Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Called: Sister Mathilde DeLucy, SCC

Sister Mathilde DeLucy, SCCSister Mathilde DeLucy, SCC
(Formerly Katie DeLucy)
Hometown: Scranton, Pa.
Education: Holy Name of Jesus School and Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg; Assumption College for Sisters in Mendham, N.J.; Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.
Current Assignment: Music and third-grade teacher at St. Francis Cathedral School in Metuchen, N.J.

Tell me a bit about your childhood.

I’m originally from Scranton, Pa., but when I was in sixth grade, we ended up moving to the Harrisburg area, in Linglestown. I started school at Holy Name of Jesus in the middle of my sixth-grade year. I had been homeschooled up to that point, so it was a big change. I really loved my time at Holy Name of Jesus. I still have really great friendships from that time. After Holy Name, I went on to Bishop McDevitt High School and graduated there in 2011.

When did you first hear the call?

In seventh-grade at Holy Name of Jesus, it was the first time I ever really felt a strong feeling that God was calling me to religious life. It was during a school Mass. I was in Liturgy Choir, kneeling. I remember being very distracted, and throwing some side-eye at friends like a normal middle-schooler. It came to the Consecration and the priest held up the Eucharist and said, “This is my Body, given up for you.” Something in that moment made me stop. I was looking at the Host and the words filled my head, saying “One day, you’re going to serve me.”

I was incredibly taken aback by it, and a little bit freaked out. But I felt something in my heart. After Mass, I said to my friend, “Have you ever felt that maybe you’d become a nun?” She looked at me and said, “Uh, no.” I said, “Yeah, me neither.” I tried then to put it out of my mind. It was not something I embraced at first. It was something I wanted to pretend never happened, or that it was a fleeting thought. But every time vocations were brought up in school, or someone would come in and talk about religious life, I had an attraction. I always thought, “I wonder what it’s really like.” Especially when I would be at Mass, that thought would come back.

Still, I didn’t want to equate it with being a Sister. Especially as you’re going through high school, you’re trying to have a normal high school experience. You’re thinking about having children, the future, what your career is going to be. You’re thinking about who you’re going to go to Prom with. But even for me, and when I had boyfriends, it wasn’t something that ever 100 percent went away. It kept coming up, especially in more quiet moments, especially in moments where I was praying. It was always very subtle, and always returning, even though I always said “No, not me God!”

Luckily, God is a lot wiser and loving and more fixed on helping us to reach our goal and trying to help us find which way our heart is called to love. No matter how stubborn I was and how much I thought I would plan out what my future was going to be, He kept very gently perusing stubborn Katie.

When did you start giving serious consideration to religious life?

When I was in my senior year at Bishop McDevitt, applying for colleges, auditioning for music school and dating someone, the thought just kept coming up. In January, I had already gotten acceptance letters and scholarships and had been through multiple auditions. I also had the option of going on a high school retreat. A friend of mine said, “You have to go on Kairos.” It was the first ever Kairos at McDevitt. She went the year before on Lancaster Catholic’s Kairos. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to spend a three-day weekend in retreat when all of this other stuff is going on, and needing to fill out paperwork, plus homework.”

Every year since graduating from Holy Name, I had helped with their musical. The teacher at the time, who directed the plays, Toni Mahoney, who has since gone home to God, was a huge inspiration in my life. I remember talking to her after play practice and saying, “I think I’m going to go on this retreat, but I will miss being at the play, and I feel so bad. It’s my last year with the play, and I don’t even know if I want to go on the retreat.” She said, “Kate, if this is something in your heart that you feel that you should do, then you should do it. Service leads us to God.” That really struck me. She was always someone who had guided me, and helped me to grow in my faith and in my confidence that God used my talents and abilities to serve.

