By Mallorie Gerwitz
Former Colorado Vincentian Volunteers member
From Service to Sisterhood Vocation Story
My senior year of high school was when I first felt that I heard the call to professed life.
I spoke to Sister Jean, FSSJ at my high school but I wasn’t ready to truly make that kind of life decision. It was difficult enough choosing a college and program of study for the following year. So I started my freshman year of college at Niagara University. I was overly involved in many activities that first year, trying to do it all, when it came to me that life is not about quantity but quality of work. I realized I needed to step back and really look at what I wanted to do with my time and how I wanted to make an impact on the world.
I stepped down from positions and out of clubs to really take time to analyze what direction to take. After my first year of college ended, I was hired at The Preschool Learning Center in Springville, NY, as an aide for the summer. This preschool works with kids with varying levels of disability. I was placed in a classroom of children with severe autism who were all non-verbal. I remember seeing the Speech Pathologist work with the kids and thought “This is what I want to do!”
I transferred to Nazareth College of Rochester in the Communication Sciences Disorders Program. I studied so hard to earn the grades that I felt were necessary, all in an effort to get to the future, always with that graduate program in mind, never focused on the present.
I did volunteer which helped to keep me grounded. I volunteered with a program on campus called Learn and Serve and I also lived my Junior year on the Service Learning Floor, a community of individuals committed to volunteering 30 hours per month of community outreach and service.
The one thing that stayed with me was a thread of Catholic Social teaching: respect for the dignity of every person, especially those who are poor. I realized many of the individuals I was reaching out to were on the margins and I was learning more while serving others than what I was actually giving to them.
During my last semester of college I lost a few close relatives. My mom’s cousin, my great grandmother, a great uncle and a great aunt, all within three months time. I also was filling out graduate application forms and doing my final student teaching placement to earn the last part of my long awaited Bachelors of Science with Initial Teachers Certification Degree. I felt like even with the deaths and all of this that I was for sure going to be accepted into graduate school and all would be well.
God works in mysterious ways. I was wait-listed and told that 350 applicants had applied for 35 graduate positions. I knew that this was not working the way I had planned.
Jamie, Catholic Chaplin at Nazareth College of Rochester, helped me see that I had other options. He handed me Thomas Merton’s book Seeds. I read that so quickly! In our next encounter, Jamie gave me a copy of the RESPONSE book and told me to check out doing a year of service. I found a few programs that spoke to me, applied to a few and ultimately felt I was being directed to Denver, Colorado, to do a year of service with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers.
The Colorado Vincentian Volunteer program changed my life. I started to think of service in terms of a life choice, a vocation/ministry and not just a week service trip or a year service trip.
I met the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth at my Volunteer site, Mount Saint Vincent Home of Denver, CO, a residential and therapeutic facility for children who have experienced neglect or abuse. I remember walking into my volunteer site and seeing this quote from Mother Xavier: “Look forward to the Good that is yet to be” (Mother Xavier is the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth).
When I think of my life stretched out in a line I think of what I have done, who I am, and what I hope to be and I ponder St. Vincent and St. Louise’ life. I think of the root word for Compassion, which means to suffer with. I would like to say that the threads of my life have offered me many moments of compassion.
As Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…” At this time in my life I feel that I do not have all the answers but I am willing to take that next step in inviting the questions. I find I am at a depth of acceptance and peace in moving on to at least being able to ponder God’s call. I think a lot of that work came about when I started accepting my true self, as Thomas Merton talks about at length, and placing emphasis on myself as a Human being, Not a Human Doing.
For more resources on discerning your vocation through service, click here.