The Tug of the Holy Spirit: Sister Martin Thérèse’s Vocation Journey

Growing up, Sister Martin Thérèse knew she wanted to be a wife and mother and thought she had no religious vocation at all. God knew differently and tugged at her heart until she listened and responded. A nagging feeling that she should write to the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist led to a beautiful acceptance of her religious vocation in their community. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways, and He will guide you if you but listen.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Sister Martin Thérèse, your story is multifaceted in many ways. Tell me about your family and your upbringing.

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Sr. Martin Thérèse:

I was born in Northern Ontario and raised mostly in southwestern Ontario. I have a brother and a sister, both older. I’m the baby of the family. My family was a good Catholic family that went to mass every Sunday and prayed the rosary at night, until about third-grade, and then that went by the wayside, but I’m very faithful in the Catholic faith.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Tell me about your education. Did you get it? Where did you go to grade school?

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

I lived in Saudi Arabia for three years. My father worked for Boeing Canada, and they had a contract with Saudi Telecom. We lived in a Canadian compound there. Mostly, it was French Canadians that lived there, so that’s where I developed a lot of my French which I’ve lost. We went to an American school there. My parents gave us the option to go to French school or American. I chose American. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

DId your siblings also choose the American school?

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

Yes, they did, but they were also tutored in French, whereas I was not. I didn’t want anything to do with the French. At fifth grade, we moved back to Canada, southwestern Ontario in Chatham, and that’s where I was from the age of 10 until 20. Over there, I went to Franciscan University in Steubenville where I met the sisters.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Are there many Catholic schools in Canada, or was that something you would have been able to attend?

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

No, we did go to Catholic school. In Ontario, the Catholic schools are funded by the government. There’s a lot in there that isn’t good Catholic teaching. That was my experience at the time. I had to fight for my faith a lot. My mom did a great job of catechizing me. I knew the faith, and I was able to speak up when things were not sounding right.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Beautiful. I want to impress that upon you listeners and viewers as well because many times you will say we can’t find a good Catholic school. If you can find a school that has a parish attached or relatively close by, the children can get to know Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. I think that’s very important, whether or not you realize this is going to play a major role in your life. I hear that story many times. I was in a Catholic school, and it wasn’t as faithful as we hoped it would be; however, I think another thing, Sister, and this is something that has occurred to you as well, you know the sacrifice your family is making to send you to a special school. It’s Catholic. The other aspect that I love about what you said, and that’s from my own growing up in the South and attending Catholic schools and not always as faithful as certainly I would wish, you grow up with a fighting spirit for your faith. Somewhere along the lines, if they are going to claim their faith, everyone has to grow up to be ready to fight for it. I think that’s a stronghold in both of us that you take for granted while you are in it because you wish things were different. You realize down the road, “I know how to combat this. I know how to fight for this. I believe.”

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

It’s interesting because growing up I remember coming home with questions. “This is what I heard at school today, and this didn’t sound quite right. ” My mom would talk it through with me. She taught me how to teach my peers and to help them through it and even at times dare I say to correct the teacher. Sometimes I got into a conflict with the teacher about it, but it taught me how to be in the world and yet not of the world. I think that’s something I’ve been able to take with me throughout my life. I think as a sister it’s important to have that.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Even as sisters later on when we get into certain school situations or certain public situations or even social situations where we realize things aren’t exactly according to the faith that we certainly know and love, we have more ability to turn it around towards the good that’s beautiful, the truth that we’ve heard as Dominicans. You graduated from high school, and you are already saying your family was the strength behind you in regards to the faith.

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

Very much so. I went through a bit of a crisis. After I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to Franciscan University, and it cost a lot of money. Being Canadian, the dollar was bad. At that point in my life, my father walked out on us. It was difficult for me, and I had a lot of anger towards God and my father. It impacted me in such a way that I was accepted to Franciscan University and then didn’t want to go. It was my saving grace. It was my lifeline because it was there that I was able to actually come to terms with my father’s leaving and to reconcile with him and with the family. It was important for me, and it helped me to deepen my faith. Between my first year at Franciscan and my second year, I served with ministries as well, which also played a pivotal role.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I want to get into that in just a second, but first, back to the reconciliation. Here you are with this family crisis and the way you as a child responding, and you end in a very Catholic environment of Franciscan University. How long did it take you in that kind of an environment to work through some of this?

