By Celine Klosterman
Natalie Robinson went from being a lapsed Catholic who didn’t know the Hail Mary to joining the lay order of Dominicans and discovering the “true value” of her faith.
To reflect this new devotion, she’s even changed her name. In May, Natalie Lyn Robinson legally became known as Natalie Mary Catherine Odilo, OP. She took her new last name from St. Odilo of Cluny, who she said shared her commitment to praying for souls in Purgatory, and “OP” to designate the Order of Friars Preachers. Her new middle names came from Dominican Sisters she knows and from St. Catherine of Siena, a Dominican.
Natalie said she was inspired to adopt the new names to acknowledge the spiritual family who got her through a recent year of divorce-related stress and anxiety.
“So far, the change has been entirely good,” she said. Family members are happy “that I’m able to take this step as a declaration that I’m putting the hardship behind me.”
Natalie has passed through several years of spiritual and emotional growth. She was baptized and received her first Communion as a child, but her religious instruction ended at age 7 after her parents divorced. Then, her mother started working days, nights and weekends to support the family.
But in college, as the brother of Natalie’s boyfriend prepared for confirmation, Natalie decided to receive the sacrament, too. She and her boyfriend later married, and they attended Mass weekly and were involved at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City. But with demands piling up because of work, graduate studies in biomedical and electrical engineering and raising three young children, Natalie started sleeping in on Sunday mornings instead of attending Mass.
When her daughter started studying the rosary in second grade at Regina Elementary in Iowa City, Natalie got what she said was a “wake-up call.”
“I realized with a little embarrassment — not enough, though — that I called myself Catholic, and I didn’t know how to pray the Hail Mary!” So Natalie had her daughter write down the prayers in the rosary for Natalie to learn.
Years later, Natalie’s children again played a role in her faith life. The mother of twin sons attended an hour-long session in which two priests explained to parents of first Communicants the structure of and significance of each part of the Mass. “I was fascinated, amazed and suddenly realized how important the Mass is and why,” she said. “… I have not missed a Sunday Mass since!”
The session launched her fascination with liturgy, prayer, spiritual life, saints and Catholic theology, she said. As she studied such topics, she began feeling a need to commit to God more deeply. “I was very happy with my vocation as wife and mother, but still, as I read about the saints, I envied that they were able to profess religious vows and make a total commitment to God.”
One day, Natalie came across the Web site for the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo. She read about the community’s program for associates, or lay members, and took part in a weekend retreat at the Benedictines’ monastery. Over the next year, she talked with Sisters from communities closer to Iowa City. Because of her love for liturgy, Scripture and the rosary, she found herself focusing on the Dominican order.
In September 2005, she began formation for Dominican laity through the St. Rose of Lima chapter in Dubuque. She made temporary promises in August 2007 and expects to make final promises next year.
Still, Natalie maintains some spiritual connection to the Benedictines. St. Odilo, she said, was the fifth abbot of the Benedictine monastery in Cluny, France, in the late 900s. In taking his name, she felt that “I pay a little respect to the Benedictine Sisters who first set my feet on the path that led me to becoming a Lay Dominican.”
St. Odilo holds other significance for her, too. Monks at his monastery prayed intensely for all souls and for relief for those in purgatory, and St. Odilo established All Souls Day, she said.
And it was departed faithful who Natalie said helped her deal with an especially stressful year. In 2008, she endured a divorce trial, underwent two surgeries and physical therapy, had to complete home construction projects to avoid foreclosure, was transferred from position to position and then furloughed from her research position at the University of Iowa hospitals and clinics, and struggled to provide for her teenage sons. “It seemed like I was being hit by wave after wave of tremendous stress and anxiety without a break,” she said.
Friends and family told her she “had a right to be angry.” But Natalie sought peace.
Faith offered that serenity. She spent many hours in prayer to God and with souls in Purgatory, she said. “Our departed friends don’t vanish. They’re still living, loving and present and can be actively involved in our lives.”
Thanks to prayer, “Instead of anger and blame, I found comfort and peace that I had not been able to find from anyone else.”
Natalie continues to find fulfillment in the church, taking part in several commissions, serving as sacristan and coordinating the Web site for St. Mary Parish, noted Father Ken Kuntz, pastor. She’s also an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and said she and her sons take part in as many church activities as they can.
“She has a strong devotion to the saints, and she’s pretty well self-educated and informed,” said Father David Wilkening, her spiritual advisor and pastor of St. Mary Parish in Solon. “She has a real commitment to the magisterium and is very conscious about the teachings of the church.”
Natalie looks forward to the future, knowing she’s improved her ability to trust and rely on God. “It’s been a long and incredibly difficult journey, but everything has worked out exactly as I needed it to work out,” she said. “I’m in a very good new position at ACT in Iowa City; the work on the house is almost done and things are stable… Even in the midst of my greatest anxiety, I’ve simultaneously been able to sing with the greatest joy and thanksgiving, knowing that God has been present and caring for me at every step.”
Natalie encourages people interested in Dominican laity to e-mail her at email@example.com.