Presentation on theme: "As a child I dreamed of many things. I wanted to be a mom, to build things, to teach… and, of course, to live happily every after. As I grew older, my."— Presentation transcript:
As a child I dreamed of many things. I wanted to be a mom, to build things, to teach… and, of course, to live happily every after. As I grew older, my desires for happiness led me eventually to find the true happiness my heart desired, the happiness God intended for me which far surpassed my dreams. I am the oldest of four daughters of my parents, Terry and Mary Strouse. My parents gave me the name Tammy Dawn at my birth and placed me under the patronage of St. Bernadette at my baptism when I was just a few weeks old.
While I have been Catholic all my life, it seems to me that my family became Catholic when my father was baptized with my younger sister, Jenny, when I was 6 years old. Since that time we celebrated our Baptism days as importantly as our birthdays: with a special dinner, a religious gift and the lighting of our baptismal candle.
It was not much later that my father became the president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Fiesta Committee at our parish, St. Polycarp in Stanton, CA. When I was in the third grade and my sisters and I started Catholic school, my mother began attending daily Mass. It seemed that the Church was our second home and God was a member of our family. We attended Mass together as a family on Sundays and prayed before meals. We found joy in serving others and providing for those in need. We even went to the parish monthly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the 22nd of the month. But you could hardly call me a religious child. My mother reminds me that once after attending Mass on a holy day of obligation I asked her if she was going to pay us for attending. Apparently, my parents regularly gave us our allowance on Sundays after Mass and I assumed it was payment for coming and being good. Obviously, that practice stopped very soon.
I lived a pretty normal life while I was growing up. I switched to public school for high school because our family could not afford Catholic high school. I was involved in different activities and clubs, like Colorguard. While attending public school I noticed that my faith strengthened. I was challenged by others who did not believe the same things I did and I had to be able to explain and stand up for my faith in a way that was new to me. At the end of my ninth grade year after my Confirmation, I recognized a change in myself. I was less fearful and more able to go out of myself than I had been previously. I decided to join the Confirmation retreat team at my parish, as I had seen what a difference that retreat had made in my life.
The following summer my family attended Sacred Heart Family Camp directed by the Sacred Heart Sisters. The Sisters were not anything like I had imagined. They were young and fun and I was attracted to their spirit and their joy. After the camp was over I even thought to myself that maybe I should be a Sister. But the thought quickly passed as I had other plans.
In my senior year of high school, my plans were really beginning to take shape. In addition to having a family, I wanted to study Engineering Physics at Embry-Riddle University in Florida and eventually work for NASA in the space program. There was no possibility of my family affording college, so I applied for an Air Force ROTC scholarship. Since I did well in high school, graduating at the top of my class, hopes were high for me that I would be accepted into college, receive the scholarship and do well there. I even prayed about these things asking God to provide them for me.
Everything seemed to be going along just as I had planned. In February of my senior year I received acceptance to Embry- Riddle. But something was missing. I couldn’t explain why, but I was missing the joy that I thought would have come with getting what I wanted. I attributed it to the stress of preparing for a big trip to Washington DC of which I was in charge. “Not to worry,” I thought, “When the trip is over, then you will have the time for excitement.” I finished the trip by stopping to see some family in Pennsylvania. I was amazed and impressed by the way they prayed together as a family, saying the Rosary together every night after dinner. I realized then that my prayer life was lacking. I went home resolved to pray more, but I did not know exactly what that would mean.
This astonished me. It was something completely new that I had never thought about. It was then that I realized what I was really missing. In all of my prayers I had only asked God for what I wanted. I had never even considered asking Him what He wanted for my life. I knew that I missed the retreat experiences I had had in the past and when, through an unexpected turn of events, I was invited to a convent for a Vocation “Come and See” Day, I said yes, surprising even myself. When I arrived I was sure this wasn’t for me, but I decided I would be polite, go along with the day and then be on my way home. As the day progressed, I heard something I had never heard before. “God has a plan for you.” That seemed true enough in a broad, distant way; however, this was different: “God has a unique personal love for you and a personal plan for your happiness.”
