From Bees to a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Sr. Irenaeus’ Vocation Story.

From raising bees and selling honey, Sister Irenaeus realized she wanted something more. She wanted to sell something more worthwhile. Through faith and prayer and Eucharistic Adoration, she realized that God was calling her to Himself, and she joyfully answered that call after college. Her simple vocation story is a beautiful reminder that God calls us from wherever we may be, and that He knows the plan for our lives if we are willing to listen and follow.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Sister Irenaeus welcome! Thank you for stopping by. Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Sr. Irenaeus:

Thank you, Sister. Well, I grew up in Central Indiana. My parents both grew up on farms, and we had a hobby farm. I’m the youngest of three. We were a normal family in a lot of respects, or at least I thought we were. We had our problems, but we were close. We had our joys too and grew up with a pretty simple life. My mom originally was a Mennonite and converted to Catholicism just before my brother was born. We went to mass as a family every Sunday and prayed before meals, but it was the living of our normal life and the love in our family that helped me understand God’s love for me. Growing up, I have one memory that I love. It was on Good Friday. My family went to the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. I think I was probably 11 or 12. It was this amazing and deep sense that Jesus died on the cross for me. When I tried to explain it to my siblings later, they didn’t have the same experience that I did. It was realizing that He was pulling my heart even then.

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Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Your mom converted after your brother’s birth. Were you around at that time? Where do you come in your family?

Sr. Irenaeus:

I’m the youngest.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

By the time you came, your mom was already a Catholic. Knowing your parents, I would have presumed she’d been Catholic all her life. Does she ever refer to those days or to her faith as a Mennonite?

Sr. Irenaeus:

A little bit. She grew up Mennonite, and then there were some differences in their church. She was attending a Methodist church when she met my dad. She came from this Protestant background. She and I, when I was growing up, had conversations about how she was baptized when she was 12 or 13. She struggled with some tenets of the faith, especially with confession growing up. When I was in high school, my mom came back to the Sacrament of Confession and started going regularly, which was a grace. One of the other things that makes my mom special is that she’s a three-time survivor and the first time was when I was very young. That suffering has purified her. She’s one of my heroes.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Growing up, were you very religious?

Sr. Irenaeus:

I wouldn’t think more than most people, but there were a few instances that drew my heart. I went to public school, but I was in a high school youth group. High school was the first time I ever experienced Eucharistic Adoration, and that was another moment of feeling Him drawing me more and more to Himself and the emotion of being before Him. I remember weeping. It was so powerful. One of the aspects of our faith that my family was so good at, though, is the love for the poor and a love of service. My parents are the most generous people you’ve ever met. We always had a sponsor child growing up that you help every month with costs for their education and basic needs in another country, and you had the opportunity to write letters. When I was in high school, I started writing my letters in Spanish to Maria in Guatemala, and I was really excited about that. We had the opportunity to go visit Maria in Guatemala when I was 16 years old. That was another moment I can point my vocation back to standing in this beautiful place. There’s volcanoes all around, in a very similar area to where Blessed Stanley Francis Rother was when he was a missionary. Standing there on these flat rooftops and looking out, I remember praying out loud, and I didn’t pray much at that time, and I probably would never have prayed spontaneously out loud ever at that time, but saying to the Lord, “Lord, I want to serve You and the Church,” and I didn’t even know what that meant.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

How old were you?

Sr. Irenaeus:

16. It took me a long time to find my vocation, but [there were] little hints along the way.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

That’s beautiful. Do you think your own openness to the faith in some way influenced your mother?

Sr. Irenaeus:

Maybe. I hope and pray, even in the last several years seeing my parents grow so much deeper in the faith, even since I’ve entered the convent, has been total grace.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

The importance of children living their faith. Many times our sisters come home from various schools and say that it’s little Johnny or little Kathy or whoever who is bringing the family back to prayer when the child goes home with the excitement of a child for God and the Blessed Mother and the saints and for the entire mystical body of Christ with such freshness and enthusiasm and joy and love that his/her family is much bigger than they would’ve ever thought of before. Another thing you mentioned, which is a common theme of our sisters before they enter, a very strong percentage have already been praying in Eucharistic Adoration. How did you get drawn into Eucharistic Adoration?