I ended up going on the retreat, and during those days, I knew very strongly that this is what God was calling me to do. Even though He had answered all of my prayers in regard to the music schools I wanted to go to, He also pointed me to the fact that if I didn’t at least try to understand what the call was, something would be missing in my life and I would be unhappy. I was on the retreat with someone I was dating at the time, and I remember being so torn when I was talking with Father Raymond LaVoie, who was our chaplain and the Diocesan Director of Vocations at the time. I asked him, “How do you really know?” He said, “Imagine your life both ways. Imagine being married to someone you love and trust, and then imagine your life giving yourself completely to God. You’ll know. You’ll feel it. When you’re praying tonight in front of the Blessed Sacrament, imagine that you’re sitting next to Jesus. All He wants for you is whatever is going to make you happiest and the most fulfilled.”

As I did that, I thought what I’d imagine was walking down the aisle with a beautiful white dress and a long veil. But what I actually imagined was laying in front of an altar, and I’d never even seen a religious profession. At that moment, I knew I would enter religious life.

After the retreat, what did you do to prepare to enter?

After the retreat, I knew I needed to break off the relationship I had with the boy I was dating for two years in high school, which was a very hard decision, because he was a wonderful person. I needed time to pursue this relationship God was calling me to. I started going every day to St. Catherine’s and St. Margaret Mary’s to pray after school. I’d invite some friends with me, and then we’d go to the ice cream parlor, 3Bs, afterwards.

At night, I would Google questions about religious life and Sisters, but I didn’t tell my family that I was searching nuns online in the night (laughing). Sister Marie Pauline had been serving at our high school and was also on Kairos with us. She wasn’t my teacher, but on the retreat, she talked about prayer, loving God and loving others. She talked about how, in her life, loving God brought her to deep love of all people. She said talking to God, just as a friend, caused her to have a universal love for others. I wanted to know about that, and to live that. I would be outside of her classroom on random days, and I finally got the courage to walk in and say, “Sister, you don’t know me, but I really feel like I need to talk to you, because I think I might have a religious vocation.” We talked for many days, and finally I asked her about the Sisters of Christian Charity.

The beauty about talking to her was, she never said, “Oh, you should join our community.” I think that would have scared me at the time. But when I asked, she handed me a flyer with photos of the Motherhouse and some of the postulants and Sisters. There was a quote that said, “The Blessed Sacrament is my life and my bliss. To it do I owe the grace of my holy vocation.” As soon as I read that, I immediately thought of the time in seventh grade when I felt so drawn to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The second quote on the flyer said, “The Sisters ought to be distinguished by their virtues of cheerfulness and friendliness.” And the third quote, “Holy love should sparkle in the eye, radiate on the lips and shine upon the countenance.” Those three simple quotes made me realize that’s what I want to show to other people. This is the kind of love I feel drawn to.

I went to live-ins at the Motherhouse in Mendham, N.J., and I did look at other communities, but God kept showing me the Sisters of Christian Charity was the community he was guiding me to.

God willing, with permission of the community, I will have the grace of professing my final vows on August 15 of this year. I’m very much looking forward to that. It’s been a beautiful ten years. Every year, there have been many joys and challenges, but God has been showing me this is the place He has destined for me to be.

When did you tell your family, and what was their reaction?

I told two of my friends first, when they were on the retreat with me at the time. I asked them, “Is this for real, or is it just from the stress of everything that’s going on?” They were supportive and said, “Just try it. If you feel this is something you should do, how bad can it be to look into?” But I didn’t share everything with them until I did more research. I decided to contact the vocation director of the Sisters of Christian Charity, and she said, “It’s funny that you’re e-mailing me now, because we have a discernment weekend this weekend. You should come.” My first reaction was, “Oh no, I’m not ready to do that so soon.” I had been thinking about going later in the summer to check it out, but of course the discernment weekend was right then! The more I thought about it, I realized I should just go.

I was going to choir practice for the parish that week, and I wrote this long letter to my mom and my aunt, telling them, “I know this sounds crazy, and you have done so much in helping me to visit schools and get to auditions, but I need to go and check out the Motherhouse.” I put the note in the bedroom and snuck out of the house. When I got home that night, neither of them said very much to me. I said, “Did you get my note? I think I might want to go this weekend. They have a college for Sisters, so maybe I can see that too.” They were both working that Saturday, so my aunt offered to drive me to New Jersey after school on Friday. I’m glad that God gave me the courage to do it.

