and awesome, I remember thinking at the time.  If these young women can do it, so can I!!!

            The following semester I studied abroad in Italy and met some wonderful teaching Sisters at a small community of Religious of the Sacred Heart, in Florence.  Two of these Sisters are graduates of Steubenville and a postulant who just entered is from the University of Dallas.  For my four months abroad I would make my way across the Arno River almost every evening to attend to evening prayer with these beautiful Sisters and during my spring break, I spent a week living and praying them.  I loved my time with these Sisters and their convent in the hills of Piazza Michelangelo was impressive, to say the least.  But I knew it wasn’t where I belonged.  I also felt that Morning and Evening prayer just wasn’t enough to satisfy me.  I wanted more.  Could God want me to be a cloistered nun?!?!  This was definitely a scary thought for me…

            A week after returning from Italy, I packed my bags for a weeklong discernment retreat with the Nashville Dominicans.  I did not, surprisingly, go with great anticipations.  I was confused enough already in terms of where He wanted me so I decided to just enjoy myself and to use the experience to help me grow closer to Him, regardless of whether or not that was where I was meant to spend the rest of my life. Between talks given by the Sisters, reflections with an awesome Dominican priest, Adoration and prayer with the Sisters as well as recreation time outside playing sports, “postulant panels,” and sharing my life with the other young women discerning, I was truly in awe of the week.  I knew something had happened.  I was just too much in love.  Everything was just too much fun.  I think deep down I realized I could spend the rest of my earthly life with these Sisters living the religious life.  But that was deep down… on the surface I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself.  I think I was too scared to imagine what this meant.  Keeping my options open and convent shopping for a little longer seemed less permanent!  Looking back I realize how this was an incredible, life-changing experience, although at the time I didn’t know because the impact didn’t hit until later.

After this experience I really wanted to know if He could be calling me to the cloister and I decided I would be open to that, if it were where He wanted me (in spite of the fact that I have a BIG MOUTH, as I am sure many will attest to) J  My friend Theresa and I visited was a small group of Poor Clare Perpetual Adoration nuns in Washington D.C. and this was a wonderful experience.  I loved that these Sisters’ lives revolved around Jesus in the most Blessed Sacrament.  They offer their lives in Thanksgiving for this gift. But as much as I loved the prayer, and the Sisters, I did not feel an incredible sense of peace.

            Then, a week before our pilgrimage to Toronto for World Youth Day, Theresa and I once again headed off for a “VB” (vocation buddy) visit.  This time we stayed with the Dominican Nuns of Summit, NJ.  Wow.  This is when I finally felt some peace.  Something about the Dominican charism just clicked.  I wanted more than anything else, to follow Christ through the footsteps of St. Dominic.  It was also here, at this cloistered order, that it became clear to me that the Holy Spirit had put it on my heart to become an active religious.  I really felt the desire to have the sustaining prayer life, and yet I wanted to be in the front line teaching and evangelizing.  “To contemplate and give to others the fruits of my contemplation,” is the Sisters’ motto.   I knew my heart was in Nashville as Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia.  After this realization some of my fears subsided, especially after I said it confidently for the first time.  Since that weekend nearly seven months ago, God has continued to amaze me.   I asked Him to make it clear to me because I want only to do His will.  And He has answered with incredible amount of confirmation!  And the desire continues to escalate!

