Sister Arlene Vasquez, MCDP (Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence) had no intention of becoming a sister.
It’s not that the thought of becoming a sister hadn’t occurred to her. It had.
And she decided it wasn’t for her.
But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a deep personal faith.
After attending Catholic school in San Antonio run by the Congregation of Divine Providence, and having been reared by two deeply devout parents, Arlene chose to become a lay associate, which is a bit like being a sister, with one large exception – you don’t profess vows.
“I remember thinking, this I can do,” she said.
“A non-vowed member is fine. I was one of those who had a long litany as to why religious life is not pertinent in today’s society. “Fortunately,” she said, “God has a sense of humor.”
Arlene was living with her sister, also a lay associate, in a home “too large for us” when they were asked if they would open their house to sisters living in community. Before long, two MCDP sisters moved into the home.
Pretty soon, Arlene said, “All those misconceptions about the Religious life, all those barriers we put up were slowly done away with. We were rubbing shoulders with them. I learned that the way I was living and they were living wasn’t much different. As a young adult, if you’re ministering to teens, there are certain life choices; there are things you won’t do. You can’t preach one thing and do another.”
“I discovered the gift of community, being able to share life’s joys and some of the sorrows, the jarriness of life.”
As it turned out, she said, “The two sisters who moved in with us were both former formation and vocation directors. Needless to say, I started some serious discernment. I was 26.”
She took her not-so-final-vows as a Missionary Sister of Divine Providence in May, 2006.
“In our community we don’t take perpetual vows,” she explained, “we take triennial vows. What it means is that every third year we will profess vows again. I find it very moving. Almost a third of our congregation takes vows every year.”
After San Antonio, Sister Arlene was assigned to Rio Grande City in the Brownsville Diocese. Just before arriving in Kansas a year and a half ago, she completed a year-long sabbatical. She serves at St. Anthony Parish in Liberal as the Director of Religious Education. It’s the first time she has served in a parish without a school. Yet, she still fulfills her greatest joy,
“sharing the faith with the next generation, and helping parents grow in their faith and be able to share that with their children and empower their children. That’s my greatest joy. Also journeying with young people as they discover more about their faith.”
Girls will occasionally ask her about her role as a sister, in particular about her vows.
“Poverty, chastity and obedience; sometimes they want to know what that means. Poverty, I tell them, means everything is held in common. Yet, I have what I need to be able to live. Obedience is trying to say that we live by discernment, by the leadership needs or congregational needs. We ask what it is that God is ultimately calling us to do.”
“Chastity means that I won’t have my own family. But it frees me to love in a different way.”
And of course there are challenges. When she first joined her congregation, they hadn’t suffered a death in 25 years.
“Since committing to the community, we’ve had 10 deaths. A few have left. It’s a challenge. It causes you to reflect on your own story: What brought me to religious life? What sustains me in religious life? I freely chose this life based on a call by God.”
To girls or women who may be discerning a religious vocation she offered this advice:
“Ask questions. Get in contact with other women religious. See how they live life. When you make the choice, find that one congregation that fits for you.”
“It doesn’t mean we have all the answers. As you discern, you’ll discover opportunities extended to you. You may think this is not the right place or vocation for you, but you will always walk away enriched by the experience or the opportunity extended to you to better know yourself, your faith, your career – including a life as a professed woman religious.”