If I could give God another name, I’d call him Persistent.
In 1976, I was thirteen years old. That year was outstanding not only for the celebration of the 200th birthday of the country, but also for the 41st International Eucharistic Congress which was held in Philadelphia. I remember travelling with my family before dawn from Washington DC to Philadelphia to celebrate one day of this amazing event. Renowned people, a future pope, and future saints were at the Congress—Karol Wojtyla, Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa—but I remember none of them. Instead God had his own agenda for me in Philadelphia.
My Dad had tried many times to interest me in the life and mission of the Daughters of St. Paul, but in my adolescent “wisdom” I would hear none of it. I was determined to enter a cloistered community and had already visited the Visitation Sisters in Georgetown. While walking through the pavilion for exhibitors at the Eucharistic Congress, my eye caught sight of a display of religious books. I didn’t notice the sisters behind the table. But as I walked in that direction, and as the sisters probably saw “religious vocation” written across my forehead, my Dad announced from behind me, “Don’t even bother, Sisters. She’s determined to enter the cloister.” So that was the end of that potential conversation. I did, however, purchase The Secret of Mary, a pamphlet which I've kept with me for forty years.
That afternoon we were walking down Chestnut Street in Center City, Philadelphia and were surprised to come upon a Catholic Book Store. We walked inside and guess who was there…. The St. Paul Book Store (as it was called then) was run by the Daughters of St. Paul (God’s second attempt at getting my attention). I asked about a prayer book, we left, and I thought no more of it.
A year later, my mother took me with her to an evening for catechists and—wouldn’t you know! —there again were the Daughters of St. Paul (third time’s the charm). The same sister I had seen in Philadelphia was now standing in my high school vestibule. I wasn’t exactly interested in seeing her, but after a short conversation she invited me to visit the motherhouse during the Professions of the young sisters in June and, well, the rest is history....
Fast forward 10 years...
Now I am the sister inside the Book Store on Chestnut Street, having made my own Profession several years before. A young Korean woman in her late twenties is outside the door, standing on the sidewalk, unsure whether she should enter. She walked to the end of the block, but something made her come back. She stood looking in the window from the other side of the sidewalk, unseen as she blended into the sea of people streaming through Center City at lunch time. Tears started to fall down her face, but still, she hesitated. She felt a pressure to enter this store she had never noticed on Chestnut Street, though she walked by it daily, but another voice within her kept her paralyzed with indecision. Eventually, she took a handkerchief from her purse, wiped her tears, and taking a deep breath, crossed the sidewalk, and came in. It quickly became apparent that our guest wasn’t sure why she was in a Catholic book store. She wasn’t Christian, nor was she looking for anything in particular.
After striking up a conversation with her, one of the sisters took her into the chapel and told her about Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, phoned a priest at the parish down the street for an appointment for her to speak with him, and showed her several books that she might find helpful.
One day, several months later, she walked into the Book Store, this time with an unmistakable joy in her step. She told us her name was Chin-Sun and explained how she had spoken several times with the priest we had arranged for her to meet. We were delighted to find out that she joined the RCIA classes at the parish with the intention of being baptized the following Easter.
“Sisters,” she told us, “you don’t know what this means to me.
When I walked in here last time, I had said to myself,
‘If I don’t find some meaning for life here, I will end my life.’
I wasn’t intending to come here.
Something caught my attention as I walked by your store,
and, even though I tried to ignore it,
something kept drawing me back.
This visit to your store was going to be my last chance.
Life had no meaning for me. It was empty.
I felt hopeless and alone.
But coming in here changed all of that.”
As we prayed about our Novena Webathon for this October, we have been considering the immense needs of today's world...not the great big world en masse, but the world made up of millions of individuals whom Jesus is seeking one by one, just as he sought me, just as he sought Chin-Sun. So many today are seeking for meaning and giving up on the hope of discovering the joy of a life filled with the awareness of God's love.
You can be there, planting the seed, that saves a life.
This October we’re celebrating our Novena Webathon as a live Rosary on Facebook between October 5 and October 13 in honor of Our Lady of Fatima for the 200th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun.
The Rosary is a powerful prayer.
Mary is a persistent Mother.
We invite you to join us in prayer and generosity. We hope you bring with you in your heart those very special people in your life who are longing for the Word that heals, even if they do not know it.
Share with us your prayer intentions for the live novena here.
Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP