It's taken me years to come to a point where I can be even remotely objective about the whole thing. For a long time, I would brook no criticism, defend to the death even things I had disagreed with at the time. Later, I swung around the other way and couldn't even talk about it because of all the bad memories it was bringing up for me. Now, I look back on it and it's just one of many things that went into the making of me ... not everything, not nothing, just one thing. And I'm done wondering whether it could have been different, what I would have been like otherwise ... it's irrelevant because I am what I am now, and I love my life -- I wouldn't change a thing, if it meant things would be different now. I've come through a lot, both good and bad, to arrive at my present life, which is wonderful. I can't exactly wish any of it away.
So, I've resolved to finally come out and tell my story. I'm going to try to be as objective as I can, and let you all draw your own conclusions. A lot of people I went to school with had completely different experiences, some better and some much worse, so keep in mind that I'm not telling the whole story. I'm only telling my story.
Here are the basic facts. In 1998 I encountered a group called Regnum Christi. They are a lay movement within the Church that still exists. I first joined the youth arm, called ECYD. In 2000, when I was fourteen, I went to a boarding school that exists for girls who want to discern a vocation to the consecrated life in Regnum Christi. The school is officially called Immaculate Conception Academy, but we called it "the precandidacy." In 2002, at the end of my sophomore year, I was sent home. For years I tried to get back there, while being an active Regnum Christi member. Two and a half years into college, I finally left Regnum Christi for good in 2006.
The story starts, as I said, in 1998. I had just finished my years of conventional schooling, one year of public school and two years of parochial school, and my parents had agreed to let me return to homeschooling for seventh and eighth grade. I had been miserable at school, so I was thrilled and ready for some change in my life. A friend of my mom's from church happened to mention a summer camp I could go to. I'd never been to a real camp, and really wanted to go. It was a Catholic camp on a lake, run by these Regnum Christi people I'd heard of.
That summer I went to the camp and had a really great time. Instead of the cliquish and cruel classmates I'd been dealing with, there were lots of really nice girls who were very accepting of my awkward self. I made friends, a real challenge for me usually. The two ladies who ran the camp were my idols. They told us that they were consecrated women, "like nuns, but we take promises instead of vows and don't wear a habit." They were both young and pretty, and wore nice clothes, like businesswomen. They smiled all the time and were always really nice. At one point I was called to talk alone with one of them, and thought I was in trouble. Instead they asked if I wanted to join this group they'd been talking about, ECYD. I said I really, really wanted to, but I would have to talk to my parents first. So I didn't get to join at that camp. The girls who had called home to get permission all had an "incorporation ceremony," where they made promises and got little commitment cards. The commitments were very easy -- a few short prayers a day -- and you got to take a rosary ring home with you. I envied those girls fiercely.
After that I took every opportunity to go to camps and retreats these people put on. At a beachside retreat, I finally incorporated into ECYD myself. I saw it as a way to finally turn my life around, stop the misery I'd experienced with my worldly life at school with the cliques and the dirty jokes and the meanness. Instead I was going to be holy and good and pure, all the time! I felt extremely guilty that I'd been a Catholic for all these years and had never made it my own. So I made it a point to. I read the catechism and the Bible. I changed my radio from the pop station (which I didn't really like, but listened to so I wouldn't be shown up for my cultural ignorance) to the Christian station. I stopped reading trashy novels and switched to the classics. All of this fit in very well with my new life situation -- with Catholic, homeschooled friends and friends I met through ECYD, rather than the popular kids at school who would laugh at you if you didn't play along with their dirty jokes, dating games, and popularity clubs. I even got my formidable temper under some kind of control, and eventually rid my life of the gigantic temper fits I had been in the habit of throwing. (I'm sure my parents heaved a sigh of relief at that one!)
Those two years of my junior high were kind of a golden age for me. I was finally making my faith my own -- even praying the rosary sometimes before going to sleep at night. I began talking to God again, like I used to do when I was very little. I also began to follow my own interests more, beginning to write a lot, to work on crafts, to spend a lot of time outside. My mom supported me in everything, saying the ECYD prayers with me morning and night along with our usual prayers and driving me to club meetings.
That was kind of odd, by the way. We had been told at camp that the "girls' club" was for ECYD members and others who were interested, and yet ECYD was never mentioned. The explanation was that we, the ECYD members, would be the secret heart of the club, and all the other girls would want to join too when they saw us. From time to time the consecrated women would show up for "spiritual direction" with those of us who were members. I never knew what to talk about.
After about a year, I think after my second camp, I had a strange dream. In the dream, I was at camp, but at the end of camp, all of us girls joined the consecrated women. We were dressed as nuns and we were all rapturously happy. I woke up with the idea that I had received a Call. We'd heard tons of vocation stories, and there was always this moment when someone realized they were called to the consecrated life.
I reached for my Bible and flipped it open at random, hoping to "get a word" that would tell me what to do. (I didn't know then, but I do now, that this practice, called the sortes bibliorum, is condemned by the Church as superstition.) I got Isaiah 54 and read until I got to the point when I read, "He who has become your husband is your maker; His name is the Lord God of hosts." That settled it for me. I definitely had a vocation.
I had already heard of this school in Rhode Island where high schoolers who thought they had vocations could go. It sounded like a perfect idea to me, the next step in changing my life to what I wanted it to be -- something holier, better, closer to God. And, since I now had a vocation, I should definitely go!
I told my parents and they were skeptical. In fact, my dad pretty much just said no. "You're thirteen," they said. "You never stick to anything. You'll change your mind."
I didn't change my mind. I stuck by my determination for a whole year. Two consecrated women (they always travel in pairs) visited my home and talked to my parents. They seemed to know exactly the topics my parents would listen to: to my mom, they talked about prayer; to my dad, about the problems in the world and the Church. With me, they were a bit more doubtful. They were not at all convinced by my claim to "have a call" to the consecrated life, but they said there was no problem with me going to the summer program at their school and seeing if I wanted to go.
Eventually, my parents agreed that I could go. I saved up money to help buy my plane ticket, and in the summer of 2002, at age 14, I finally went. My main plan was to stay and go to school there, but my mom and I had tossed around other possibilities too. It was possible, I admitted, that it wasn't for me. My mom was more concerned that they wouldn't let me stay.
I flew out to Rhode Island near the end of July, as excited as I had ever been in my life.
More of Sheila's story here
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