Franciscan Sister’s Vocation Began with Little Chute Catholic Pastor’s Prayers
Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Estelle Vanden Heuvel continues to share about her call to consecrated life and the importance of her St John Nepumocene, Little Chute, WI pastor’s prayers.
Click here to ready the first part of the story.
A year or so after high school, I came across that little packet of prayers and began to stop for a visit in our parish church every evening after work to pray for my missionary and make up for my neglect. These daily visits to the Church drew me to a deep love for Jesus in the Eucharist, and at the same time the life and prayers for my missionary so inspired me that I desired to give my life to Jesus just as he did. I decided to enter a religious community – and be a missionary!
The time was right. The company for which I was working as a secretary/bookkeeper was preparing to move to Milwaukee. So leaving my job behind, I began looking into religious communities. God’s instrument at this time was my sister, Evelyn, who told me that her friend’s sister was entering Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc. I hadn’t heard about that Community before, so I wrote for information and received a personal letter and invitation from Sister Mary Ellen, the Postulant Directress. I visited Holy Family Convent and felt it was just what I was looking for – the friendly Sisters, the simple black habit, the Motherhouse with its beautiful St. Francis Chapel, and missions in the Southwest and Hawaii (not yet a state)!!
After nine months as a Postulant I was received into the Novitiate and received the name Estelle. My patroness is Mary, the Morning Star. This title was especially dear to my mother, who prayed the Litany of Mary each day. I took December 8, an Advent feast, as my feastday. Just as the morning star rises in the east before the sun, so Mary appears in the Advent sky to announce the coming of the Son of God.
It was quite unexpected when most of our Reception group received our first mission assignment after one year of Novitiate. With my missionary heart set on going to some far place, I received my first real taste of obedience as I read, “You are assigned to St. Boniface Parish in Manitowoc.” There I lived and taught my first thirteen years! Looking back, I see these years as a real blessing, a time to get a solid foundation in Religious Life.
In the 1960’s our Community moved into a Regional Form of Government. When asked, I eagerly signed up for the Western Region and was assigned to San Jose Indian Mission in Pisinemo, AZ, real missionary territory! I felt right at home in the Arizona desert and with the Papago people and spent sixteen years there. Among the many memorable desert experiences, one that stands out in my mind is the night I was called to baptize a little baby who was near death. Our pastor was away and so it was up to me. I hurried to the small adobe home. Even in the dim light I could make out the worried look on the grandmother’s face and the feverish face of the baby girl she held in her arms. As I poured the holy water over the tiny head and pronounced the words of the Baptismal rite, “Elizabeth, I baptize you …” I was awed at the miracle of grace taking place in that little soul. Shortly after, the ambulance arrived and Elizabeth was whisked off to the hospital in Sells (50 miles away) and received medical help just in time to save her life!
Later years held many other assignments, challenges and enriching experiences as I served the Community in various ways: Novice Directress, General Councilor, Secretary in St. Rita Health Center, and Sacristan. In each of these positions, I not only gave my best but received more in return from the Community and those with whom I worked.
Note: If you feel called to serve others in need (to be a missionary in places of need in the United States), we invite you to consider our vocation discernment retreat. Click here.