My First Call to Religious Life (Vocation Part 4)
Originally Posted Dec 22, 2017 | An Extroverted Millennial Enters the Cloister
“Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart’s desire” ~Psalm 37:4
My Family’s Conversion
Something you may not know about my family is that they are converts to the Catholic faith. My Grandpa, Dave Leatherby Sr., was originally Methodist and back in the 1960s he got into a discussion with his boss, a Catholic man named Bert Bride, over which of their faiths was the true faith. As they brought in research to convince the other, Bert gave my grandpa a little piece of paper to carry with him. That little piece of paper was a relic of St. Therese of the child Jesus or the “Little Flower.”
Bert told my grandpa that if he could convince him that the Catholic Church was the one true faith, my grandpa would have to name a child after St. Therese. After many friendly discussions and books read, my grandpa was convinced and had himself, his wife, and their 5 kids—the youngest being my dad—baptized in the Catholic faith on December 22, 1965, a day we yearly get together to celebrate.
Soon after the baptisms, my grandma was pregnant with Valerie Theresa, named after St. Therese. Bert said that just a middle name wasn’t good enough and so when #7 came along, they named this joyful little one Theresa after St. Therese. However, Theresa’s appendix burst at the age of 8 and God took her home. Ever since that day, we have had a little saint watching over us and interceding for our entire family.
Patron of Missionaries
When it came time to choose my Confirmation name, I chose Theresa. I chose this name in honor of my Aunt Theresa but after St. Therese. I also had loved Mother Teresa, who chose her name after St. Therese as well. Therese was a Carmelite cloistered nun known for her beautiful autobiography Story of a Soul and her “little way” of love. Surprisingly enough, she is the patron saint of missionaries even though she lived from behind the walls of her cloistered monastery.
I had always longed to do mission work during my time at Franciscan University, probably influenced by my patron saint. I ended up going on a 7 week mission to Ecuador, which was was a beautiful gift. I worked in a special needs school, practiced my Spanish, went to daily Spanish Mass, and soaked in the food, culture, and people. During this mission trip, I was able to visit a cloistered monastery where Mary appeared as Our Lady of Good Success and where eight incorrupt sisters lived. It was also during this mission trip that I developed relationships with one of my best friends, an FUS alum, and the TOR (Third Order Regular Franciscan) priest and sister who went with us. My heart was truly touched by my little ones at the school and all the Ecuadorians. Some of the happiest moments in my entire life were there in Ecuador. Mi Corazon está allí.
I Felt A Call
It was only one week into the mission trip, during daily Mass, when my life changed forever. All throughout the Mass, I could not stop crying. Like I’ve said before—I’m not a crier. Maybe if I was all by myself, but this Mass was different. The tears were flowing and I had no idea why I was crying. I would wipe them away and hope no one noticed. I debated leaving so people wouldn’t see me. My inner self was screaming out. Was it because I missed my family and wanted to go home? Because I felt for those I was serving? Because I wanted to stay and be a missionary forever? After Mass, I sat to contemplate what was happening. Why on earth was I crying? I cried some more but then it came to me in that quiet chapel: I THINK I MIGHT HAVE A CALLING TO RELIGIOUS LIFE.
The force these words had on my heart is unexplainable. Can Saul explain his conversion experience? Can an atheist explain why he knows God exists now? Can you explain what it’s like to bring life into the world? What it’s like to look at your child and be so proud? Just as these moments can’t be put into words, I can’t explain what I felt after that Mass—my path changed that day. God was using my body’s tears to tell me something major was happening. Something was taking place on a spiritual realm because why else would it happen during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the closest place we can get to Heaven on earth? I felt a call to religious life that day.
Not until writing this and going through my journal did I notice the date that I found this calling: June 19th. This day is the same day my Aunt Theresa passed away. She must have been looking out for me from Heaven with our common patron, St. Therese. When I shared this “God coincidence” with my grandpa, I found out that this same day was when my cousin, Fr. Jeremy Leatherby, celebrated his first Mass as a priest. There are no coincidences—God is the master planner.
More Tugs on the Heart
Here is what I wrote in my diary the night I felt this call: “This is gonna be a rough trip, isn’t it Lord?… Is this for real? Am I called to this vocation?…Lord, many things in my life would align to this vocation. Is that my calling?”
As the fear set in and I questioned if this strong feeling was truly my path, I continued to serve on the mission trip. A few days later my journal reads, “Sometimes I just wish I could escape to silence. There is a sense of holiness, growth, and reflection in being silent…After communion especially, all I want is silence, a prayer time, not to jump into the surfacy, worldly things.” God was molding my heart to realize what my true desires were, not only in religious life, but in the contemplative prayer life He would be calling me to as well.
A few weeks later, all by myself, I happened upon a random church that was having Mass. I stayed after for adoration and once again I was balling like before. God was telling me again what I had felt in the other chapel. I had a calling and couldn’t escape it. My words to our Lord in my journal that night, “I never want to be without you, O Lord. I want every minute of my day to be you. And to fulfill this I need to become a religious…”
I knew my calling at my core, but wasn’t ready yet to admit it to myself. It is easier to admit when it’s just you and Jesus in adoration, but when you come back into the real world, it’s easy to forget or push away the strong call you experienced.
Upon leaving Ecuador my journal read, “Help me to trust and not fear if this is the vocation you are calling me to. Take me where my trust is without borders.”
Thank You, Priests and Religious
Now, I can see that I was called to be “All His” there in that first little chapel in Ecuador through the power of the Mass. The homily in that Mass was that life is tough and so we must sacrifice and keep the Lord as our strength. This homily hit me hard as I cried and was about to realize my vocation. Thank you, Fr. Matt, TOR, and Sr. Monica, TOR, for guiding me in Ecuador, and thank you every priest and religious for your daily “yes” to your vocation. Priests, keep saying Masses because you never know when one Mass will change someone’s life forever or lead to someone finding their vocation.
I’ve come to know my vocation was a result of that experience, but back then I needed a little more coaxing to know this was the life for me.
© Jamie Leatherby 2017
Photo: A picture of myself and some friends on my Ecuador mission trip