The Called: Sister Maureen Donati, IHM
Hometown: Jim Thorpe, Pa.
Education: St. Joseph School in Jim Thorpe, Pa.; Marian Catholic High School in Tamaqua, Pa.; East Stroudsburg University; Immaculata University
Current assignment: Elementary school principal at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School in Coal Township
Tell me about your childhood.
I was born in Staten Island, N.Y., and when I was five years old, my family moved to Pennsylvania, outside of Jim Thorpe. That’s where we grew up. It was a great little place, and there was a church on every corner. I went to St. Joseph Parish in Jim Thorpe and went to St. Joseph School from first grade on. From there, I went to Marian Catholic High School
Growing up, faith was very important. We lived paycheck to paycheck and grew up respecting the fact that we wouldn’t get everything in the world that we wanted. There were times that we would pray together as a family for things that we needed, and we would see the fruition of that prayer.
My parents are both with God now. My brothers and my sister and I are all very close, and we still get together as a family. Even though we might go months without seeing each other, when we get together it’s “us” again. We often think about how we managed, with two parents and four kids and two dogs running around in a small house.
When we were young, my brothers were altar servers. My sister and I helped the Sisters at St. Joseph’s with whatever they needed. I credit everything I have to my parents’ faith, because it was from them that the seed was planted – including my vocation.
When did you first consider a religious vocation?
It was after I had graduated college. I was working at my job, and the thought came so strongly into my mind one day. I prayed about it for months and months, wondering why I was thinking this. I came home from work one day and said to my mom and dad, “The Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima is going to be at St. Joseph’s tonight and they’re going to pray the Rosary. Do you want to go?” My mom decided to go with me.
I remember when the music started in the church and the procession began, I turned and looked at the statue and started to cry. I said, “Jesus, please don’t ask me this, because I don’t know if I can do it.” And that’s when I really started to put a lot of prayer and time into the thought of a religious vocation. It took three years of prayer and consideration.
I didn’t tell anyone I was thinking about it. One day, my mother said to me, “Will you drive me down to Bethlehem to pick up your brother?” He was there for an internship, so I agreed to drive. We were going along all these beautiful back roads and farmlands, and we were pretty quiet in the car. Suddenly, my mom said to me, “What are you waiting for?” I looked at her and said, “What?” She said, “What are you waiting for? Every Sunday after Mass, when we as a parish pray the Hail Mary for vocations, I know you’re the one we’re praying for.” I said, “How did you even know I was thinking about it?”
After that, I went to my parish priest and told him I was thinking about religious life. He asked what order I wanted to enter, and the IHMs just came out of my mouth. He put me in contact with them, and that’s how the whole thing started.
It’s a choice I’ll never, ever regret. Everything I am and everything I’ve accomplished is only because of the grace that God gives me. It’s amazing to see how God works in your life.
What was your profession before you entered?
I had a degree in business administration and economics, and I was working as an accounting office assistant at a chemical company. I also worked at a deli and in a library. I had my life. I was going out with friends and enjoying everything.
In the Liturgy of the Hours book, there are poems, and one of them is called the Hound of Heaven. That’s what it was like for me. The thought was always there, it just kept coming.
Of course, I had thought about being a Sister when I was in second grade. I can clearly remember the pastor coming in to talk to us and ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I was going to be a Sister, just like my teacher. That urge was strong, until about eighth grade. I went to high school and the thought was pushed aside with high school activities, college dreams and dating.
I truly am happy with this life. I love this life. It’s a matter of falling in love with God. You don’t have to do huge things for Him, just the small things in life. The little things are the miracles that God is showing the world today. If I can be the person God can work through, then that’s what I want to be. I just want people to know who He is, and to have a relationship with Him.
Why did you choose the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
I had the Sisters in high school, so they were who I knew. I really believe I was meant to be with the IHMs, so I believe it was the Holy Spirit putting their name on my lips when my parish priest asked me what congregation I wanted to enter.
I entered at Immaculata, and I had a lot of butterflies. I have a picture of my entrance day here in my office. It was 1994, and I was 28 years old. I was excited but still wondering what I was doing.
My whole family went with me on entrance day – my parents, my aunts, my siblings. We stopped at the bottom of the hill outside of the motherhouse because I told them I needed a drink of water. I started to drink and my dad started the car and I said, “Wait! Let me finish!” It was all my nerves.
