Catholic Herald staff
Consenting to the Lord’s call – accepting his invitation “to a different and deeper kind of love” – has been an adventure for Sr. Maria Lucia Stella Maris, a novice with the Missionaries of the Word in the Diocese of Green Bay.
A native of Ashland, Sr. Lucia – or Anya Gadamus, as she was then – attended Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School and graduated from Ashland High School in 2008.
Her parents are Jim and Joanne Gadamus; she also has one older sister, Anneli Schraufnagel.
“My whole family is really close,” she said.
Sr. Lucia grew up on a hunting preserve and spent a lot of time hiking, backpacking and camping. She worked part-time for Shootingauthority.com – allowing her access to man cool survivalist and outdoor equipment to hone her outdoor skills. She was active in sports in high school; one of four valedictorians in her class, she liked art and traveling and spending time with friends.
“I don’t have any exceptional hobbies,” she added.
She was young, still in elementary school, when she first felt the “pull” of religious life.
“I was excited at first,” she recalls. Then, as time went on, “it didn’t seem like it was a gift necessarily.”
The wrestling match had begun. All through high school and at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, Sr. Lucia wrestled with the calling and with herself.
“It wasn’t so much if the Lord wanted it. I knew deep down I was called,” she said. What she didn’t understand was “how Anya Gadamus and being a nun go together. I couldn’t see that in my head.”
She had a distinct mental image of a nun: Head down, soft-spoken, superhumanly sinless and well-behaved.
“How can I still be me and be a sister, be your spouse?” she asked God.
“So that was in high school, college,” she said. “It made me go back and forth a lot.”
There were times when she said, “Lord, I’ve decided otherwise,” and she’d tell him she was going to get married.
Sr. Lucia believes there’s always freedom in an authentic call.
“He wouldn’t have been upset with me, had I chosen that,” she added. “There was an invitation to a different and deeper kind of love. Fight it as I tried, I couldn’t shake it. So here I am.”
Having never interacted closely with any sisters, Sr. Lucia’s impression of religious life wasn’t informed by experience.
“My idea of a nun largely came from ‘The Sound of Music,’” she said with a laugh. “I related more to Maria than any other nuns in the convent.”
Discernment, for her, began with learning what religious life entailed.
“The Lord had to strip me of my image of nuns,” she said. “They’re human.”
In college, she started working with a ministry called Catholic Youth Expeditions, based in Door County. That’s where she met her formation director at the time, and now-superior, Mother Mary Catherine, who was then living consecrated vows.
“She and others that I met during school blew my stereotype of religious life,” she said.
Sr. Lucia also struggled with questions of marriage and family.
“A woman’s heart is made to be a wife and a mother,” she added. “We desire to give life and intimacy. I couldn’t understand how the Lord would take those from me.
“He allowed me to see how a religious sister is called to be a wife of Christ,” she explained, and that’s not just “pie in the sky.”
“There’s an intimacy there in how we go to the Lord that fulfills the desire in your heart,” she said. “The dimension is truly there.”
Half-satisfied, she still hesitated.
“I get that, Lord, I get that you can be a spouse,” she told God, “but I also want kids.”
Again, her eyes were opened, and she saw how, through spiritual motherhood, “you can give life to souls through your union with Christ.”
Sr. Lucia realized she’d experienced that in her own life through others’ vocations. She thought of Fr. Conan Mitchell, her pastor in Ashland when she was growing up, and how he’d been a spiritual father to her.
“Seeing that aspect of it opened my heart to living religious life,” she said.
Sr. Lucia is currently in her novitiate with the Missionaries of the Word. She makes her first vows with the 3-year-old, three-member community in April.
“I wouldn’t say so much that I chose the community as I was led to it,” she said.
On summer staff with Catholic Youth Expeditions, a retreat ministry for young Catholics discerning vocations, she received formation for three summers during college.
“It’s a life of prayer and service, and then we invite these young people into that routine of prayer, formation, service,” she said.
