From Keller, Texas, a small suburb outside of Dallas/Fort Worth, Sr. Mary Avila is the middle of three children. Her father, a convert to the Church, and her mother’s great love for the Eucharist and our Lady, although neither were well catechized, they really believed in Catholic Education and sacrificed much to send her to Catholic schools!
Sr. Joseph Andrew: “Fear,” as Saint John Paul the Great would say, “is what stops us from becoming the Saints God’s calling us to be.” So, Sister, having said that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background.
Sr. Mary Avila: I went to a beautiful Catholic school. I think what strikes me the most was a constant exposure to what was truly beautiful, what was truly good, and what was truly true. When I went to our Catholic High School it was not as easy for me to truly live my Catholic Faith and, in many ways, I became an American cliché teenager. I was involved in all the activities but I still felt so empty. And I started thinking to myself, “Why? Why do I have everything and it’s not enough?”
I started going to daily Mass, and even though I would leave Mass in the morning and then forget about Jesus, every morning I had to go back and it was a grace that God gave me. It was right there in that Chapel where that vigil lamp was, that’s where peace and security and true love was.
Sr. Joseph Andrew: Now at any point, in grade school or high school, did you start beginning to think about a possible Religious vocation?
Sr. Mary Avila: Yes. In seventh grade, I left class one day and looked in the hallway and saw two black and white habits walking away from me. I remember stopping dead in my tracks thinking, ‘Oh, no, they’re real. Oh no, I have to do something about this.’ I never saw their faces, but I remember hearing their voices, and the sound of their rosary, and the swish of their fabric.
Before I entered I saw the principal of that Catholic School who said to me, “I can’t believe you’re entering the Dominican Sisters of Mary! You know we tried to get them to come teach at our school. ” As it turns out, those two Sisters were Mother Assumpta and Sr. Joseph Andrew!
Sr. Joseph Andrew: When you graduated from high school, what was the plan?
Sr. Mary Avila: I ended up going to tour Catholic University of America. And the moment I walked on campus I saw the Basilica. “Oh, I’m home! I am under our Lady’s care.” I didn’t know a single person in D.C. and I remember asking Him, “Lord, I know You want me here, but I need you to give me a sign and it needs to be black and white – “
On the first day I saw that same Dominican habit that I’d seen in seventh grade and she was carrying a box helping the Freshmen girls move in; it was Sr. Mariana who’s in our community and I remember going back to that moment of “Oh, this is why you’ve called me here and that’s my black and white sign.” I started going to Holy Hour with the Sisters and then Mass. I really fell in love with the Sisters and fell in love with Christ and claimed the Faith as my own for the first time in my life. They were so good.
The moment I came [on retreat] I had a moment of “I left my nets and I ran.” I remember after I asked to enter you asked me to wait a year and go back to [CUA] for my sophomore year and honestly, it felt like a breakup. I felt like Jesus dumped me. I left my nets and I ran, and He was like, “Thanks but not yet.”
It was after about two weeks, I realized, ‘No, this is actually God’s will, this isn’t Him dumping you; He’s worth the wait and what He’s wanting to do is take this little love that I have, this little desire that I have, and make it so much more and make it more than a fervor, more than an attraction to the joy of the Sisters but a choice of Him; because at the end of the day you enter Religious Life and you stay in Religious Life, not because of the joy of your Sisters or the beauty of your habits, but it’s for Jesus Christ.”
Sr. Joseph Andrew: Sister, if you had one thing to say to the young people what would you most want to say?
Sr. Mary Avila: I would say [do] not be afraid to be recklessly generous with the Lord; because even though He asked me to wait, He rewarded that reckless generosity, that leaving everything; the running towards him saying, “I don’t know what’s next, but let’s go; let’s do it!” And whether that’s being recklessly generous and following him to a career or following him to [marriage]. Every vocation requires reckless generosity that’s not counting the cost; and even when you give generously and you might not get the response that you want, He doesn’t reject your desire and your generosity, but just give and know that He’s going to take it and do something.
Sr. Joseph Andrew: Sister, I really want to thank you for being on our program today and no telling where you will be this time next year, but God already knows and it’s just good to have you on, Sister! And thank you all for tuning in today, and there’s lots more, so God bless you, and thank you again.