How did you feel visiting the Motherhouse for the first time?

I had this great feeling of being at home. I remember leaving the discernment weekend and one of the Sisters asking how it went. I said, “I feel like I’ve met you all before. You feel so familiar to me.” She chuckled, and later on she said, “That feeling of familiarity is something common when you feel the sense of the charism within you.”

I was still discerning other communities too, and there was one in particular that I felt I wanted to go to. I contacted their vocation director, and it was a plane-ride away to get to their community. The only vocation discernment weekend they had for the year was the same week of high school finals and graduation. I couldn’t go to visit that community, but they came to both Trinity and McDevitt in the spring. I had the opportunity to talk to their postulants, and as one of them talked about how much she loved the community and her experience of visiting, all I kept thinking was how I experienced that also at the Motherhouse at Mendham. Why was I continuing to look left and right when God had already laid it out before me?

After that realization, making some other visits to Mendham, and continued discernment, I wrote to the congregation that I wanted to go to Assumption College for Sisters instead of going to college and entering the congregation later. I asked for permission to enter their community as a postulant, and with their mutual discernment and acceptance of my desire, I entered on August 23, 2011.

What were your experiences as a postulant and novice?

The first two years after you enter is called postulancy. You have conferences with the directress, you learn all the different types of prayer, you read the documents of the Church, you learn more deeply about the foundress, Blessed Pauline, and the charism of the community. You learn about what it means to be called to be a Sister. You also learn about human development when you’re called to be a Sister, and what it means to live in community – including going to bed at a decent hour and exercising every day.

I attended Assumption College, which the Sisters of Christian Charity run. It is the only college in North America that is specifically for religious women or those who are discerning a religious vocation. We also sponsor Sisters from Vietnam, Africa and South America to come and learn English and receive their associate’s degree. The Sisters get their education and go back to their home countries to serve the Church and their community. Many times, the Sisters get full scholarships to other colleges for their bachelor’s and master’s degrees and some even doctorates. When they return to their country, they are called upon to use this knowledge in a variety of ways. Some even teach English in universities!

The next two years are novitiate, a serious time of discernment. The first year, you’re in the Motherhouse with a concentrated schedule of prayer and conferences on the vowed life. You study the constitutions of your community and human development with the vows you’re called to live. You do a lot of study on the life of Mother Pauline and the Church’s documents on vowed religious. You discern if this is still what God wants, and you discern with a directress. Each step of the way, you write every year to ask permission to continue. The request is always the person’s initiative, not the community asking you to stay. The community then in mutual discernment will give you permission to continue.

The second year of novitiate continues study, but is also an apostolic year. We do mission experiences where we spend time in a local house to see what it’s like to work in a community, a parish, or a school. We spend time with Sisters in their ministry. You discern what God wants you to do for the Church. I’ve always wanted to teach music, and it fits in the community as far as service to the Church. In my time of mission experience, I was going in to schools, and I also studied at Seton Hall to get my bachelor’s degree.

After my second year of novitiate, I professed my first vows. Formation is an extremely precious time, and so integral in setting you up for a life of prayer despite the busyness of life. It’s necessary to have a balance of prayer when you’re trying to give yourself to others for God. Without it, it’s impossible.

Why did you choose Mathilde as your religious name?

Sister Mathilde is one of the first Sisters that Mother Pauline asked to begin the community with her. Mathilde was 17 when Pauline was discerning that God was calling her to start a religious community. Mother Pauline felt a deep friendship with Mathilde. She saw Mathilde as someone who was very giving, loyal, and responsible. She asked Mathilde first to help at a day nursery she had started, and saw the beginnings of a great teacher and a desire to serve and love those in need.

As I was getting to know more about the congregation, I was always pulled to Sister Mathilde’s story. She always wanted to continue the efforts and the charism of Mother Pauline after Mother Pauline passed away. Sister Mathilde was always given more difficult missions, and asked to help start missions, especially in the early stages of the community, because Mother Pauline had so much trust in her. Sister Mathilde was very attuned to her prayer life and wanting to be the best she could be for God.