At 28, I was starting a whole new life. I had been out on my own, I had a job, a bank account, a car, credit cards. It was all gone now, and so it was like taking a first step into the ocean – you just do it.
There were three of us entering that day, and we got along very well because we were in it together. The novices were older than all of us, and they helped us along too. I’m the only one left from the band, but I am still friends with the other two and see them once in a while. But that is what time is about – it’s about seeing if it’s the right fit in your life. We make first vows after three years, and then we have five years until we make perpetual vows. They give us the time to see and discern.
Did you decide that you wanted to be a teacher as an IHM?
We have different ministries. We have Sisters who are nurses, Sisters who are guidance counselors, Sisters who work in prisons and as parish directors of religious education. Education is our main apostolate. I got my teaching degrees, including a masters, at Immaculate.
I remember how nervous I was going out on my first mission, but our community was so great in providing us with Sisters who came to watch us teach and to mentor us. I was at Holy Innocents outside of Philadelphia my first year, and I remember one Sister would sit with me and talk about my day. That is where I fell in love with my congregation, and where I learned how to be a teacher.
When I was asked to be a principal, I was worried that I was going to miss teaching, but being a principal is a whole different way of impacting the lives of children. I get to impact all their lives in some way, whether they know it or not. I can help them behind the scenes.
When did you make your final profession, and what do you remember about that day?
It was August 15, 2002, at the motherhouse. I was in awe that day. There were two of us in the band, and we were sitting in the third-floor loft before the liturgy, watching everybody come in and listening to the choir. I remember watching my family and I was so happy, but so nervous.
We wrote our vows on an index card, and I had the card in my pocket. During the Litany of the Saints, you lie down on the floor before the altar. I remember playing with the index card to make sure it was still there because I was so nervous. Then I started to calm down during the Litany, and what made me tear-up was hearing the voices of all the people who were praying for us and our vocation – whether they knew us or not. It was so powerful, hearing all of those people praying for my vocation. I remember thinking, “Thank you.”
It’s one emotion or another. You’re so joyful that you’re either smiling from ear to ear, or you’re tearing-up. Even today when I go to a final profession, it gives me a shot in the arm. It’s all about God and His greater glory.
Where have you served?
My first ministry was at Holy Innocents outside of Philadelphia, where I taught fourth-grade. Then I went to Bensalem and taught at St. Ephrem School for three or four years teaching third-grade. Then I became a principal at McAdoo Catholic in the Allentown Diocese, and was there for four or five years. My dad died when I was at St. Ephrem and my mom died when I was at McAdoo, and the community asked if I needed a break. I took a year off, and then went to Our Lady of Fatima School in Delaware County as a teacher before being asked to become their principal. I was there until the school closed and then went to be principal in Raleigh, N.C., at Our Lady of Lourdes, and then I came to Our Lady of Lourdes here in Coal Township. This will be my sixth year here.
What do you enjoy about being at Lourdes?
We’re in the midst of a strategic plan right now, and the core group was talking about why we wanted to be in the group. I have had the blessing of helping every school I’ve been assigned to. The difference here is, when I walked through the front door of the school in August 2016, I knew I was home. We are family here.
I love the kids here. One day, a little girl from the public school had to transfer busses here. I was outside greeting the kids as they were arriving, and I talked to the little girl waiting for her bus. She said to me, “How do you know everyone’s name? My principal doesn’t know my name.” I think it’s just about being family, and you know your family. I really do care about the kids here, and I love them for who they are. I want them to know I am here for them, whether it’s cheering them on in their activities or addressing discipline.
We’re family here. We stand up for one another. We support one another. To watch the older students interact with the younger students warms my heart. It’s a home.
What is it like to live in community?
There are eight of us in our convent in Kulpmont. I’m the youngest in the house at age 55. We’re a family there too. We have our personalities and temperaments, and that’s the gift of community – bringing who you are to the table and coming together. We are very supportive of one another. It’s a great place to be.
The people in Kulpmont and the parishioners and staff at Holy Angels are so good to us. They spoil us with their kindnesses and generosity.
There are times when we’ll sit in the community room together and talk, especially when things happen in people’s lives. We’re there for one another, like sisters.
What do you enjoy in your free time?
I love to read mysteries. I love to walk and to cook. I don’t have much time for cooking now, but I enjoy trying new recipes.
I have a great life, and I am so grateful to all those who have supported me in it, and I am grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to follow Him this closely as a religious.
(Interview by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)