By Barb Arland-Fye
Even before members of the Carmelite Monastery in Eldridge voted her into their community, Sister Teresa Susan of Jesus believed God wanted her there. After years of searching, including time spent with other religious communities, the 64-year-old Oregon native and former counselor has finally found her contemplative home.
The affirmation of her calling occurred Oct. 22 when Sr. Teresa Susan, whose given name is Susan Gene Dreyer, made final vows during a Liturgy of Solemn Profession at St. Ann Catholic Church in Long Grove.
“My dear Sister, what do you ask of God and the holy Church?” Bishop Martin Amos asked the candidate. “I ask for God’s merciful love, the poverty of the order, and the companionship of the Sisters in this Queen of Heaven Monastery in Eldridge, Iowa, of the Discalced Nuns of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel,” she responded.
Bishop Amos noted in his homily that he’d recently celebrated a Mass for couples married for 50 years or longer. Having advised couples to renew their vows every day, he shared the same advice with Sr. Teresa Susan. The bishop also reminded Sister of the importance of prayer, both private and communal, and her responsibility toward her religious community. “Your Sisters are there to support you and you to support them.”
She affirmed her willingness to undertake a life of poverty, chastity and obedience; to love God and neighbor by living the Gospel with all her heart, and to keep the rule and constitutions of her order. In a symbolic gesture of humility, she lay prostrate before the altar for the litany, and then made her profession to Prioress Sister Lynne Elwinger. Bishop Amos blessed the newly professed Carmelite and the veil which Sr. Lynne placed on Sr. Teresa Susan’s head.
“Welcome to our religious family, where we share all things in common. We promise to support you in your lifelong commitment to God,” Sr. Lynne said. Sr. Teresa Susan embraced the prioress and other members of her community, most wearing the mid-length brown habit and black veil. She embraced family and friends who were present as well.
Exuberant, Sr. Teresa Susan declared after the Mass, “I feel like I’m really able to contribute to the world and pray for everybody and everything.”
“She’s searched for a long time; she’s found her soul,” marveled Joan Reed, one of Sr. Teresa Susan’s four siblings. “She was very at peace with this final profession,” added Joan’s husband, Jim. The couple traveled from Oregon to be present for the special occasion which Joan compared to a wedding. Even though Sr. Teresa is the eldest of five siblings, “I feel like the mother of the bride,” Joan added.
Longtime friend Sister Claudette Blais, of the Carmelite monastery in New Hampshire where Sr. Teresa Susan spent a short time, served as a lector during the liturgy. “I’ve been praying with her and for her all of these years. It was a beautiful, beautiful profession. I’m delighted to be here,” Sr. Claudette said.
Sr. Teresa Susan initially entered a Carmelite community in Oregon at age 49 in the midst of a career as a counselor because of her love of contemplative prayer. The community’s regulated way of life — kneeling on the bare floor at the start of prayer, sleeping on straw mattresses, often sitting in chairs without backs, and restricted use of the library — proved to be too difficult after working in the secular world. Then she moved to the Carmel in New Hampshire, which she appreciated. “But I don’t think God wanted me in that particular one.”
A Benedictine community in South Dakota offered to help her discern her vocation and she accepted. She made her first profession there and remained for six years, renewing her temporary vows for one year. The monastic life appealed to her, but “I wanted to have a more contemplative dimension,” she said. “I always really wanted to be a Carmelite more than anything.”
She learned about the Carmelite Monastery in Eldridge and spent the past six years in discernment there. “I feel there is enough room for me to live what I want to live; I can be as silent as I want and as simple. I can express myself musically and in cooking and in writing. There’s a scholarly part of me I’d like to develop, too.”
Sr. Teresa Susan loves “watching the morning come” from the monastery’s chapel each day and the way the community “weaves our work into the rhythm of prayer.”
Professing final vows, she said, “is the greatest thing that’s ever happened in my life.”