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

It took going through my NET Ministry’s year. Many of the student body go to daily Mass. You can get everything at a normal university at Franciscan, but the influence to live the Catholic faith is very strong, and so while I made a decision not to have a relationship with God, I still went to Mass on Sundays because I was afraid I’d go to Hell if I didn’t. That’s the saving grace. Then one of my friends, who had lived across the hall from me in the dorm, thought I was suited for NET Ministries, and she had served on NET. She encouraged me to do that, which was out of my comfort zone and my personality because I was very quiet. I’m loud with people I know, but with people I don’t know, I’m more reserved, and my mom was shocked that I wanted to do that because she said, “You have to speak.” I said, “I know.” That’s where their reconciliation happened because that fostered in us the importance of a prayer life and being rooted in Christ, living in community, having to work with other people, how to reconcile, and all of that.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

All of you all have heard of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, that are on so many campuses now, and it’s beautiful. Another really beautiful thing Sister is referring to that she was on is called NET, and it’s out of Minnesota, and there’s a strong commonality between these two, but they have their differences, and this is the National Evangelization Team. This is what makes me laugh, but I love it. You’re on a specific team, and you all get into a van with all these different aspects of humanity, men and women, and you offer it up.

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

I love it because it stretches us out of our comfort zone.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

You’re living with host families throughout the year. You’re already learning how to beg. The Dominicans are mendicant, so we have that aspect, and it forces you to face your own humanity and to say, “What bugs me in another person, and how can I get over it?” You have to live with this team wherever you are sent. Sister, tell us a few more of your experiences there.

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

NET formed me, and I mean that. My parents laid the groundwork, but NET taught me how to live in community, and my team was absolutely wonderful. We’re still in contact today, and it’s 20-some odd years later. Every day, we’d go on retreat, and we would serve anywhere from grade schools to universities to family retreats every single day. We’d be giving our testimonies, and we had community prayer every day, so we’d get together for an hour a day, and it was mostly singing praise and worship and praying. Then we’d have Mass every day and go to confession, but we did live a poor life as well. We received a stipend once a month, and we had to use that money throughout that month. It wasn’t that much. We travel around in a 15-passenger van with a trailer, so I learned how to drive that as well, because I was not going to go without driving the entire year. “Sure, I know how to drive a 15-passenger van.” It used to be hard for me to stay in people’s homes a lot because I have a lot of germ issues. It did stretch me a lot. There’s some places I didn’t eat much; other places, it was good. It was a lot of fun. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Did you see the fruit of your labors?

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

Not really. It was more planting the seeds because we were in and out. We do a retreat for a day or a weekend, and then we were gone. I have never run into anyone that I ministered to back then. I’m in contact with my team, but the children and young adults that we’ve ministered to, I have no idea. There’s two religious on my team, myself and Father Emmanuel of the CFRs, and then everyone else is married or doing whatever.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

You did that for one year. God healed you by stretching you and you gave yourself too, which is beautiful. That’s a lot for you. Then you went on, and was it junior and senior year after that or sophomore?

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

I didn’t actually finish. In Ontario, there’s grade 13, and that was considered my freshman year of university, so I went in as a sophomore. Then I went back for a year and a half, and I ran out of money. While I was there, I met all of you.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Tell us about how you found your vocation? This has many layers to it as well.

