The Quest Lives On

Updated: Jun 27, 2020


| This is the 347th story of Our Life Logs |

It’s crazy to look back on my life and see that I went from a nun candidate to a mother of five. For years, I wondered why I wasn’t destined for that life, but now, I see how it all connects. Let me take you back to where my quest for life’s meaning began.

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I was born in October of 1951 in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents who had lived through WWII. My dad, a protestant minister, and my mom, a housewife, were very active within our Christian community helping the poor while raising my 10 siblings and me.

As I grew up, the flames of my faith remained strong. I had an insatiable curiosity about the world, love, and the meaning of life. This curiosity led me on a quest toward California with my best friend Marge after we both finished our first year at the University of Minnesota. It was the “hippie” thing to do–hitchhike out West, be free, smoke, and explore. Truly, the ‘70s were something else.

So, with no real plans, Marge and I packed our matching orange backpacks and headed to the West Coast. Neither of our parents were overly thrilled. They worried for our safety, especially because we had no real plans. But we wanted it that way—that was the fun of taking an adventure, wasn’t it?

Marge (right) and me (left) as we prepared for our trip out West, c. 1970.
Marge (right) and me (left) as we prepared for our trip out West, c. 1970.

We arrived in Boulder, Colorado, and felt a pull to stay. See? That’s the beauty of not having plans. You can do whatever feels right in the moment. In the city, we were welcomed by complete strangers at a Christian commune. It was such a peaceful place that Marge and I decided to stay and adapt to the commune’s everyday routine.

It was jarring how different commune life was from the hippie lifestyle we’d been chasing. Women wore long dresses, men and women slept in separate houses, and they encouraged us to give up smoking and drinking. As a girl who had made it through college with this lifestyle, I was shocked at the idea of stopping. However, as I attended group scripture studies, it became easier to give up the fleeting “luxuries.” The Christian leaders encouraged us to look to Christ rather than our selfish desires of free love and living the “me” generation. I became attracted to the idea of becoming devoting my life to Christ and becoming a nun.

When I returned home from the trip, I was a changed woman. As it turned out, while I was having my own mystical experience in Colorado, my parents were having a Catholic conversion of their own. As we processed into the Basilica in Minneapolis where my family had recently moved, my heart felt full to the brim. The lights, the incense, the beauty all around me made me—it all made me feel so close to God. In my heart, I dreamed that the next time I walked down an aisle, it would be as a Catholic nun making my vows. This sense of belonging gave me a lot of peace in my quick and heartfelt decision.

Our family Christmas card, shortly after we became Catholic. I’m front and center.
Our family Christmas card, shortly after we became Catholic. I’m front and center.

With the desire to belong totally to Christ burning in my heart, I pursued a nursing degree and majored in Catholic studies at the college of St. Catherine’s, and started a job at the local Hennepin County Hospital. When the January term came, I was given the opportunity to study and live behind the enclosure with the nuns for a month to discern the lifestyle I had been dreaming about.

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I chose to live with the Cenacle Order nuns who were based in Minnesota. They were intriguing to observe because they carried out charismatic retreats where we were baptized in the Holy Spirit and taught to respond more quickly to the grace of God. The nuns wore traditional habits and veils, signifying their call to belong completely to Christ and, as I stepped across the stone threshold into the simple convent, I felt joy filling my heart. The beauty and silence of this place was home.

I longed to be like these nuns, dedicating their lives to Jesus.
I longed to be like these nuns, dedicating their lives to Jesus.

Sister (Sr.) Faith, the vocation directress of the order, took me under her wing for spiritual direction, answering my questions about religious life and helping me discern whether this was the right path for me.

As the month progressed, my desire for religious life grew deeper. Yet, when it came time for Sr. Faith to learn more about my intentions, I was not prepared for her questions.

“Have you considered marriage, Barb? Have you dated any men? Are you sure you want to live this life forever?”

I told her, “Yes, this is what I want. I didn’t need a husband or children. I want to belong totally to Jesus.”

Still, Sr. Faith seemed convinced that I was supposed to consider marriage more deeply. This confused me greatly. I knew what I wanted! Could it be that God was showing her otherwise?

• • •

A few days later, I went for my usual meeting with Sr. Faith, but it was not the meeting I had imagined us ever having.

“I’m leaving the convent, and, getting married!” exclaimed Sr. Faith.

I was stunned. “How can you leave?” I stammered. Sitting in front of me was the woman I had looked up to and saw as a model of faith, who had taken on the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience…and here she was telling me that she was needed elsewhere!

It felt like a big bucket of cold water had just been thrown upon the flame that had burned in my heart for religious life. Sr. Faith, who had always seemed so unwavering in her vocation, now made me question my own. If she wasn’t meant for it, maybe I wasn’t either.

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With my momentum squashed, I decided to leave my dreams of being a nun behind. I started dating, wondering if maybe I was destined for a husband and a family after all.

As if it was destiny, my quest for meaning and purpose in life was tied again to my best friend Marge. She was engaged and invited me to her wedding on June 10, 1977. Little did I know that upon showing up at her groom’s dinner table, that I would meet my own future groom, her brother Pat.