By Sister Catherine Connell, SSS
(Editor’s note: Sister Catherine Connell, SSS, a native of the Davenport Diocese and a licensed clinical social worker serving as a therapist at Kaiser Permanente Adult Psychiatry, South Sacramento, Calif., reflects on her vocation to religious life.)
I was born and raised in Muscatine. I was blessed with loving parents and two brothers and two sisters. As an adolescent, I experienced the call from God to know and love God in a deeper and closer way. During this time I was profoundly aware that there were others who had less — less family support, physical security, or means to have a secure life. This drew me to look for a religious community that focused on social work.
At the time the only way to find out about other communities, I thought, was to write Msgr. J. D. Conway who wrote a Questions and Answers column in The Catholic Messenger. I will always remember my two questions to him: Were there any Sisters who did social work and wore more plain clothes? Monsignor responded with the names of three religious communities.
I will always remember my send-off from the Moline, Ill. airport four months later. My parents and family members were there and my grandparents as well as Father Francis Lenoch, my high school principal, Father Martin Manning and Father Patrick McGrath.
On Feb. 1, 1959, I entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Social Service in Encino, Calif. The first Sister of Social Service I ever met was the day I walked through the doors of the novitiate.
We were blessed with spiritual classes in the Old and New Testament, the Rule of St. Benedict, the history of the Sisters of Social Service, time for daily adoration and spiritual reading. Our days were marked by “silence,” to be present to God.
My first profession was Aug. 15, 1961. I worked part-time in a parish and received my B.A. in social work at Mt. St. Mary’s College, followed by a master’s in social work at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
In my time as a Sister, I have been called to engage and be present to so many life and death experiences with those whom I have served. Even though I knew I could never be a nurse, I was present for the birth of nine babies of mothers at Wellspring Women’s Center, which Sister Claire Graham and I started for poor women and children in a poor area of Sacramento, Calif. Our primary focus was hospitality with dignity and love.
I have experienced two serious health problems, ovarian and breast cancer. I believe the Sisters of Social Service and many friends saw me through and let me know God had more work for me to do.
Having celebrated my golden jubilee on Pentecost Sunday, I am deeply grateful for my vocation to the Sisters of Social Service and the continual growing awareness of God’s presence in my life, my friends and those I am called to serve.