I was confused and not sure what to do. I had this strange feeling that maybe God was calling me to be a Sister and yet I was so resistant to the idea. I decided to say three novenas simultaneously: one to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because that was the name of the community who introduced me to this idea of God’s personal love for me; a novena of rosaries; and one to St. Therese the Little Flower. Someone had recently told me about her and how she promised to spend her heaven doing good on earth and that she would let fall from heaven a shower of roses. As odd as it may sound, on the first day of my novena my grandmother brought home roses from the Legion of Mary meeting and gave them to me. But this was not a one-time occurrence; I received a rose every day of the novena (and for two weeks after the novena was over) in some way or form. Once it was a piece of junk mail that had a sticker on it that said “a rose just for you”, but most of them were real and none were from my mother’s garden. I know that God does not need signs such as these to let us know His will, but at this point in my life His kindness was helpful in making His will visible to me.
The Sunday in the middle of my novena my father was speaking to someone outside of the Church about the struggle he could see I was going through as I was making plans for my life. He had no idea that I was even considering religious life, but he recognized that my joy was missing as I was looking into college and my future. My pastor overheard this conversation and so, in his homily he asked the entire parish to pray for this 17-year-old girl who didn’t know what to do with her life. This Sunday was the World Day of Prayer for Vocations!
A day later I received a letter from the United States Air Force. I stared at the envelope for a long time a little afraid to see what was inside. Finally, I spoke to God from the heart, I think for the first time in my entire life: It would seem that everything that had happened so far would have been enough for me to make a decision to become a Sister. But I still had one thing that I was unsettled about. My family could not afford college and if I were to receive a scholarship to attend school, I was not sure that I could turn it down. So I asked God not to give it to me. “I know You love me and I already know what You want. It doesn’t matter what is in this envelope because I love You too and I want to do Your will.” When I opened the envelope I did not receive the scholarship, although I had all the qualifications listed in the form letter. I am positive this was one of the many ways God showed me how much He loves me because I asked Him not to give it to me.
Speaking with God heart to heart has a way of changing your life. What seemed important before lost its attraction. The following Saturday, April 30, I met with one of the Sisters to talk about the possibility that God may be calling me. I met her at a soup kitchen for a day of service feeding the homeless. Afterwards, as I told her the story of everything God had been working in my heart, one of the men working there came up to me and handed me a rose. I was stunned, as was she. I could not believe God’s tender expression of love and confirmation of His plan for me and my happiness.
It took my family, especially my father, some time to accept my decision to become a Sister. He was worried that I was too young and thought that I should go to college first. But as he saw my conviction and peace that this was God’s call, he became one of my biggest supporters. So at the age of 17, on September 15, 1988, I responded “Yes” to God’s plan for my happiness and entered the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On entering I was given the name Sister Joanna and took St. Joseph Cottolengo (whose feastday is April 30) as my patron saint. My two and a half years of novitiate formation were a blessing as I grew in love of Him and in understanding of what this call meant to me.
Giving myself totally to Him through the profession of the Vows of Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience was the only response I could give to the immense love I had encountered. I made my first vows on March 23, 1991 and received my badge of the Sacred Heart that I wear over my own heart.
Through God’s generosity, this call has given me many experiences I would never have dreamed imaginable. As the year of my first vows coincided with the 50 th anniversary of our Community, I was able to join the Community in our pilgrimage to Italy and to meet the Holy Father. As he looked at all the Sisters present, he noted that we were a very young Community and then he came to me – the youngest member at the time – and gently tapped me on the forehead as he gave a great smile. He told us that day, “You are a blessing to the Pope.”
I continue to find great joy in all aspects of my Religious life. Sister Ida, our foundress, taught me how to pray and to be my real self with God who loves me so personally. I love our Community life and the way we are true Sisters to each other. Our apostolate of catechesis has been a gift to me as I learn so much from preparing children for the Sacraments, teaching catechists, teaching seminarians, and giving retreats. Sometimes I wonder if I have received more than I have given. With each apostolic assignment and each local house I have lived in, God has continually revealed to me His personal love.
I had the great privilege of making my Final Profession on March 22, 1997. The quote I chose for the day expresses His great love and my gratitude to Him: “Indeed how good is the Lord, eternal His merciful love, He is faithful forever.” (Ps. 100:5) As I look back at my life, I can find difficulties and joys. Rather than being surprised by them and wondering ‘why did this happen to me?’ I look at them and see the hand of God at work. I believe a smile crosses His face every time I recognize in them an invitation to know and love Him more. I pray everyday that I may be faithful to Him, often using the words of the blessing of my ring: “May this ring be worn in unbroken fidelity to You. May this sign of religious profession lead me to abide in your constant and mutual love.”