Sister Katherine Stone. Photo: David Maurice Smith/Oculi
“Are you allowed to look at yourself in the mirror?” I stood stunned for a second or two by the question before I could open my mouth and answer. I was 22 years old and in my first year with the Missionaries of God’s Love Sisters. This particular day, I was facing a room full of year ten girls with whom, along with a couple of other sisters, I had been discussing what it meant to be a sister. The short answer to the question was and is, of course, “Yes!”
That’s the only time I’ve ever been asked that particular question, but if I had a dollar for every time a student has asked me if being a sister means I can’t have a boyfriend, I’d be well on my way to breaking my vow of poverty. People seem to get stuck on the whole technology thing too, so before you ask – yes, I use computers (not the most up-to-date, though), and the internet (I even have facebook!), but no, I don’t have a mobile phone, or an iPod or an iPad! These and many other questions, however, are a fairly regular reminder of how “different” my choice of life is from the average person’s experience...
I have been blessed to have grown up in a strong Christian family. Faith came easily for me. So maybe it’s no surprise that I also knew from quite a young age that I was going to be a sister one day. It wasn’t a welcome knowledge, however, as I had other ambitions – I wanted to be a wife and mother, and maybe a hairdresser or a writer or... the career changed as I grew!
Sister Katherine Stone Photo: David Maurice Smith/Oculi
The summer between school and Uni was a life-changing one for me. I worked and played for most of it, but also spent a week at a “Summer School” for young Catholics. There, alongside some two hundred other young adults, I was encouraged to open my life up more fully to God. I remember praying at the beginning of the week, asking God for some kind of direction in life: should I study what I’d enrolled in, change degrees, or take a gap year to be certain I was doing the right thing? The end of the week rolled around, and it seemed like I’d got no answer. Then, on the second last day, a surprising series of events saw me sitting uneasily at the back of a seminar about the Missionaries of God’s Love.
As I sat and listened to Fr Ken Barker, the founder of MGL, speak about the vision for a life of prayer, lived together with others who shared the vision, and sharing the Good News of God’s love with particularly the young and those on the margins of society, something began to stir within me. I remember thinking, “Hey, I like this! If I was ever going to follow that sister thing, I’d be looking for all of these things in the group I joined.” He sat down, and the leader of the Sisters got up to speak. I have no memory of what she said, just that as she spoke, I felt like God was saying, "This is what I want for you, this is where you will find fullness of life," and for the first time, everything in me responded with a joyous, "Yes!"
I didn't join straight away, but went off to study at Uni first, to give myself some space to discern more carefully. That was my parents’ suggestion. They were otherwise quite happy with my decision, and have been incredibly supportive over the last eight and a half years since I joined.
Apart from mirrors, a common misconception that I find amongst family and friends in particular, is that they see our life and work as something like social work. Actually, our work with young people and those on the margins of society is specifically about sharing the love of God with them. Yes, we run youth groups, and visit people in hospitals and prison, and run leadership schools and mission trips to indigenous communities, but our experience is that the one thing that makes a lasting difference to an individual’s life is to know how much God loves them. It’s that that we seek to share with those to whom we minister. The reality of our lives is that we might be only a small part in an individual’s journey to coming to know God and how much God loves them. Sometimes we plant the seeds, sometimes we nurture seedlings that another has planted, and sometimes we see them blossom and bear fruit. Those times are a real joy! There’s nothing quite like being the one who sees the end of someone’s journey to coming to know God, and the immediate difference that it makes to their whole life. Those experiences are the ones that keep us going when it seems like nothing is coming of all of our planting and watering.
Having said all of that about ministry, my “day job” these days is that of “formator” – which is jargon for “the person who looks after the new sisters” – so I actually don’t get to do a lot of on-the-ground mission. At the moment I live with five other sisters, aged between twenty-one and late forties. Three of them are new and therefore under my care. Most days we get up at 6am to begin our day with a couple of hours of prayer, and then depending on which day of the week it is, they might have classes and study time or ministry experience or a day devoted to prayer or “sisterhood”. My role is to facilitate all of that for them. At the other end of the day, we pray again before dinner, bringing the needs of those we’ve encountered that day to God, and then again at 9.30pm, before we go to bed.
I’ve been with the MGL Sisters eight and a half years now, and the deep certainty of that initial "yes" has never left me, even at the hardest times, when I'm feeling discouraged in ministry, or lonely, missing family and friends. I love the privilege of being able to give myself full-time to my passion – sharing God's love with others – and to be able to do this in companionship with other women who share the same passion. And yes, I still use a mirror!
The Feed’s Jeannette Francis has the full story on Katherine’s life as a young nun tonight 7.30pm on SBS 2.