His Call Will Come: Sister Maria’s Vocation Journey

Sister Maria was raised Catholic and spent her young adulthood selling cars and living a materialistic life. She eventually felt called to the religious life and knew that she needed to get herself out of debt before she could seek entrance to a community. She became a successful CFO of three car dealerships and became comfortable with that position, so she told God that He had to blatantly call her hand before she’d give it all up for a religious vocation. God called her, in no uncertain terms, to Himself, and after calling upon Our Lady for additional guidance and confirmation, Sister Maria joyfully left her material life behind and joined the Dominican community in Ann Arbor, MI.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Sister Maria, why don’t you start by telling us where you were born, how you were raised, and something about yourself.

Sr. Maria:

I was born in the Bronx, New York to a devout Catholic family. My mom was Brazilian. My dad was Portuguese. I didn’t realize until after I got into high school that the way I grew up was different from what my American counterparts experienced in the Catholic faith. I thought it was funny because I went to a friend’s house, and I didn’t see one crucifix. I didn’t see an image of Mary. I didn’t see the Sacred Heart. For a second I thought, “Maybe she’s not Catholic.” These were all over the house and part of our life. We breathed everything that was Catholic. My mom was always praying out loud and invoking the Saints. To not see that as part of this young woman’s faith was startling to me. Processions in the backyard to Our Lady were normal. We grew up in a beautiful, devotional Catholic family where you see the faith come alive. You see the incarnational aspect of our faith. You hold on to it because it’s what gives you hope to put one foot in front of the other in the hard times. I went to Catholic schools all my life.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Did your brother and your father get as much into the devotionals?

Sr. Maria:

My dad was always praying the rosary, reading scripture every day. If you look at some Brazilian and Portuguese artists in the secular world, they’ll almost always certainly, if they’re Catholic, write a religious song. They’re not pigeonholed into the Christian genre. They can write secular music and keep writing religion, if they want to pay honor to Our Lady or our Lord. It’s a different way of thinking. It’s realizing that your whole life revolves around Christ and the Church. This is how they see it. Our Lady of Fatima says that Portugal will always be a Catholic country because she lives and breathes the faith. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Pay attention to this, parents and you who are going to be having families. Raise those kids with devotion. We have our statues, and our holy water, and our medals, and our scapulars, and our processions, and our candles. Where’d you go to grade school?

Sr. Maria:

I went to St. Mary’s School in the Bronx. Unfortunately, it’s closed down now. I went to Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, and then I did a little bit at Fordham University before I started in the business world.

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Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

How did you choose Fordham?

Sr. Maria:

First of all, because when I told my mother that I wanted to go to Binghamton, she said, “Why you so stupid? Why you go so far away from home?” The options were Fordham University or Manhattan College, Mount Saint Vincent. Fordham was a more academically rigorous school, and I wanted that aspect. I started in night school and started in the car business at that time because my parents had paid for my Catholic education thus far. My dad said, “I want to help you. I want to be able to help you pay your college, but I can’t afford it.” I thought, “I need a job that’s going to make me a lot of money so I can pay for school, with flexible hours so that I can do homework.” I thought, “I’ll sell cars.”

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Were you an achiever even in high school?

Sr. Maria:

I was always looking for a challenge to do something good in the world. I wanted to learn as much as I could so that I could do some good. I thought, “I’m going to become a psychologist because then I can help people with their problems.” I started in Fordham, and I was working in the car business. My dad had gotten very ill. He had diverticulitis, and he kept on getting flare-ups. Eventually, he ended up in the hospital, and they had to remove part of his colon. My mom said, “Can you take some time off from school and support the family while your dad is recovering? Shouldn’t be more than three and a half months. That’s what they’re saying, but disability being what it is, it won’t support the household.” My parents had done everything for me and given me the beautiful Catholic education that I had thus far, so I figured I’d go back to school when he’s fine. 

I got the bug because I was making all of this money. It was nice to be able to go to a store and say, “I love that blue pair of shoes. I like the black ones too. I’ll just take both.” It was exciting because, up until then, my mom was so good because she knew what the most important things were for us. She knew that Catholic education came first. We never went on family vacations. Our family vacation was getting in the car, driving two hours upstate to go apple picking, and then driving back down. My parents never went out to dinner because it was less expensive to make your own meals and feed your kids and not have to get a baby-sitter. I knew how important it is to save, but when you realize there are all these nice things in the world that you never could have before and now you can, you figure why not. I’m young. I’m making money. I don’t have debt. When my dad went on disability, and I was helping with family, I thought I could keep spending money the way I was spending it because I thought that I was making a lot more money than I actually was. I was paying bills, but I was also spending money on myself the way I was prior to paying those bills. Unfortunately, it was three and a half months, and they said, “He still has an infection, and he’s still running fevers, so we’re going to keep him.” Three and a half months turned into a year and a half of disability. About the eight, nine-month mark I realized I was getting into debt. I started to borrow from credit cards to pay for things. I still wanted to maintain [my lifestyle], and I figured, “Any minute now he’s going to be fine. I can recover. I’ll just sell a few more cars.” A year and a half later, I realized, “What have I gotten myself into?” I was $50,000 in debt. I had thought about religious life, but now that’s a pipe dream because I can talk to them and say, “Can you help me out with my debt,” but if they ask me what it’s for, I can’t tell them it’s for my shoes and my designer outfits. That’s not going to fly.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Were you living by yourself at this point in time?

Sr. Maria:

I was still taking care of things at home. My dad got better and started going back to work, and my parents were still looking for me to help. I remember a priest friend of mine said, “As hard as this is going to sound, if you don’t move out of your house, if you don’t let them restart their lives, you’re never going to get out of there. If you have any desire for religious life, you’ll never [make it].”

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Once again, the wisdom of these priests that we go to, and they get it.

Sr. Maria:

I started looking for a place, and I finally told my mother. I’m a first-generation American. When I told my mother that I wanted to leave and be on my own, she blew a gasket. She said, “No respectable woman leaves her home before she gets married.” She would not talk to me for two weeks. This was a woman who would talk on the phone two or three times a day. This is typical of Brazilian culture. I don’t know how she did it, but I kept saying, “I love her, but I have to hold my ground.” Eventually, I popped my head in, two weeks into the not talking bit. I walk in, and there’s all these boxes. I said, “Mom, what are all these boxes?” She goes, “These are all of the things for you to start your new home.” It was beautiful. My mom was always like that. She was always generous. She would give you the shirt off her back. She was incredible because she could never stay mad at anyone for too long because she knew that if you love God, you love one another. I thought, “If I’m going to enter religious life, I need to work off this debt, but $50,000 is a lot of money, especially with compounded interest. It’s incredible how credit cards suck you in. Fast forward down the line. I entered the car business as a salesperson, and within a span of five years, I was the chief financial officer of three car dealerships. I thought, “Clearly if the Lord has made me a successful Catholic woman, then isn’t this what He wants for me?” 