She was the first Sister in the community to be sent to North America. She went to Wilkes-Barre in the Scranton Diocese, which is where my family comes from. When I learned that, I was taken aback. I had already felt a kind of connection to her and all of those things added up for me.

You submit your choices for a religious name at the end of your postulancy. The idea of taking her name came up when I was in the shrine the community has for Mother Pauline. I was praying about name choices, and I already had three choices on my list. Mathilde’s name came to me, and I thought, “That’s a lot to live up to.” But it kept coming up whenever I would visit the shrine. I submitted it to the postulant director and said, “Her name keeps coming up, but I don’t even think it’s something the community would consider giving me, because no one else has ever asked for her name and she’s one of the founding Sisters.” She said, “Keep praying about it. If it keeps coming up, put the name down. All they can do is say no.”

They don’t tell you what your religious name is going to be until your investing night before you become a novice. I was very surprised when I received the name, because I had other choices. I thought I was going to get my second choice, which was Maria Adelaide. I love Sister Mathilde, who is my patron. I try to pattern my religious life after her.

What is it like to be called by that name for the first time?

It’s very exciting when you receive the name during your investing, but the initial reaction during the first few weeks is, sometimes you actually forget. You’re used to being called another name your entire life. A funny story is, as a novice I was answering the phones. Another Sister called from another part of the house to say that she was going out for a time. When I answered, she asked, “Is this Sister Bridget?” I said, “No, it’s Katie. No, it’s not, it’s Sister Mathilde. Sorry, I’m having an identity crisis.” She was laughing because it was only a week after I had gotten my name.

But it’s an aspect on your Baptism and Confirmation. Your parents pick your name at Baptism that they want you to grow into. At Confirmation, you pick a patron that is going to help you come to holiness. But in those stages of life, you’re not always ready to understand that. Sometimes as an eighth grader, you’re thinking, “What sounds pretty with my name? What’s popular?” But when you have the opportunity to pray about the names you feel drawn to, it gives you a chance to think about what God is really calling you to in life and the qualities He has put on your heart. Not that I’m anywhere near the level of Sister Mathilde, but it’s what I think God is calling me to become with His grace. You realize the whole point is the journey, the learning and the becoming, and it’s not going to look the same as that of the person you’re emulating. It’s going to happen in the way that God has planned for you.

The saints are here to help us on our unique path, to walk us through. They’re part of the rope that helps us climb to heaven. Some of the saints talk about a ladder to heaven, but I think that sounds too easy. For me, I think more along the lines of the giant rope in P.E. class, that only two people in your entire class could do because of their amazing upper-body strength (laughing). But you’re trying your best, and hanging on!

You are teaching now. Talk about that assignment.

I am currently teaching at St. Francis Cathedral School, which is a K-8 school in Metuchen, N.J. Normally, I am the music teacher for K-8. I teach general music classes as well as choir and an eighth-grade hand bell ensemble. I also teach 52 students in private lessons in various instruments and vocal study. The school has close to 500 students, and I have about 70 kids in the choir, which is third grade and up. There are about 20 children selected every year for bell choir. I also coordinate all the school liturgies.

That’s what I usually do, but COVID has shaken up our entire existence. This past summer, the principal asked if I would teach third-grade this year because the music program would have to be suspended. I’m working with the two other third-grade teachers who guide me. I really love teaching, though there is a large difference between teaching all subjects and just music. I’m in the process of getting certified for preschool through third grade general education. I enjoy teaching, and I feel the beauty of what Sister Mathilde must have experienced when Mother Pauline asked her to do something she’d never done before.

Do you have outlets for music, even though you’re not teaching it right now?