Sr. Irenaeus:

When I was in high school, predominantly at retreats they would have like a Eucharistic Holy Hour and maybe the procession of the monstrance around. When I was in college, I started going deeper into my faith, coming home to it in a much deeper way. At Purdue University, there was an awesome Newman Center. There was a chapel with the tabernacle, but Jesus was exposed in the Blessed Sacrament for a number of hours every day. It started happening. I was at Purdue to study agriculture, and that’s very much part of my background. While I was at Purdue, I started realizing that what I wanted to do more than anything was be in the Church. I would make a visit after class on the way home or between classes. I would stop in for a few minutes because I just wanted to be with Him, be in His presence.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Would you say that there were other students that had a similar desire or was it just a few of you?

Sr. Irenaeus:

It was to differing degrees. The amazing thing about the Newman Center there is that there were a number of students on fire for the faith, and that’s what enflamed my own heart. They called me to holiness in a similar way our community life still calls me to holiness. My sisters make me want to be a saint.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Peer pressure in the right manner, for the good, the true, the beautiful. For God. How did you select Purdue University?

Sr. Irenaeus:

I grew up with this agricultural background. A particular passion of mine was beekeeping. I started keeping bees when I was 12 years old. I convinced my parents that it was a good idea. They eventually did agree. I cleared out my little 12-year-old bank account and bought all the hives and the things. When I was in high school, I had a beekeeping business. I sold the honey. I made value-added products. I loved selling honey, making the different products, cooking with honey. When I got to college, I started off in natural resources and environmental science because I also love everything about God’s creation in our natural world. I had an internship where I traveled around the United States promoting the beekeeping industry. The position was called the American Honey Queen. I traveled from January 2010 to December 2010. I was on the road three out of every four weeks of the month and went to 27 different states promoting the beekeeping industry. I did school presentations, which got my feet wet in the classroom. I did fairs and festivals selling honey. I addressed the Mississippi House of Representatives. My vocation started during that year. By this point, I had visited the community. Once you’ve spent that much time in hotel rooms by yourself, you can only watch so much TV. So I start to Google religious sisters, and our community would keep coming up. In this time, I was selling honey, and I loved selling honey, and I loved talking about bees. Both are very good things, but I started to have this sense of I want to give my life to something that really matters, even more than honey to bees. I can sell people anything, but I want to sell them something that will set them free. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Did you go to school from January to December this particular year that you were the Bee Queen?

Sr. Irenaeus:

The first half of the year I was taking a lighter class load and getting it done in between things, and then I took off in the fall. You have to be pretty smart to be a Bee Queen and do all your duties there, as well as keep up your education. When I came back, I changed my major to agricultural communication and managed to graduate within that four-year time period. Agricultural communication is talking to people about the agriculture industry, basically what I had been doing and realized I was pretty good at. I thought changing my major would help, and I think actually a lot of young women do that. They change their major when they’re trying to figure out the turmoil, trying to do something to quiet the heart. I changed my major. That didn’t help. I had originally visited our community when I was a freshman in college. By crazy chance some people had invited me. I didn’t know that people still entered religious life. I didn’t know that there were communities like our community. I thought we would be the only group there, but we got there, and there were 60 young women there, and people started talking about, “I got papers,” that they were applying to the community. In those couple of years of college, I couldn’t get the sisters off my mind. When I came back after that year of representing the beekeeping industry, I realized I need to think about religious life. I need to consider this. I came on our amazing vocational retreats.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Aren’t they amazing, Sister? Tell our audience a little bit about those amazing vocational retreats.