This desire in my heart would not go away. I wanted more, and I kept thinking that the more was something I could buy or tangibly hold in my hands, or that I could show people that I have everything. I was equating my self-worth with my net-worth. I was thinking, “I have all of these things. I’m valuable to God.” I realized that money can’t buy you happiness because the longing at the end of the day was, “I have to go to work tomorrow? Gosh.” Knowing that my best moments were in front of the Blessed Sacrament or at mass or at helping youth ministry, or helping at the bazaar, being an Eucharistic minister, reading at mass. All of those things where I was loving, serving, and knowing my God were the best moments that when I finished, I was longing to keep doing them. I would think, “It’s over. I have to go to work now?” Of course, I wasn’t putting two and two together because God knows how we speak. He knows how to speak to the silence of our hearts. If He had said, “It’s because you’re called to religious life,” I would have run. He knew that my heart needed to hear it when my heart was open, ready to say yes like Our Lady did. Finally, I made this deal with God. I said, “You’re going to have to force my hand, okay?” I’m a jerk sometimes because it’s like, really? You did that to God? “I either want to be a millionaire by the time I’m 33, or You have to take it all away so I become Your bride. It’s Your choice. You have to do this because You know that I am weak and I can’t.” Honestly, I was so materialistic, even with all the things I was doing in the Church. I know that part of why I was doing the things I was doing was it gave me great pleasure and I loved it, but because it also assuaged my guilt. Lo and behold, I’m working for three Saturn dealerships, and I became chief financial officer. Within a span of three years because of mismanagement, we were losing a ton of money. One by one General Motors started closing the stores down. A liquidator came in and close up shop. I was the last one standing with the liquidator. All of a sudden, it became clear. I said, “God called my bluff. Now what?” I remember that same priest who had given me the advice about being on my own also told me about our community. He said, “You need to call them because I think you would love them. You would fit in. They want people to be authentic. This was early on in the community’s history. I called and said, “I’d like to come and visit.” Someone said, “I am so sorry. We’re in the middle of construction. There’s not one single spot where I can put you. If you want to visit, however, I can send you a newsletter. ” I thought, “I did my part. I’m good. It didn’t work out.” Fast forward, after seeing that newsletter I said, “This is the community for me.” I emailed you out of the blue, and I said, “My name is Eva Silva. I’m interested in blah, blah, blah.” I gave you all of my details. You said, “Hun, you have to come on retreat.” I remember saying, “When is the retreat?” It happened to be the weekend of my dad’s birthday. I had said, “I’m pretty sure that I’m called to religious life, and I probably will enter within a year. I think I should be home for my dad’s birthday.” I’ll never forget you said. “You have to make a choice. Are you going to put God first in your life?” It was a hard thing to hear, but it was 100% correct. I went. I ‘ll be honest, I thought, “Okay–” at that time I was 31 years old. I’m seeing these youngsters around. I’m thinking, “Wow. What am I doing here?” Actually, it’s funny because I wasn’t myself on that retreat because I felt like if this is the norm, then I don’t know if I belong here because I don’t fit into this setting of these young women. I thought, “I’m not a teenager. I’m not a twenty-something.” I was one of the first people here for the retreat. We were ushered into the guest refectory, and we were going to sit and eat. It’s one of those things where everyone is awkwardly sitting and not knowing what to say. I’m like my mother. She was always the person in the room that got rid of that awkwardness. She was always the one that made everyone feel like wherever they were there was a little bit of home. She made them feel comfortable. I said, “How about we all go around, say your name, how old you are, where you’re from, some funny little thing about yourself and then that way we get to know each other” because I knew that would eventually start conversations. I don’t know what happened after that. We all go through our thing, and there’s nice idle chat. I’m thinking, “Oh, good. Everyone’s getting comfortable.” You come in, and you sit down. I’m trying to be on my best behavior because I was afraid. “I’m not a wallflower. I’m not shy, and I don’t want to scare the good sisters. If this is my home, I don’t want them to be afraid of me and not take me. I’m going to be such a good little pre-possible pre-postulant.” It’s funny because I’m sitting there minding my own business, and you come and look at me and say, “Oh, hun, let your hair down. It’s okay. Be yourself.” I said “What are you talking about?” She goes, “I can see it in your eyes. Be yourself. Go for it.” I thought, “How on Earth did this woman peg me without even talking to me?” I thought it was hysterical. From then on, there was a sense of “I can be me.” It’s interesting because the Lord wanted me to observe and soak it all in. Most of the people that know that I was on that retreat don’t even remember me being there because I wanted to see what the life was, not from the perspective of the young women that were visiting. I wanted to watch the sisters and their joy. I wanted to watch them pray. I wanted to soak it all in and not get in the way of it. I remember that you had said, “I’m going to take you to speak with Mother, you and a few other girls.” I thought, “That’s nice.” I had no clue. I was one of the first ones in. I go and talk to Mother. I come back out. One of the young women says, “Aren’t you so excited that you actually talked to Mother? This is such a big deal.” I said, “What are you talking about?” She says, “Sister doesn’t let anyone talk to Mother.”

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

She blew my cover.

Sr. Maria:

I’m thinking, “What is she talking–” She goes, “It’s because we’re older.” I thought, “Did she just say that?” You came at this point and ushered me to the chapel. I walk into the chapel, and I look at the beautiful reredos in the chapel. I’m an artist, and I love art. I usually don’t keep how I feel about things to myself. If I’m happy, you’re going to know I’m happy. If I’m joyful about something, I want to let the world know. I walked into the chapel. I’m genuflected. I went into the pew, and it was like I walked into a living room. It was bizarre because I’m the kind of person who is wowed easily by authentic beauty that lifts your mind and heart to God. This reredos does that. I melt there and started praying. I said, “Lord, I’m done. I want to do Your will. I want to become a saint. Please, tell me where that is.” I felt in the quiet of my heart, He said, “It’s here with My Grace.” I thought, “I must be doing that psychological transference.” I’m talking to myself. Can I try this again? “Okay, Lord. Please, I’m so tired of trying to figure out. I want to know, is this it? I want to become a saint, and I want to know, is it here?” He goes, “Yes. It’s here with My grace,” and I thought, “Okay. I’m talking to myself again because I’m telling myself what I want to hear so that I can get on with life. Okay. I’m going to try one more time.” Third time’s a charm, right? I said, “Lord, please. I want to become a saint. Where am I going to become a saint?” He said, “It’s here with My grace,” and I said, “If You’re not going to talk to me, I’m going to talk to Your mother.” I started praying the Rosary because Our Lady has always been my rock. She’s always pointed me to her son. She’s never steered me wrong. She’s saved my life numerous occasions. I was praying the Rosary, and I felt a peace. Our Lady said, “Just enjoy the weekend.” You select a litany title of Our Lady as part of our retreat, and you have to talk about it. I get this basket, and I pull it, and I’m thinking, “I want a good one, like House of Gold, Tower of Ivory,etc.” I pull “Mary Mother of Jesus.” “What? This is boring,” and then there’s this little one who’s saying, “Give me the basket,” and I’m trying to put it back and get another one, and I’m thinking, “That’s the wrong way to approach this. I can’t do that.” I handed the basket to her grudgingly, and I went to my Holy Hour that night and took my litany title. It was 2:30 in the morning, and I said to Our Lady, “Tell me what you want me to know. Give me peace in my heart. Show me what I’m supposed to do. Help me to say yes in whatever it is that the Lord wants.” It’s 2:30 in the morning, so you’re a little tired. I’m thinking, and all of a sudden, I have this image. I always loved thinking about Our Lady as a mom, playing with little baby Jesus, tying His little collar, or doing the things a mother does in the everyday normal, seemingly mundane way. I love thinking about those things, and I thought, “I wonder if she played with Him a little and messed with Him.” Like, “Where’d the Son of God go? Here He is. Who’s the Son of God? Yes, you are.” I had this image of her playing with Him because all parents play with their kids. Then I had this thought of when you give a baby a raspberry on their belly and they laugh with that laugh from their gut that you have to be stone-cold not to be tickled to death by how beautiful a sound it is to come from a baby. I thought, “Mary was the first one to hear that sound.” Then I wondered if, when she was at the foot of the cross, if those were the moments that she held onto, those moments when her Son was delighted and filled with joy and love, realizing that this moment on the cross wasn’t too different from that because He knew what He was doing was love. All of a sudden it clicked, and I remember thinking, when I’d first thought about religious life, that I wanted five things in a community. I wanted, first of all, a community that was authentically Marian because I’ve always been Mary’s girl. I’ve loved her ever since I was a child. I knew that if people looked at me, I wanted them to see that I was Mary’s girl. Then I wanted a community that Eucharistic. Not because the Lord is second, but because I knew if I found a community that authentically Marian, it would be a given that it be authentically Eucharistic. The two came hand in hand. I knew one of those two things. The third thing I wanted was a community that was traditional. I wanted the habit, I wanted the veil, I wanted the rosary. I had this image of me in a convertible with my veil flapping in the breeze. We don’t own a convertible. I don’t know where I had that image. I have this almost delightful, playful image of what it would be like to be a Sister and how delightful it would be to my heart. I wanted the traditional things because I wanted people to be able to see me and know who I was. I didn’t want to walk around and people not understand. I wanted people to see a bride of Christ, not Eva Solva. I wanted them to see a Dominican Sister of Mary. I wanted them to see that if they wanted to talk to me they could. I wanted them to see it as a welcome because I knew that’s what it was. I wanted a community that was intellectual because as much as I love to joke around, I’m a nerd through and through. I wanted something that was going to challenge me. I always said that my husband had to be smarter than me. There you go. Found Him, and there’s no one smarter. The fifth thing I wanted was the lynchpin for me. I wanted a community with a sense of humor. I wanted a community that could have fun, smile, laugh at their mistakes, find the joy in life, not take themselves so seriously. I wanted an authentic joy and love. I could hear in my head your laugh. I saw in my mind this image. I thought, “Doesn’t it look like Our Lady saying, “Who’s the son of God? Yes, he is.”” It was a piece of a puzzle, the last one that you’ve been focusing so much on a section that when you put the last piece of the puzzle and you stand back, you see this beautiful image and it all makes sense. It wasn’t like God said, “You are to become a nun.” I saw it in my mind, and it was clear. I had this distinct realization that if I did not enter religious life, I would never be joyful and happy, so I said, “Okay, Lord.”

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

We are so glad that you said okay and that you are here. I didn’t think you would be too shy to answer. I also want to say to our audience, I know you thoroughly enjoyed that. I know you laughed and laughed and laughed. You can either press rewind and watch this again, or you can get our book And Mary’s Yes Continues. Sister Maria’s story is in there, chapter 13. A phantom who always appeared on the 13th of the month. Sister Maria, you are delightful. You always are. You’re always a bundle of energy. You have holy enthusiasm. May you have it all your life and give it to the Church. I’m grateful that you’re a Dominican Sister.


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