            Theresa, Lisa, Jennie, Sarah, and I planned a mega “VB”- trip down to “sweet T, Tennessee” in August to see the Novice Sisters take their First Vows.  Wow.  It was so moving to be present for the marriages of 14 young, joy-filled souls!   In less than 48 hours, after meeting with Sr. Catherine Marie (vocation directress for the Nashville Dominicans) and Sr. Mary Angela (novice directress), and conversing with many of the Sisters in formation as well as the professed, I knew it was only a matter of time J

            One obstacle for me in my vocation has been my family.  I am up against a lot of parental opposition.  A vocation to the religious life is extremely hard to understand if you are not called to it.  “Him who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Matt 19:12)  It is even harder to understand if you don’t believe in God.  I am so proud of my parents for being as loving as they have been and I trust that God will soften their hearts and help them to understand more fully the great gift of Christ.  I ask for your prayers too.  God has a plan for me and for my family and I know that I need only have faith and keep my eyes focused on the prize.  The reward is just too great to turn away! I want to receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life! (Matt. 19:29)  Besides, if I am not following Christ, what else is there?  “Lord to whom shall we go?!” (John 6:68) 

            On the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary 2002, I was officially accepted into the postulancy of the Nashville Dominicans and given the entrance date of August 14th, 2003. However, this is contingent upon my being debt free.  This is another obstacle I am currently facing, especially because of the fact that my parents are opposing this decision.  I will owe approximately $20,000 in educational loan debt to Goucher College by the time I graduate in May.  I am not worried though because I know that “all things work together for good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)

I have taken some pro-active steps towards meeting my goal.  The Laboure Foundation, relying entirely on the generosity of benefactors, has been established to help those with education loans who desire to enter religious life and they have created a personal account for me!  Since this organization is a public charity, all donations are tax-deductible! 

May I ask you to prayerfully consider if there isn’t some small amount you might be able to give? Checks made payable to the Laboure Foundation (to the account for Katherine Zeitler) can be sent to the following address:

The Laboure Foundation
            Cy D. Laurent – Chairman of the Board
            18164 Cattail Court
            Eden Prarie, MN 55346**
            **please don’t forget to specify my name, Katherine Zeitler.

             If you are interested, through the kindness of my friend Richard who has created this site, we have added a “Sister2B Wish-list” of various crucial items that I must purchase before August.  If you are interested in “adopting a Sister” please consider me J I appreciate anything you can do to help!

             Finally, I beg for your prayers that I may become His bride as a Dominican Sister of Saint Cecilia if it is His most precious will!!   And please be assured of my prayers for all my benefactors and those in discernment!!! 

 

In Christ and our Lady,

Katherine Zeitler

 

PS. Wow! So much has happened since I wrote this profile! Let me update you! Thanks be to God my loans have been taken care of and I am entering the Dominicans Sisters of St. Cecilia on August 14th, the feast of St. Max Kolbe and the Vigil of the Assumption of Our Lady.

There are no word to describe how I feel. I am entirely in awe of our God and of the 11th hour and Our Lady's beautiful intercession in my life. 54 day prior to the Fest of St. Dominic I began praying a rosary novena to Mary. One of the Sisters in our Congregation suggested this prayer to Our Lady of the Rosary (very Dominican J). And on the Vigil of the Feast of St. Dominic, August 7th, 2003, through the grace of God, and the generosity of so many, my student loans ($34,000 worth) were completely taken care of! Thank you everyone for your prayers and generous hearts.

I am extremely excited and my heart is exploding with joy to being this official period of discernment. I beg your prayers for me, for my ten fellow postulants (especially Sr. Aubrey Hargadon - my Baltimore buddy J), and for the entire St. Cecilia Congregation. May we follow gracefully in the footsteps of St. Dominic. Please pray for my family as well as this is an extremely hard time for them. Pray for their peace, joy, and faith to increase.

I would like to close with a beautiful selection I received from Sister Catherine Marie (the vocations director) regarding what will happen to the 10 of us tomorrow.

"That leave-taking is every nun's dearest figt to God -- and every family's. Nothing, not all the little casual family jokes and gallantries can soften it. It is the proof of love. And somewhere, before or after the goodbye, there is the journey -- ten minutes, perhaps in a car; overnight in a train; across the content in a plane. Whatever the distance, it is the journey out of the world into another. It is the longest journey this side of death, which any soul can take. The longest but the dearest, because it is the journey to God."

 

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