Let’s rewind to high school – I wanted to live what I saw as a “normal life.” Though I prayed daily, went to Steubenville, and joined Most Holy Trinity (MHT) parish events, I often went through the motions and did the minimum in my faith. I remember weeping in Adoration during a MHT high school retreat since I was away from God. Suddenly, Fr. Mathias Thelen walked to the podium and said, “I feel that God wants me to say: ‘My daughter, you can always come back to me.’” I began crying even harder because I knew God was speaking to me.
At Michigan State University (MSU), my faith was challenged for the first time, and I became so thankful for my strong faith foundation instilled by MHT and my parents. I began claiming my faith for my own, but I still tiptoed into a deeper relationship with our Lord. Because God’s tug on my heart persisted, I went on my first “Nun Run” (visiting multiple convents) through the Lansing diocese during my sophomore year. I felt pulled toward the RSMs during our visit, but I was freaked out by this real possibility. I was afraid of what God might ask me to do if I said “yes” to Him.
During this time, the Holy Spirit gave me the idea to become a “Mother Teresa physician.” Though I always planned to go straight from undergrad to medical school, I felt a stirring in my heart to devote a year in service beforehand. Through the Catholic Volunteer Network, I chose the Franciscan Change a Heart program, through which I would serve with the Street Medicine program of Pittsburgh Mercy Health (founded by the RSMs!). Before leaving for Pittsburgh, I still felt curious about the RSMs, so I requested a visit.
Journal entry from July 2015: “Today, I was supposed to go to Holy Hour with the Alma Mercy Sisters. I had been praying up to this day that God would open my heart to His Will and give me the courage to accept whatever vocation He has for me. This morning while trying to fall back asleep by repeating Hail Mary prayers, I had a vision in black and white. Jesus was on an altar, and I could barely see His face, but I knew it was Him. I immediately fell prostrate on the steps before Him, and He said, ‘Brianne, do you love me?’ I answered, ‘Yes,’ and He said, ‘Then come follow Me.’ I know this was Jesus speaking because my soul burned for hours afterwards, just like it does during Adoration.”
I was then quite surprised that the Sisters requested we postpone my visit. Encouraged by this vision, I finally visited the weekend before moving to Pittsburgh. I prayed fervently that God would speak to me. While in Adoration with the RSMs, I asked if God wanted me to enter. He clearly and gently said, “Not right now.” I wasn’t sure if He meant not ever, or just not at that time, but I then felt at peace leaving for Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh, I fell in love with serving people struggling with homelessness. They taught me so much about our own humanity and the dignity of each person. I vividly remember visiting a client under a bridge when I suddenly saw Jesus in Him. I was quite taken aback, but there Jesus was in this man.
Feeling at peace when my volunteer year ended, I began medical school with the idea of religious life remaining on a shelf. While visiting home during my second year, I journaled: “I was in the MHT church sitting on the bottom step of the altar. It was a beautiful, peaceful time with God. I kept asking, ‘Lord, how much do You love me?’ I looked up at the crucifix with Jesus nailed to the cross, arms spread wide apart, and He said, ‘This much.’”
Soon after, I felt God stirring in my heart again. I was surprised that dating now felt wrong – almost like I was cheating on God since I was not being true to what He was asking of me. I began longing for time in Adoration as I searched for the meaning of this renewed stirring (yet, I couldn’t help thinking, “Seriously, Lord, You’re potentially asking me to enter in the middle of medical school?!”).
Throughout the ensuing months of summer, my relationship with our Lord grew deeper than ever before. I did not realize how rich our faith and a relationship with Him could be! The question of my vocation went from years ago of, “Maybe I am called to religious life,” to the past couple years of, “I think I might be called,” to now, “I am called to religious life.” Daily, I prayed, “When, where, and how, Lord?” God was patient with me for so long, and He now asked me to be patient with Him.
Another Nun Run was offered in November when I happened to be off from clinical rotations. I prayed, “Lord, I will go. Please reveal your plan to me in a way that I can understand.” The last stop was with the RSMs. As we pulled into their driveway, my heart skipped a beat as I realized their entire house had been imprinted in my mind from my Nun Run six years previously. During this visit, I felt so strongly called to their Institute that if I had not been in medical school, I would have requested to enter that day! Filled with joy and wonder, I prayed, “Lord, if this is what You want for me, this is all that my heart desires.”
Trusting that God would provide the way, I scheduled a MSU academic advising meeting to discuss taking a leave of absence from medical school to enter religious life. Aware that I may encounter resistance, I repeatedly asked God to help the advisor (whom I had never met) be open to this possibility. When our meeting day arrived, I explained my request, and she responded, “I lived with a community of religious Sisters for two years before discerning God was calling me to marriage!” Awestruck, I thought, “Woah, Lord! You completely delivered!” The MSU advisor then assisted me with the process, and said she would pray for me.
I then spent four days with the RSMs over Christmas break. Within a couple of hours, I knew I was called there. I felt more at home with the RSMs than anywhere else I’ve lived in years. Jesus radiates so vibrantly from each Sister. I told one of the Sisters how spoiled I felt to be with them during their Christmas retreat, and she responded with a smile, “God will continue spoiling you!”
I have since been accepted to the RSMs (praise God!), and I enter on August 1st, 2019! I never dreamed that I would enter religious life in the middle of medical school, so I am convinced this can only be the work of the Holy Spirit.
Though many RSMs are practicing physicians in their ministry, it is possible that I may not be called back to medical school. With our vow of obedience, this decision will not be in my hands, but it is completely my choice to surrender this possibility into God’s hands! I am amazed by how little fear I feel – for I trust that whatever God has in store is way more amazing than anything I could plan. By embracing my vocation, I do not feel that I am letting go of myself, but rather, I am becoming more of myself.
I struggled with, “How can God be calling me, when I’ve messed up and turned away countless times?” But God loves to work through the sinner if we let Him. After years of living in the secular world, I found that He is full of such great richness that the world cannot offer. Jesus is all that will ever quench the thirsting of my soul. Since saying “yes” to my vocation, my heart has been so peaceful and full of joy that it’s as if His joy has overflowed into my own heart. I am excited to jump into His embrace! All praises be to God, now and forever!
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
“He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the Cross, and you will find yourself entirely.” -St. Catherine of Siena