I cantor at the Cathedral and am part of the Diocesan and Cathedral choirs here in Metuchen. I’ve been able to sing at a lot of funerals and weddings, which is a beautiful experience. Especially at funerals, I find that you have the ability to love people musically at some of the most vulnerable parts of their life. I’ve actually done two funerals for parents of students, which has been heartbreaking. That has shown me what it means to deeply love people who are deeply hurting, and to walk with them during that time. They will tell me how one particular song really fills the great sorrow in them with great comfort and God touches them in that moment. It’s a huge grace to hear that the different gifts God has given to me musically are a vehicle of helping people to pray more deeply and feel God with them. Helping them experience part of the Liturgy in a deeper way is the biggest joy and gift for me.

Because of COVID, I started uploading songs on YouTube. I like to sing various hymns, as well as Italian opera and show tunes. I share it often through e-mail and Facebook because I think people need that extra outlet now more than ever. With various hymns and uplifting messages from certain songs, you really do feel a connection to God.

Where did your love of music start?

My mom always played piano when I was growing up. She never had any formal studies; she’s always played by ear. My love for singing grew around my older sister. She and I sang a lot. We’d sit in her room and sing various songs together. We’d sing “I Feel Pretty” in front of the mirror. My sister was a cantor and was in parish choir growing up, and I just wanted to be like her.  My brother played various instruments. I think my love for music sprang from our relationship and our spending time together.

What will these next several months be like as you prepare to profess final vows?

I will again petition the community by writing a letter to our provincial superior and our superior general, who is in Germany. I’ll write to both of them to express my desire to commit myself completely to make this final commitment. In the letter, I’ll write about the things that I’ve learned and how God continues to be with me on this journey. I’ll also go for an interview with the provincial and my counselors to talk about what religious life has been like for me.

In the summer, we’ll have tertianship, which is a period of discernment and praying more deeply about what we’re about to commit to. There will be another retreat prior to final vows. Hopefully on August 15, I will get to kneel in front of the bishop and receive a ring of consecration, and say vows of perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience. I am very excited for it, and I can’t wait! I’m grateful to God that I’m at this point. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that it’s been ten years since I started this journey. But when you love something and it’s brought so much joy to you, time doesn’t feel that long.

What would you say to a high school student, or even a middle school student, who is thinking about religious life?

I would say the first and most important thing is, don’t be afraid. Just like everything else in our lives, this is a process. It’s not as if you decide to enter the convent and they lock the doors behind you and say, “You’re here for life.” It’s a process of growing with God. There are some people who enter religious life but don’t stay. People don’t look at them and gasp, “I can’t believe you left!” It’s like anything else. It’s like ending a relationship when you’re dating; it’s just a part of life.

I think because religious life is not necessarily common or mainstream, people turn your thoughts into a huge deal and say, “If you do this, there’s no turning back.” That’s not true. It’s all a process of learning. If you think God is calling you to it, He’s not going to play with your heart. He’s not going to put you into something and say, “Ha, I tricked you.” There’s a reason you’re being led to discern. Someone once told me that discernment is really something every person should do. Loving God shapes the rest of our relationships.

So don’t be afraid. Try to develop a casual sense of prayer life in talking to God like you would talk to a friend. Talk to Him about your feelings, about your day-to-day experiences. Put it in front of God. When we’re younger, we think praying is all about Litanies or Rosaries, or going to Mass on Sunday. But God speaks to us in ways that are familiar and compatible with who we are. The more we listen and dialog with Him, the more God can show us what He’s trying to say to us.

Try to visit Sisters, or at least find someone to talk to. Go and see a convent or visit a Motherhouse. Just as most people wouldn’t rush into marriage, you need to see if you fit in a religious order and if it feels right. Pray often, and go have an experience of what religious life is really all about.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I want to say how grateful I am for the experience I had throughout my education in the Harrisburg Diocese. I had amazing educators that really inspired me and took my talents, my joys and my passions, and oriented them to God. It began at Holy Name and continued at McDevitt. I am very grateful for the people who helped me along that journey.

I also want my community to know how grateful I am for their support, their prayers and their love. It is such a joy and grace to share life in my religious family with them. I can’t wait to spend a life time loving Christ with them, learning from them, and struggling to climb that rope to heaven each day alongside of them.

(Interview conducted by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

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