A Heart of Generosity and Love: Sister Mary Aquinas’s Vocation Journey

The article below is an excerpt taken from “And The Truth Shall Set You Free,” a weekly podcast series hosted by Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP. The producer of the series was GoLEDigital, a digital community created by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

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Sister Mary Aquinas had a dream job and life in the world, but she kept searching for something more, something that would fill the void left in her heart. God called her to His Heart, and she was set to join the Dominicans when she got into a car accident that truly required her to give everything to God and let His will be done. She endured extensive physical trauma from the accident, which prevented her from joining the convent immediately.  Two years later, she was finally able to come home and take her vows. Her journey inspires us to trust in God’s Providence and Will, no matter what. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Sister Mary Aquinas, please begin by telling us about your family upbringing and where you come from and who you are?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

I’m originally from Galveston, Texas. My parents immigrated from the Philippines. My father is pure Chinese, but he was born and raised in the Philippines. I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in business, and after that, I worked as a consultant for one of the big five accounting firms. I did that for several years. When I wanted to stop traveling, I worked for a hospital in Houston.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Your degree in business left the options wide open for you. That’s a good degree because it is versatile, even if you couple it with music or art or something. It’s always prudent to use the business end of it as well. Did you grow up in a very Catholic family?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

I was a cradle Catholic although I must confess, we weren’t particularly well catechized. I went to Catholic school for 10 years, but I actually didn’t know about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist until I was an adult.

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Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I am sure many of our audience are connecting with you right now asking, “How did you learn it? What did you do, and how is God so merciful? How did you end up saying yes to His graces as they came into your life?”

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

He is so patient and merciful because, honestly through high school and college, I had fallen away from the faith. After I graduated from college, I got this job that involved a lot of travel, mostly in the United States, sometimes western Europe, for work. I was consulting, doing audits or going into hospitals. The hospitals were fun. We would go to hospitals and help them reduce the time it took for a patient to be seen in the emergency room.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

That’s a very needy cause. Everyone who is sick owes you a big thanks. Did you get that job right out of college?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

Yes. I went to my dream college, dream program, dream job. I was pursuing all these worldly pursuits, and He used them, ultimately, to call me back to Himself.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

How beautiful. As I am thinking about it, you have been an excellent librarian at the motherhouse. I’m jumping ahead of your story a little bit here, but I can see how some of those skills are being used even as the librarian in our rapidly growing and, to me, complicated [collection] because we have a good number of books, but again God is good. That’s amazing for our young community. I’m noticing the organizational skills which would be necessary for both of these. You said that you quickly got tired of all the travels because they were taking you away from home and friendships. Were they running away from bigger questions inside you? Or how would you phrase it?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

It’s funny because I had wanted a job like this because I thought, “Traveling is so exotic.” Actually, it’s quite lonely. All you do is work. Your whole life is work to make money. I received my first promotion pretty quickly after starting to work. I remember thinking, “Oh.” I was disappointed because “that’s it, you know.” I had everything I wanted, and it wasn’t enough.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

At what point in your life did you begin thinking perhaps a religious vocation? I know your parents very well, and I know your mom’s desire for many grandchildren, which is a healthy desire for any grandparents or grandparents to be. How did all that end up going?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

I owe my vocation to my sister. Mother blames her. I was visiting her, and she had recently been married. I had dated very seriously and come quite close to marriage, but we discerned that it wasn’t God’s will for us to marry each other. My sister is the oldest in the family. She started nagging me about dating. “You need to put yourself out there. You need to join a singles group.” I said, “That does not sound fun.” She said, “I don’t know. If you know you’re called to marriage, why you aren’t doing something about it.” I said, “I don’t know that I’m called to marriage. I haven’t ruled out religious life.” She says, “You haven’t ruled out religious life? We’ll fix that.” She signed me up for a retreat.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

The necessity for the big sisters and big brothers to get into the action and help the younger ones out. That’s a good lesson. How beautiful for her to be so proactive in your own life to find out why God created you.

