By Barb Arland-Fye
Sister Emily Brabham is a cradle Catholic who grew up in New York, the fifth of six children of Linda and Dale Brabham. Now 32, Emily considered a call to religious life at age 23, but a conversion experience four years later at a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico inspired her to discern whether she had a calling. She prayed and met with a spiritual director.
A year later she met Clinton Franciscan Sister Gael Gensler at the 2012 North American Forum on the Catechumenate, a conference on instruction for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Emily attended the conference as a youth minister for a parish in Pueblo, Colo. She wanted to learn more about Sr. Gael’s community, so she invited the Franciscan out for a beer.
“Sr. Gael told me if this community wasn’t right for me, the sisters would help me find one that was,” Sr. Emily recalled. “The Clinton Franciscans have always sought to help me grow spiritually in community and supported me in my discernment.”
In July 2013, she was received by the community as Candidate in a Rite of Welcome ceremony. At the same time, Sister Janet Ryan and Sister Sarah Martz were professing perpetual vows. “It was inspiring and encouraging in my personal discernment and my communal discernment to witness their vibrancy and their commitment to the mission,” Sr. Emily said.
Discerning before temporary vows with the Clinton Franciscans is a four-year process, and that’s been challenging for a person who admits to impatience. “But the time of discernment was necessary. The strength of the call just kept getting stronger,” she said. Discernment has been “a good discipline for me. The word disciple is contained in the word discipline. This helps me to be a better disciple.” And, she discovered, “each small yes along the way has led to this big yes today.”
Sr. Emily lives in community in Chicago with three other Clinton Franciscans: Sister Maria Zeimen; Sister Donna Burke; and Sister Janet Ryan. “We’re all very different,” Sr. Emily said. She appreciates the importance of coming together for communal prayer and meals – not just around the Eucharistic table, but around the dinner table as well. “The communal prayer is very enriching for me. It helps me in my discernment and in my prayer life,” she said.
In turn, Sr. Emily enriches the Clinton Franciscans. “She brings her commitment to the Gospel, to ongoing conversion and to our charism of active nonviolence and peacemaking,” said Sr. Gael. “There’s a joy whenever one responds to God’s invitation. We rejoice that she (Sr. Emily) has found her way to the Clinton Franciscans. She brings her generosity, her zeal, and her love of life.”
Sr. Emily also is a member of “Giving Voice,” a group of sisters younger than 50, so that she has an opportunity to interact with peers around her age group. She is certain that her Clinton Franciscan community will have more vocations to come. “I have found that there are young women desiring to get to know the sisters,” she said. “It’s important for them to see young religious joyfully living the Gospel.” And that’s how Sr. Emily hopes to promote more vocations to the religious life.
Her mother, a lifelong Catholic, mother of six, and retired volunteer coordinator for hospice and Meals on Wheels, is proud of Emily’s ministry. “I was always involved in volunteering in some way and the kids went with me. I see Emily inspire young people to develop spiritually and be respected for her work. It’s always wonderful when your children take up the mantel and go forward.”
“It’s such a blessing when you raise a child in faith and they follow the faith,” said Sr. Emily’s father, Dale, a convert to Catholicism in college. “It’s pretty rare in this day and age. I just feel blessed that it happened in our family.”
(Kate Marlowe, director of congregational communications for the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton, contributed to this story.)