World Mission Sunday is this upcoming Sunday, October 22. In light of this, Sr. Colette, a second year novice with the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, reflects on her time as a student missionary while at the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto, as well as her discernment into religious life, serving the poor and destitute in the heart of New York City.
1. You recently decided to dedicate your life to ministry and specifically to mission work. What exactly is the mission of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal?
As consecrated women religious, our first and primary mission as Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal is deep and transformative union with Jesus Christ, Our Saviour and Our Spouse. He is the centre of everything we do – our prayer, our communal life, our relationships, and our mission work. Before we can go out and strive to bring others to encounter Christ, we ourselves must encounter His love every day. Desiring to live the Gospel values more intensely in imitation of Jesus Christ and in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, each sister, inspired by the Holy Spirit, professes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Living this “Gospel Life” is expressed in a variety of ways in our daily life: a Eucharistic centered prayer life, Marian devotion, love for the Church, loyalty to Our Holy Father, and an up building of the culture of life. A distinctly Franciscan aspect of our life, which I was particularly drawn to, is the warm and familial atmosphere of the convent and unmistakable joy amongst the sisters. From these two pillars of our life – our prayer and fraternity – flows our apostolic work. In the spirit of St. Francis, we do simple hands-on work with the poor and destitute and carry out works of evangelization. We strive, firstly through our own witness and life, to bring others to encounter Jesus and the transformative power of His love and mercy.
2. White attending University of Toronto you were involved in campus ministry and you also served as a Totus Tuus missionary. How did your experience in Toronto impact you in your discernment when contemplating your vocation?
Growing up I had never envisioned myself having a religious vocation because I wasn’t Catholic and I didn’t have a concept of what a nun was. I had grown up an atheist but in God’s providence went to a Catholic high school where I had a major conversion and was baptized. My first encounter with Religious sisters was on a retreat offered through the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto. I was struck by the radiant joy and love these young sisters were filled with; my heart was captivated. Also through the Newman Centre, I was able to go on mission trips to Kingston, Jamaica to serve the poor alongside a religious community. Both in the poor we ministered to, and with the Religious sisters we served with, I encountered a joy I had never experienced before. It was something I knew the world couldn’t offer; it was from God and my heart longed for it.
Despite these initial encounters and attraction to religious life, I pushed the thought of a religious vocation aside in pursuit of my own hopes and plans for my life. As time went on, I continued to grow in my faith and became more involved in campus ministry at the Newman Centre. Being surrounded by other young Catholics pursuing a life of virtue and holiness was a source of encouragement for me in my journey of faith. My prayer life was deepening as I was serving and receiving formation; the Lord was preparing the soil of my heart to be able to receive His call.
The summer before my fourth year of university I served as a Totus Tuus missionary facilitating youth camps across the Archdiocese of Toronto. In Eucharistic adoration, I felt an invitation from the Lord to give myself totally to Him – Totus Tuus, Totally Yours. Despite all that I was doing for God, He didn’t want that, He wanted me. He wanted my heart to be undividedly His. With prayer and discernment I had clarity that the Lord was inviting me to give myself totally to Him in religious life. I was filled with a deep joy that didn’t wane with time; I knew that God’s plans for my life were better than any plan I could have conceived.
With faith and trust I began actively discerning a call to religious life and reached out to the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal to come and see if this was where God was calling me. In God’s perfect timing, one door after another opened up, and by the grace of God I entered into community with the CFR Sisters on October 3, 2021. Looking back, in both small and large ways, I see God’s providence throughout my time in Toronto. All of my experiences of ministry and Catholic community in Toronto, each in a unique way, brought me into a deeper relationship with Jesus. God was using everything to prepare my heart to hear His call and to have the grace to respond to Him. I’m filled with a deep gratitude for all that the Lord did during my time at university and all that He continues to do.
3. In ministering to the poor on the streets of New York what do you hope the people you serve see or recognize in you. Similarly, what do you see in them?
There are many types of Religious sisters who do many different types of work, but Mother Clare, CFR captures perfectly in her book Little Convent in the Big City, the hopes of our ministry – “To be mothers to the poor.” More than the food or clothing we give to the poor, which are of course important, I hope and pray that the poor encounter Christ and His love through me. Our world is growing ever more disconnected and brokenness surrounds us. St. Teresa of Calcutta astutely noted that the true poverty of our society is a poverty of love. We all need to know we are loved and experience it in life. To be able to communicate to someone that they are seen, known, and loved and that they have a Heavenly Father that cares for them is what I hope I can give to the poor in all the work that I do.
In many ways, I see myself in the poor. The poor show me my need for God. Although I am not homeless and struggling to find my next meal or an addict enslaved by needing to get my next fix, I am interiorly poor and broken. I need Christ’s love and mercy just as much as the homeless man we bring lunch to on the corner of 116th and Lexington Ave. In countless instances the poor have taught me how to receive love and to live with a spirit of gratitude. I see in the poor what it means to be a child before God trusting that the Father will provide. They have taught me how to allow my heart to be filled with gratitude for the ways I am provided for. They have given me eyes to see God’s infinite love and mercy offered to me at every moment.
Sr. Colette is currently a second year novice with the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and lives at the Convent of San Damiano in Bronx, NY. As a novice, the first stage of religious life, her main focus is prayer, study, and entering more deeply into the life of the sisters. Prior to entering the community in 2021, she studied Teaching and Theology at the University of Toronto and was involved in a variety of ministries across the Archdiocese of Toronto. She is originally from Los Angeles, California.