By Deanna Rose von Bargen, rscj
This is my third try at writing “my vocation story”! Each time I include too many details, and the whole thing gets too long. This time I have put some of the “interesting stuff” in an appendix, that the reader can access if desired.
The heart of my vocation is a longing for God. There have been many manifestations of “calling” throughout these 76 years of my life, and lots of “meandering,” but the theme of longing for God, and intimacy with God, has remained the constant.
Since I was born in 1939, my twelve years of elementary and high school in Lewiston, Idaho, two years of college in San Diego, and the first eight years of religious life were all in the pre-Vatican II mode. All hell seemed to break loose after my final profession in 1967! Cloister, the rule of silence, and a well-regulated schedule were just perfect for this shy kid, even when turned young adult. Being thrown into a classroom of kids brought me out of my cocoon rather quickly, however. I guess that sort of prepared my soul for what was to come after 1967.
From age 28 until now, it has been a life of “grappling” – grappling with one thing after another, and with one question after another. Questions such as: why had celibate religious life been considered “higher” or “better” than any other “vocation”? That didn't seem fair.
Probably until my middle 30's (or almost 40) intimacy with God meant intimacy with Jesus. He was my (mystical) spouse, and I had worn the traditional wedding dress for the clothing ceremony at the beginning of the novitiate years. I loved considering myself a spouse of Jesus Christ, and wearing the wedding ring received at Final Profession. The “vow crucifix” on my bed is still very meaningful.
As time went on, and I learned about Hinduism (and Tagore) and Zen Buddhism and Centering Prayer, I felt more comfortable with the broader terminology, “intimacy with God.” With scripture study, Jesus became my ultimate teacher as well as spouse. (Which was almost MORE challenging than spouse...)
In the 1980's I became more aware of “the world,” first through the atrocities happening in El Salvador and Latin America. Archbishop Romero and four church women had been murdered. I was bewildered. Still scared, though (shyness and self-doubt have never entirely disappeared), I began to teach adults. This all started in the first parish I worked in, where I taught myself out of Richard McBrien's newly published Catholicism, in order to be able to instruct the parents of the children in what we then called “the CCD program.”
I began graduate studies in theology at the same time that I met Mavi Coakley. (Margaret Mary Coakley, RSCJ, who served the Society of the Sacred Heart as formation director for many years.) I found out that I am intelligent and that I have a voice. All these things converged. My interest in social justice has not quit since then. Now I could not imagine myself a faith “educator” without bringing alive the social teachings of the church. In RCIA, in sacraments classes, bible study, whatever. All this I consider part of my ever-evolving calling.
In the process of my “meandering,” I also took training for directing retreats. The Jesuit who trained me said I am “a natural.” How supportive to hear that, and what a blessing, this ministry.
Now aging, I volunteer. I am in my fourth parish, an American Indian parish, with other missions attached. I teach prayer and bible study and I prepare adults for Confirmation. I ALWAYS tell them that God first of all wants intimacy with each one of us. It's a case of giving what I have received. I didn't learn this from any book. I just believe it, firmly.
(Sister von Bargen has also written a long-form of her vocation story, "beginning at the beginning.")