She learned the hard way to stay focused on the Lord, rather than the discernment process.
Sr. Lucia knew she was being called to the religious life, but she was constantly asking God to tell her where to go, and it was causing anxiety.
“Instead, I said, ‘Lord, I don’t care where you lead me. I don’t care how long it takes for you to show me your will,’” and she let go of her worries.
Finally, what he wanted to teach her all along became clear: a vocation to religious life isn’t so much about being a sister or the external details.
“It’s about being with Him,” she added.
When she focused off of discernment, everything very quickly fell into place.
Mother Mary Catherine was founding a religious community in the Diocese of Green Bay, which would be open to aspirants.
“It was as if the door was opened to me … an open invitation … the Lord saying, would you walk through? ‘Would you follow me?’”
That was August 2012. The following month, she joined as an aspirant.
Forming disciples is the community’s purpose.
“It’s a simple charism of prayer, presence and proclamation of the Gospel,” she said. “It’s still very much in the unfolding stage, because we’re very new.”
Her advice to others considering religious life is “to take their eyes off of discerning and put them more on the Lord, and be really peaceful about living in the present moment with the Lord … to really just focus on growing your relationship with the Lord, to take time to be with him. That’ll provide an open heart to take you wherever He wants to take you, and to say yes to that plan.”
A strong relationship with God is foundational, she observed. It’s as important to married or single life as it is to a religious vocation.
“We pray a lot,” she said of life at the convent. “The whole reason we’re here is for the Lord.”
They could reduce it to just social work, she said, but that isn’t the point.
“Social work is important, but that’s not the vocation of the religious sister,” she added. “The vocation is to be a spouse to the Lord.”
After her profession in April, she will resume her work with Catholic Youth Expeditions, where she will go on retreats and help others grappling with their own calls – listen to them, pray with them, “just walk part of their journey with them.”
What is most fulfilling, as well as most challenging, in a novice’s daily life is the mission to love.
“The vocation of everyone is to love, and as religious, we promise to particularly seek out the fulfillment of that vocation,” she explained. “We’re made to love, we’re hardwired to love. It’s the most fulfilling thing.”
Growing up in the Diocese of Superior, she felt supported in her calling.
“Fr. Conan Mitchell was incredible,” she said. “He was a huge blessing to me. He taught me the joy to be found in loving … in taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.”
Fr. Mitchell, who died in 2009, also had a stash of candy bars.
“He would keep chocolate up his sleeve, and I’d wait so eagerly to get it from him,” she remembers. “He’d come into our classrooms and bless us. Those simple acts of love … have always stayed with me.”
Sr. Lucia keeps close at hand a photo of herself and Fr. Mitchell from her first Communion.
“What a beautiful example of consecrated life,” she said.
“It’s amazing how much just a few people can do,” she added. “I did feel supported. Those that really encouraged my vocation weren’t necessarily … or largely weren’t religious, but they were living the Christian life all out.
“People who authentically love the Lord spur vocations,” she observed. “Living a good life is the most compelling witness.”
Her message to others contemplating a religious vocation is “the simple fact that life with Christ is life with joy. We focus so much on what religious and priests give up. What they say no to. I think that perspective misses the mark. It’s a much more radical yes than no.
“Just giving him a blank check with our life – it’s an exciting journey,” she added. “As much as I fought it, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
Although she is now living in the Diocese of Green Bay, Sr. Lucia always jokes about how she’s from the Superior diocese, rather than the Diocese of Superior.
She loves her home diocese, and she’s confident that as long as Catholics are encouraging young people to pray and teaching them about their faith, God will call more youths into his service.
“The Lord’s got the diocese in his hands,” she said. “Just as the Lord has drawn others away from the diocese to serve him, so too will he draw others to the diocese to serve him.”
She said she’ll pray for renewal for the Diocese of Superior.
“I think we just have to have hope, because the Lord has the diocese in his good plan,” she said.