A journey through ‘different doors’

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"I was always very curious about their lives," said Daughter of St. Paul Sister Laura Fidelis Nolin about her early encounters with religious sisters in Vermont. She grew up in Newport, a small town on Lake Memphremagog, close to the Canadian border.

When she was 12, she took piano lessons from the sisters who served her parish, St. Mary, Star of the Sea. One of the sisters would sneak her pieces of candy. That simple act of kindness resonated with the young girl and followed her through adulthood.

She went to public schools in Newport, eventually enrolling in the University of Vermont's nursing program. She was active in the campus Newman Center serving as a sacristan and singing in the choir. Her vocation was encouraged by Father Michael DeForge, then-director of the center and director of vocations for the Burlington Diocese.

There is a house of discernment at the Newman Center and seminarians from the diocese would stay, study and pray there.

"Seeing them in their discernment was helpful to me," she said.

She graduated from the University of Vermont in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Nursing was important to her and she was always drawn to the profession. In fact, as a girl she would visit nursing homes with her grandfather who was an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. She would push residents in their wheelchairs from their room to the communion service and back.

After graduation, Sister Laura worked at the University of Vermont Medical Center, where she did all her clinical training in nursing school. She worked there for three years when she had an epiphany.

"I love nursing," she said. "(But) is this all there is? There's got to be more."

The thought of a religious life was always there, so she made plans to see if that was the path she would take.

Sister Laura readily admits that she is shy. So instead of calling religious orders, she mailed response cards that were in various magazines in the Newman Center.

The cards worked.

"They started to call me, but I never answered the phone," she said.

When she was visiting her brother and his family in Boston, she went to a women's conference with her sister-in-law. The pair stopped at various tables of religious sisters.

"She's discerning," her sister-in-law told the sisters at the table.

"Stop, Nancy," an embarrassed Sister Laura said.

She realized that using the Internet to visit religious orders was a good way to get information about a vocation since most religious orders have websites. She said that she read all that she could and needed to break out of her shyness that was preventing her from calling and talking to sisters in depth about religious life.

She left the medical center in Burlington and went to live in Plymouth, Mass. with her brother's family. In between jobs, she planned out a six-month discernment tour of religious orders from the summer of 2007 until early 2008.

She would call and stay at each order's residence for a weekend. She visited The Little Sisters of the Poor, Disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist and others.

But she remembered a magazine, Call to Love, from the Daughters of St. Paul. She remembers the sisters looking joyful, so she called the Daughters and found out that there was a "come and see" event in Chicago for women discerning a vocation.

When it was time to leave for Chicago, she was late getting to the airport and the gate was closed.

She was put on standby, but told herself "If I don't get on the next plane, I'm not going on the retreat."

She eventually got on the plane to Chicago, but missed the early part of the weekend.

But the visit was wonderful, she said. She enjoyed the other discernment visits, but this was different.

"Oh, I have to leave already," she recalled thinking on Sunday morning.

She knew that the Daughters of St. Paul was the religious order that she wanted, and so for the next several years she continued to visit them whenever possible. Up until 2013, she had taken no vows. But that changed.

"I needed to go to the next step to learn more," she said.

She professed her first vows Aug. 10, 2013, becoming a junior professed sister. She will renew those vows this summer. But final vows are still several years away. It's a long, slow process, but she is looking forward to it.

"(I want to) continue to grow in my relationship with Jesus and to be open to all that He wants to teach me," she said.

Sister Laura continues to maintain her nursing license, because it could come in handy during a medical emergency. She continues to "walk through different doors" on her journey to religious life.

Borowski can be reached at dborowski@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @DBorowskiACH.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015