Sr. Irenaeus:

They are unbelievable, and they’re called “be-not-afraid” retreats, because there’s so much fear, but that fear is ungrounded when you know that the One Who loves you is Who’s offering whatever your vocation is. He’s offering that gift. The whole purpose [of the retreats] is to find out what that gift is for you, what graces are given to you through your baptism to give you the courage to do it. The all-night Eurcharistic Adoration is the highlight, because He’s the one that has the answers. There are talks by the Sisters, fun times with the other attendees, and there’s usually over 100 at every retreat.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I would say they’re now about 140/50. They’ve grown.

Sr. Irenaeus:

Then there was the opportunity when I was a junior in college, when I came back, to talk to you. I came in, and I think I told you that day that I’m more sure than I want to be that I have a religious vocation.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

That’s exactly how you phrased it. I thought, “This is good. I like you. God is getting you.”

Sr. Irenaeus:

He was getting me, and He was pulling and pushing at the same time, and I was trying to say yes.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

How did your family react?

Sr. Irenaeus:

We had some ups and downs. They’re good people. Our parish had been praying for religious vocations, but I don’t think my parents thought it would be their daughter. Their initial reaction was supportive and good, then some of the realities of what that would look like, that physical distance and separation, was difficult. Within the first couple years of entering the convent, we were working things out. They were realizing that I’m still part of the family, that I still have a love for them, in a deeper way even, and I pray for them every day.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

We said in a previous podcast in relation to the young woman entering with her family, only in Heaven will the family clue in to how many prayers that one daughter has prayed for her family, for every intention, before it comes, during the time, and even after, and thanks given for the graces received, for whatever her family needs. Working with the young women before they enter, I stress that because I don’t think a family has any clue. If you want to get a lot of prayers, and you want them solid, and you want them promised, you get a son in the priesthood or a daughter in the convent. In our community, we pray, pray, pray for our families. Eventually, the families catch on. Your parents come and visit, and they always have boxes and boxes of corn or jam or honey. You’ve got bees going in your family. They have truly kept that up. We’re the recipients of your idea when you were in high school. 

Sr. Irenaeus, a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and Purdue Graduate, stopped by to speak with Sr. Joseph Andrew about her Vocational Journey.

Sr. Irenaeus:

They realize that the way that they loved me, growing up, which was food on the table and the family gathered together, that they could still love me that way by bringing food for all the sisters. They’ve welcomed all the sisters into their family, which has been a great grace.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

You entered with your college degree in agricultural communications from Purdue. Previous episodes have explained the formation program that we have. Everyone realizes the incredible high quality of the intellectual aspect as well as the human and social dimension, which are so essential to our life in dealing with so many people, and that maternal heart being developed, and understanding and loving people. Obviously, since we’re preachers and teachers, we go on to get college degrees. Tell us what yours had been.

Sr. Irenaeus:

After I professed my first vows, I went to Eastern Michigan University to get a post baccalaureate teaching certificate. It means I already had a bachelor’s degree but needed the education classes. My focus area was elementary education, but I also integrated science teaching, especially middle school science. As a middle school science teacher, I love bringing that same wonder and joy that I have to them. I teach them about bees and birds, and sometimes the birds and the bees. I was a science and religion teacher, [so I also taught] salvation history, church history, and religion classes. I was teaching middle school science and religion this last year, but Mother and the council discerned and are sending me to get a master’s in biology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, which I’m super excited about.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

You should be. You will do a beautiful job. Sister, thank you for being vocation-oriented. Sister has been my assistant, and we hear beautiful stories everywhere we go of young people truly seeking the divine plan for their lives because they were created by God with a specific way of getting back home to Heaven, which is called their vocation, their own unique hearts, how they are to give themselves totally to another and to receive another. Is that through the married vocation? Most people are called to that beautiful vocation and to raising their children. Or could it be to religious life in our community, or other wonderful communities as well? We send them all over to wherever. If this young woman has a religious vocation, where her spirit would fit, because that’s the spirit that God gave her uniquely. Sister, you’re always pure joy to work with. I love the whirlwinds that we create for God.

Sr. Irenaeus:

Let’s set some hearts on fire.


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