“Desire so deep”—Teenage Actor Nails the Call to Religious Life

What Mundelein "Sister Act-ress" Mary McMurray Learned

Mary McMurray’s mom works at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein, Ill. That’s the key to understanding everything about this story.

Mary, a public high school student in Mundelein, was cast as Mary Robert, the postulant, in her school’s performance of Sister Act. Most of the students in the play were not Catholic, and as such, were clueless about what it's really like to be a Catholic sister. That’s when Mary’s mom Wendy enlisted the help of two seminary colleagues to help prepare the students for their roles. One of them was our very own Springfield Dominican Sister Judith Anne Haase, associate dean of formation at the seminary since 2014.

Sister Judith Anne Haase with Sister Act cast

Sister Judith Anne had a confession to make: She’d spent a lifetime educating students as a Catholic school teacher and principal, but she’d NEVER been in a public high school in her life! She was as nervous as the students might have been, she said.

She needn’t have worried.

“The kids were attentive. They looked at me when they spoke and asked great questions, like ‘How do you become a sister?’ and “Do you really use the term “mother superior”’? and—my favorite: ‘How obedient do you have to be?’

“One of them said that in the play some of the sisters sneak out of the convent. She wanted to know ‘Do you really sneak out?” That was a fun one, too!”

Sister Judith, who made her first profession at a time of great change in the Church—just as the Second Vatican Council was getting underway—said the questions allowed her to make distinctions for the students about changes in religious life over the past 50 years.

When Sister Judith and her colleague Sister Kathleen Mitchell, FSPA, finished their presentation, three of the girls came forward to give them hugs and offer thanks. “They didn’t have to do that,” she said. “It was spring break and they were practicing for this play. They were impressive kids.”

An ‘ah-hah’ moment

And impressions were made! Mundelein High School Theater director Jonathan Meier put it this way: prior to the sisters’ visit with the cast, he said, “They had this attitude of what a huge sacrifice it must be to give up marriage and family. What the students learned is that is exactly the life the sisters chose. It doesn’t make them sad or feel like they are missing out—it is actually what makes them happy.”

Jonathan feels that having the sisters visit the Sister Act cast was a key to improving the performance. “I had a little ah hah moment myself,” he said. “It wasn’t just the kids. It really helped the show, in that it made the young actresses a little more joyous in their portrayal.”

But it was Mary—who played Mary Robert the postulant—who really nailed an understanding of what motivates women and men who allow God to make a claim on their hearts.

“In the show there are some jokes about what it’s like to be a nun, and to other people, especially non-religious people, that can be hard to grasp,” Mary said. Especially difficult for her non-Catholic classmates to understand was the idea that they have to give up “almost everything” for God.

Fulfilling a “Desire so deep”

“Even though my character is not a nun yet and she herself does not know whether this is where she belongs, she knows that God is going to call her to wherever she needs to be. Speaking with the sisters really made me realize that when these women become [sisters] it’s because there’s this desire so deep within them that they NEED to become [sisters],” she said.

Sister Judith Anne Haase, in pink, at community meeting

That, friends, is the key to joy so often remarked upon by others when they meet a Catholic sister. “This desire, so deep.”

Do Three Things

While it is true that fewer young people are choosing religious life than were doing so 50 years ago it is also true that an increasing number of young people are making that choice!

Here are three things you can do today to encourage young people who are looking for this desire within themselves. Click on each heading to learn more.

Pray this prayer

Sunday, May 12, is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Pray this prayer and share it with others.

Holy Spirit,  stir within us the passion to promote vocations to the consecrated life, societies of apostolic life, diocesan priesthood, and permanent diaconate.

Inspire us daily to respond to Your call with boundless compassion, abundant generosity, and radical availability.

Help us to remember our own baptismal call to rouse us to invite the next generation to hear and respond to Your call.

Inspire parents, families, and lay ecclesial ministers to begin a conversation with young Catholics to consider a how they will live lives of holiness and sacred service.

Nudge inquirers and motivate discerners to learn more about monastic life, apostolic life, missionaries, cloistered contemplative life, and evangelical Franciscan life.

Ignite our Church with the confident humility that there is an urgent need for religious sisters, brothers, deacons, and priests to live in solidarity with those who are poor, neglected, and marginalized.

Disrupt our comfortable lives and complacent attitudes with new ideas to respond courageously and creativity with a daily 'YES!'  Amen.

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