Baptized Catholic Raised Actress | Sr. Maria Catherine, O.P.
Today, I have the distinct pleasure to bring to you one of my beautiful sisters. For those that have tuned in regularly to these posts, you know that every single sister has her own story just as every one of you has his or her own story because God never treats two of us the same because we are totally unique and this is the only one of me He will ever create, the only one of Sister, the only one of you. And so we have that definite destiny– that definite role to play in the world that God sent us into. With that comes a vocation. Now, many of you would probably think, “Well, a religious vocation. Probably, they were born into a wonderful Catholic family.”Not everyone was. Now, my guest today, Sr. Maria Catherine has a very interesting story. Sr. Maria Catherine, tell us a little bit about your family and growing up and how God was after your heart.
Sr. Maria Catherine You are right that God truly calls each of us in a different way. I am from the great state of Texas, which I’m really, really proud, especially since I have been away from Texas for so long now. I was raised in Houston, and I’m a Texans fan, not a Cowboys fan and that is actually really important to get established. I had an unusual kind of situation with my education. My mom died when I was really young, so I was actually baptized a Catholic but raised a Protestant. And by the time I was in high school, my family just wasn’t going to church at all. I had really good Christian parents and I have one older sister. We had all really enjoyed going to church, but there didn’t seem to be a real reason to go once I was in high school and all the activities and the great demands of trying to get into college kind of took over our schedule. So church seemed a lot less important. And I went to an unusual high school. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of (the movie, it’s kind of an old movie now) Fame from the 1980s, but it was about this kind of unusual high school in New York City, and I went to a similar high school in Houston. It’s called the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and it’s based on different art areas, at least at the time that I went there. I went as an acting major in high school and what that means is I spent four hours a day doing my academic subjects, all the things that you would kind of persue: math, science, English, and the rest of it but the other half of my day I actually spent in intensive studies in the theater arts. I was learning costume history, and acting, and Shakespeare, and makeup. I had a fabulous voice and diction teacher and stagecraft and stage combat; All kinds of really unusual things but that education actually really formed me to take risks and to really ask some deeper questions about what life is about. I really, really value that time that I spent in Houston at HSPVA.
Sr. Joseph Andrew As we know from Pope St. John Paul the Great who went to acting school, and was an actor, would you say going to that particular type of an arts based high school that you found yourself, through your craft, going more interiorly?
Sr. Maria Catherine Oh, definitely. I think the arts have a very special way of unlocking the parts of our heart that are maybe closed off to our reason and I know that even throughout my own theological training, the best professors I have had, the best teachers I have had, they always incorporate artwork, literature, music, Shakespeare; because we are body and soul.
Sr. Joseph Andrew With that education and that environment that you lived in, that just turns on all the start buttons of the heart in that realm when you see it and you learn and you take possession of that. So were you thinking perhaps that might’ve been your future?
Sr. Maria Catherine Yes. In a lot of ways, I did. But by the time I finished high school, I felt on the one hand completely prepared to pursue a professional career or obviously to go on to college, which was my deeper desire but there was something in me that was also shifting and I started to look at my dream and my desire to be on the stage and in the limelight and even the natural God-given talents that I knew that I possessed and had had some chance to cultivate. I started to think there was something missing, and I didn’t know what it was, but I started to look around at my friends and the way I was spending my time; And this especially happened when I got to college at the University of Texas, I was looking around, and my classmates were in three different shows, and they had two part-time jobs, and they also were going to school full-time. I Just looked at that, and I thought, “I really don’t even want to be around acting people.”And there was just something– but I didn’t know where else to go, and so I kind of felt trapped, to be honest. I didn’t even want to study theater in college, but I didn’t know what else to do. And the deadline came and went, and I thought, “I’m good at this, so I’ll just keep going. I’ll hit the default button.” So it was actually after my first semester, my first year of college, where I hit a real low point. I just had no idea what to do with my life.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Now do you think this was also spiritual because you are beginning to find an inner depth that can’t even express itself in the best of acting or the best of art or the best of that longing for the more?
Sr. Maria Catherine I think that’s actually a great way to put it. I had stopped praying probably about five years before, and I wasn’t going to church, and even turning to God never occurred to me. I didn’t know anybody who was going to church at that time. But it was through some friends and social situations that I met a wonderful mentor, Michael, who just took me under his wing and really befriended me. Challenged me intellectually, he was such a good example of what it means to be a Christian, but not just being a Christian and not just being a good Catholic. He’s an incredible human being. He was going to confession regularly; no one I knew was doing that. He loved arts, dancing, literature, cooking, he speaks several languages and it really helped me become entranced with life again.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Yes, entranced with life, that is beautiful because that’s what God wills for each of us. So how did this friendship help you discover the church’s social teachings and later your vocation?
Sr. Maria Catherine Oh, that’s a great question. Actually, definitely in my talks with Michael, he was always encouraging me to really seek the truth. I remember asking him all these questions. And he finally said to me, “You know what? You’re really smart. The catechism is online. You go find this out for yourself. Go read the Vatican documents. It’s all there. Do not take my word for it. Go out and keep asking these questions.”And so it was actually at his instigating that I started to study a lot more. And I remembered these parts of myself that had lain dormant for some time, just that I love studying. I love reading. I love looking for the truth. I didn’t even know what a Dominican was. But I would say that my interest in Catholic social teaching was really spurred on when I learned more about the Holy Spirit which– when I was learning about the Holy Spirit and started to shift that into my new sacramental world-view, how does the Holy Spirit work in the world? How does the Holy Spirit work in practical situations that involve economics and markets and politics and people and social relationships? And I started to get really interested. Like, what happens when grace is at work in politics? And then I started discovering all these new authors and political philosophers and I discovered free market economics, which is certainly not perfect, but it started to lead me to what people of faith are doing in the marketplace to help order the world.
Sr. Joseph Andrew As you mentioned, the Holy Spirit was after you, and you were following. So how does that work out? Where did it start taking you on its own trajectory?
Sr. Maria Catherine Well, when you follow the Holy Spirit, sister, as you know, He’s going to lead you on a lot of adventures that you may not expect. So I was working for this amazing academic think tank and even though I had the perfect job, I was going to a fantastic parish, I was dating a wonderful man I was thinking about marrying, my roommate had a great dog and two rocking chairs on the back porch – It was a great life. I wasn’t miserable and looking for a way out when I entered the convent. I had everything and it wasn’t enough. However, in my love for the Eucharist I was doing holy hours almost every week with the Missionaries of Charity in Houston who I’m still very close to and one of the women there who I would see repeatedly told me that she had a daughter who was my age and during one of the holy hours her daughter actually came and when I met her she was just glowing. She was this young woman who had gone to the University of St. Louis. She was really, really, really bright and I found out that the reason she was so happy and glowing was because she had been accepted to the Dominican Sisters of Mary! I was mad. This whole religious life thing, it won’t leave me alone. Because religious life had been on my mind for a few years but I kept pushing it back. Who wants to do that? Because I really hadn’t seen any sisters who were living a life– all of the consecrated women in America have been heroic giving themselves to Christ. But I just hadn’t seen any really visible witnesses who were doing a kind of apostolate or living a community life that was really compelling to me. Later on, the now Sr. Catherine Thomas and I ended up seeing each other at mass and running into each other and she kind of cornered me and said, “Why don’t we have lunch and talk a little bit more?”And it gave me an opportunity to really air out some of my fears and be honest with someone who I didn’t know terribly well but who was about to enter the convent. I didn’t have to see her ever again but at the end of our conversation I remember that she said to me, “Why don’t you call Sr. Joseph Andrew in Ann Arbor?”and I nodded and smiled and had no intention of doing this at all but the next week, I walked into my job at the Think Tank and my boss said, “Well, mark your calendar. We’re going to be going to Michigan” and I just knew again the Holy Spirit. He lets me know when I’m supposed to do something. So I knew that on that trip to Michigan I needed to make a stop in Ann Arbor, so I did
Sr. Joseph Andrew He is good to you.
Sr. Maria Catherine The last thing in the world I wanted to do was discern my vocation. I mean, that sounds like engaging a rusty shotgun. Like it just sounds awful! But you were very patient with me. I remember being so grateful that you understood that I had so many misgivings and fears. But being with you– actually I don’t know if I told you this, but it helped me to name my desires and to say, “This is what I want. No matter what I’m afraid of, no matter what I think might happen or what is scaring me right now. This thing is what I want.”And you gave me the freedom to say “yes”to that. So that night– after I was visiting, and I saw Sr. Catharine Thomas who was a happy, happy, postulate. Sister and I had dinner, and we talked the cold, hard facts about my life. And after that conversation, I went back to my hotel and I prayed and that night I knew– the next day I flew home to Texas and I sold everything I owned, and I entered the convict three weeks later.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Isn’t that remarkable? Don’t ever think you know more than God or your idea’s better than His or you can tell Him the better plan. You cannot begin– Sister, I am just beaming and thinking, “Our God is such a wonderful God of surprises.” He loves us so much more than we could imagine than we could ever possibly know. I really, really thank you for coming on Lumen Ecclesia and our podcast today, The Truth Will Set You Free. I think your radiant smile is truly a sign to all of our viewers and our listeners that the truth really does set you free, and that God really is after every single human heart. So open those hearts to God and don’t ever take His place in thinking you’re more brilliant than He, but follow the divine path through a great deal of honesty, openness, and intense desire. Sister, thank you. You’re a beautiful example to all of us.
Sr. Maria Catherine Thank you Sister.