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

It does. I had no desire to be a sister, and I want to get married and have lots of kids. I dated a lot. I’ve gone to confession, and I was praying on my way out of the chapel at Franciscan University. I went out of my way for some odd reason. I say it’s the Holy Spirit, but at that time, I thought, “I know I did this.” There’s a rack of brochures with religious communities. This was back in 1997, so our community was just founded. There was a brochure that said Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist. I thought, “That is a beautiful title.” I put it in my bag, and I went to class. Later that day, I was leaving campus, and the thought came to me that I should write the sisters. I thought, “That’s kind of dumb. What am I going to say to a bunch of nuns because I don’t want to be one.” The thought came back to me, “You should write the sisters.” Again, I thought, “I have no desire.” I kept pushing it out of my head. As the week was going on, this nagging feeling kept coming. It was stronger and stronger and stronger, and I thought, “Oh, for pity’s sake,” so I sat down with a laptop and wrote, “Dear Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, this is who I am. This is where I’m from. I served with that ministry. I go to school at Franciscan University. I have no desire to be a sister. The only reason I’m writing you is to get rid of this nagging feeling that I have and if you even get this, it’s only because that’s the only way I can get rid of this feeling. I think it’s great you’re in the habit.” Then I mailed it because the feeling would not go away. Within a week, I received a letter from you. I’ll never forget it because it was a little blue envelope and perfect handwriting with a little bird on it. I had no idea. I knew nothing about the community at the time. You wrote, “You might have a vocation.” I thought, “No, I don’t! I do not have a vocation.” At that point, you and I started communicating. You had told me, I thought, that you were coming out to Franciscan for the summer for a class, but it turned out it was Sister John Dominic. I met her, and then I finally got out to Michigan and kept running and running away.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I have to say, Sister, I still have your letter because it is the funniest, by far, of any. “If you are still reading this, God bless you. I felt like I needed to send this to you, and I don’t have a clue why because I know I don’t have a religious vocation.” I’m  thinking, “She’s fighting it that hard. God is after her.” I was very suspicious. Sister, tell our audience about the first time I came to Franciscan, and you were under the tent organizing wonderful things. I was talking to you for quite a while.

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

I was working at the conferences in the summer, and I was in charge of transportation. You were there with Mother Assumpta, and I smoked at the time. You saw me and said, “Come here.” I came right over, but I had a cigarette in my hand, and I knew that was rude to smoke in front of you, but I didn’t want to put my cigarette away either. There was no place to lay it, so I had it behind my back. You kept me talking.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Meanwhile, rings of smoke are going up behind her, and I caught on.

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

I had no idea. I thought, “She’s never going to stop talking.” It was starting to burn my fingers, so finally, I had to let it go. I don’t remember what we were talking about at all.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

It was shooting the breeze until you had to drop the evidence.

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

I did.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I have to say, Sister, when you made up your mind, you gave it everything you could, to the extent that you were capable of at that moment. I think that’s something that a lot of people say. “Is there a mold? What kind of families do they come from? Religious vocations, etc., etc.” I constantly want to say, “There is no mold. God is too creative to have made a mold.” What a cheap way to get to Creation if you had made a mold, and we were all poured into this thing. The community cannot do that. Every individual is his or herself before God. As I look at our growing community, I see so many varieties of personalities, and interests, and talents. God handpicks who He wants, exactly. How many, like Sister Martin Thérèse, would have said, “I never wanted it. I never thought it could be possible.” Now, Sister, years later, you’re pouring your energies into the apostolate teaching in a wide variety of places. What has that meant to the maternal heart that has developed inside you?

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

It’s interesting. I have grown in love like my patroness, Saint Therese, love in the heart of the Church. I have never loved in this way, where I look at my students, and they’re mine. I mean that sincerely. I pray for them every day. I pray for them in my heart. When something awful happens to them, my heart feels for them. That’s something that when I was younger, I definitely would not have. I was so focused on myself and my own hurts and woes. Now it’s for the other. I love teaching. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

You teach high school.  What is your degree in?

Sr. Martin Thérèse:

I have a bachelor of science in education, social studies, history, structures of the discipline, science. I also have an endorsement for high school, so I’m qualified to teach K-12. I also have my master’s degree through the Catholic Studies program in St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s a wonderful, all-encompassing program. It’s got the arts, theology, and philosophy, and it gives you a good overview and foundation in our faith to be able to teach that to others in a way that is attainable for them.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

There are so many initiatives going on in the Church, in the United States, and I’m sure around the world as well. Our community is blessed to be able to plug into more and more of the good ones and to support them because we need to know our faith. Not just know it up here, but be on fire here. Sister, I thank you for coming today and for being part of all this because your heart shows that you love it. Hook, line, and sinker, and you so desired to share it with others. Your story is unique in so many different ways, as is everyone’s, but I knew yours would be a lot of fun, and we would end up laughing a lot. Thanks for the laughs and the beauty behind it. God bless.


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