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

It’s true. She said she could tell I was restless. I would still be floundering there if it weren’t for her.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I am sure, Sister, that when she is in this audience, she is going to extol your praises as you are hers. How beautiful that families work together for each sibling to find God’s will. What happened when you came on the retreat?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

At first, I was going to cross it off the list and say, “No, thank you. I’ve looked into that, and I’ll keep going with whatever I was doing,” but I got here and everything resonated as if my heart were vibrating on a certain frequency that I didn’t even know. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

We do have a number in our community already from your Diocese of Houston, Texas. I would think there was some talk going on there about attending one of the Dominican Sisters of Mary vocational discernment retreats. It’s so important, whatever your vocation is, what was in God’s plan that you would have been open. You came to discern, not that distant from a beautiful relationship with a man that, in another life, you might have married. After you came in, he made the retreat. Tell us how this unfolded in your life.

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

I should step back a little bit. When you’re discerning your vocation, you pray a lot. At first, for the first several months, my prayer was, “Thy will be done, but please don’t ask me to do this.” Then one day, I was in Eucharistic Adoration, and I looked at Him, and it occurred to me, “I am so in love with You. It would be an honor to be Your bride if you’ll have me.” That’s when things changed. At that point, I was open enough for my friend to suggest our community. After that, I asked for papers from you and Mother and came on pre-postulancy week and was finally accepted. Nine days before entrance day, I was driving in a car alone, and I got into a single-car accident. That set me back about two years.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

It did. I well remember as you were pretty quickly in surgery and had a lot of therapy. What were you listening to when the accident occurred?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

Honestly, I don’t remember what I was listening to. I remember when I started losing control of the car, I started talking to Jesus. I started praying, and I was talking to him in the Holy Spirit, and I said, “I’m supposed to enter the convent next week. You’re going to take this car wherever You want it to go.” After the initial impact, I looked down and saw there was a lot of trauma. I looked at my leg and said, “That’s going to take at least eight months of physical therapy.” I thought, “You’re telling me no convent next week? Possibly never? That’s fine. I’ll just await your instructions.” It was a grace. He was with me the whole time. I never would have asked for an experience like that, but I knew I was near the cross. That was all that mattered. It was so intimate. It was a beautiful time, and people were so good to me and my family. We received so many prayers. I can’t begin to count all the graces.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I remember the emails I would receive from you and the phone calls from your sister and your mother, watching during those two years of waiting to do God’s will, to be able to fulfill it in entering the convent, which you were supposed to do the next week before this happened. I have to honestly say I saw you grow so much and believed in you more than I ever had before. Not that I had difficulty before, but I knew you had a strong worldly experience and vision of things, and I thought, “Is she really ready?” There was nothing that shouted out at me until God intervened or your lack of control of the car intervened. Of course, we believe in God’s providence in all things. The growth was beautiful as well as your mother’s acceptance of your religious vocation, because for a while, I think she feared for your life.

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

I shouldn’t have survived that accident. When the car started flipping, I thought, “People don’t always survive this, Lord.” Then I thought, “I went to Mass yesterday and confession the night before. Purgatory here I come. I’ll see Him eventually.” I started getting excited, so I was actually a bit disappointed.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

That’s a beautiful act of faith. That’s extraordinary that you had that depth. I would also have to say, we’re very grateful to God that He said, “Oh no, this is just a bump in your road. You’ve got a lot more ahead of you.” I remember there’s another sister in our community of Asian background that entered with you. That interests me because we get all different backgrounds in the young women who enter. I love it because the Church is universal. To be Catholic is to be universal. Was it more difficult to enter a community that did not, at that point in time, have as many Asians? Or did you just not think about it?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

No, it was already home from the beginning because when you have faith, we have Christ, and that’s all we need. We don’t necessarily need similar cultural experiences. Actually, I learned a lot from my sisters with different backgrounds. Now I must confess, having another Filipino sister enter with me has been a great grace for my mother. Our mothers have become very good friends. They talk on the phone for three, three and a half hours at a time. They call each other sister. They plan vacations together. It hasn’t happened yet, but it may one day.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I can see it happening someday. It’s fun to dream about whether or not it actually does. I can see both your moms making these great plans. Another thing with your mom as well as Sister’s mom, and perhaps this is Asian, and perhaps this is Filipino, but the level of generosity is amazing to me. Before your parents come to visit you at the motherhouse, they will go by Sam’s Club or Costco or wherever and buy out all the roasted chickens or peanuts or whatever they have picked up that any of us like. I will get my nuts and somebody else will get her dates or whatever, and the whole community will have such an abundance. They bring extra suitcases to fill them up, and then they get boxes. I think, “Is that not beautiful?” I find it interesting, as we are speaking today, that the new Master General of the Dominican Order after 800 years is the first Asian, and he is from the Philippines. I’m going to watch him like a hawk to see if he has that kind of generosity and big-heartedness and the depth of faith that I have seen in you. What were your thoughts when you first heard that the new Master General is Filipino?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

I was so excited. He was assigned for a long time at my mother’s alma mater, the University of St. Thomas in the Philippines. I think it’s the only Pontifical university in Asia. It’s older than any colleges here in the U.S., and, actually, when St. Thomas was out of favor, it was the University of St. Thomas in Manila that preserved the scholastic tradition.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I know that at the beginning of our community some theology books that we really love, like Spiritual Theology by Father Jordan Aumann O.P., were out of print everywhere except there. I wrote them and said, “How much will it cost to buy the books and get them shipped to Ann Arbor, Michigan?” We got a good deal, thanks to the University of St. Thomas, named after St. Thomas Aquinas. How did you first hear that the Master General is Filipino?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

I heard it at breakfast. Every morning you read us a snippet of the news, and that happened to be one of the articles.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I expected you to jump out of your seat.

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

It took a lot of self-control.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

You and Sister Anthony Maria, our other Filipino. I thought, “Can you imagine hearing that the Master General, who in 800 years has never been Asian, and here he comes.” He has a wonderful face, and I can’t wait to meet him someday. I loved how he highlighted the preaching of the order because we are the order of preachers. Behind all of our names is O period P period, meaning Order of Preachers because the Holy Father called us that. He didn’t say, “You’re going to be the followers of Dominic.” He didn’t say, “You’re going to be the Dominicans,” which is what the order has become known as through these 800 years, as the Franciscans after Francis or the Jesuits after the Society of Jesus, but we’re named for our founder, St. Dominic. Behind our initials is our marching orders that we are the order of preachers. Get out there. Preach and teach to everyone that you can. The truth sets us free because the truth is the Dominican motto. How has that played out in your life, Sister?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

Part of why I fell away from the church was because I didn’t know the truth of the faith, and once they were introduced to me, I couldn’t get enough. Ultimately, I fell in love with Truth Himself.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Everyone has that desire for God if we have the courage. Those of us who know Him and love Him by His goodness and mercy to us and our own acceptance and free will, so those of us that are radically in love with Jesus and live it and speak it, others will be there to listen and to follow. As St. Paul says, “How am I to know if there is not, ultimately, a preacher to tell me,” which is why, again, we’re spread across the globe, Sister, have a beautiful year in Rome. I know you have to be excited about this obedience. This was an easy one to accept. Some of them are a little more trying, but we know it’s God’s will, and so there’s going to be great joy and peace in the midst of it all, but yours wasn’t too difficult to accept. Are you good with languages?

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

Pretty good. Since I’m fluent in Spanish, I’m a little worried I’ll confuse the two.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

That’s true. The two are close. You’re very bright. I think sometimes if you try your Spanish, maybe the Italians are merciful enough to say, “We know that you’re trying.”

Sr. Mary Aquinas:

I can understand Italian because of the Spanish.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

A Heart of Generosity and Love: Sister Mary Aquinas’s Vocation JourneyYour obedience in going to Rome is because you will be the librarian at the Pontifical North American College. Isn’t that beautiful? All those wonderful young priests will have you as their spiritual mom along with the blessed Mother, and I’m sure others over there as well. You will be helping them. The library feeds into the way God prepared you and your own gifts and talents, which are abundant. Sister Mary Aquinas, thank you for coming and being with us today. Let’s pray for Sister and all the sisters that you are meeting and coming to know on this beautiful series, The Truth Shall Set You Free. God bless.


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