Gabrielle Burnham – SLCHS Class of 2015

The question of what someone is to do with their lives is at the forefront of most high school students’ minds, especially as they come closer to their graduation dates. I had many dreams and expectations of what I would end up studying and the work I would pursue throughout my lifetime; however, religious life was never something that crossed my mind. Looking back, I am thankful for the surprise of hearing God’s call and I am often astonished by the unexpected beauty of the way the Lord works. Throughout the past several years of discernment, I have been convinced of the truth that God’s ways far surpass my own. I can trust that He knows my desires and will lead me to the places I wouldn’t dare seek out on my own. I know that by following Him, I will end up where I should be, even if it seems intimidating at first.

I was in the middle of my junior year at St. Louis Catholic when I first heard God pulling my heart toward religious life, during my Confirmation retreat. I didn’t even want to go on the retreat and was prepared to get nothing out of the weekend other than hanging out with my friends. We had confession and adoration one of the nights, and as I re-entered the room after confession, I was completely overcome by an experience of the fire of Jesus’ love, something that I had never encountered in that way. This retreat is where I began to fall in love with Christ as I started to recognize His deeply personal love and mercy.  A few months later, I attended another retreat and had a conversion that changed my life entirely and began a journey of more seriously discerning the possibility of religious life.

The Catholic environment at St. Louis Catholic High School tremendously helped me at the beginning of my discernment. I had my conversion during Lent and in the morning before classes, a group of students would meet in the school chapel to pray. Every day it was different and I was exposed to prayers like the Liturgy of the Hours and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, prayers that are very significant to my prayer life today. From that Lent on, almost every school day, I would go early to the chapel and just sit before the tabernacle. At the time I had no idea how to pray or what a prayer life looked like and those mornings spent in the chapel were more significant than I realized during high school. Some of the girls who came in the mornings that Lent are still some of my best friends, and God provided me with incredible people to help me build a life of faith. I had so many new questions about the faith, and being at St. Louis Catholic meant that there was always a priest or a theology teacher around to guide me to the answers. I know that the spiritual formation I received at St. Louis Catholic transformed the energy and excitement that came with my conversion into a deeply rooted desire to love and serve God.

Soon I will begin a very new time of formation when I enter postulancy with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Illinois, on September 8, 2019. I met this community during my sophomore year of college. I hadn’t heard of them before and at the time it never crossed my mind that I would one day be entering this religious order. I was visiting Franciscan University in Ohio and happened to meet the community’s vocation director and was able to spend time at their convent near the university. I did not reach out to the order again until the end of my junior year of college when I knew God was calling me to move forward and to consider entering religious life. I began to talk to the vocation director and visited the motherhouse in Alton for the first time last September and later began the application process in January after another visit. Each religious order has a charism, which is like a spirituality lived within each individual community that defines the unique way those sisters reveal God’s love to the world. The charism of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, is “to make visible Christ’s Merciful Love,” and this is a charism that I recognized within my own heart, one that God had clearly spoken to me in prayer. The charism is what first drew me to this community, and then as I have visited with the sisters, God has confirmed that I am called there in many ways.  I am so excited to begin this new adventure! 

Throughout my journey of discernment, I have learned that discerning a call to a vocation, any vocation, is an invitation to truly trust God. When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he revealed to her God’s call to give birth to Jesus. However, when Mary said “yes” to Christ’s birth, she also said yes to His entire life, even walking with Him to the cross. The best advice I received from my vocation director over the past year was to “simply take the next right step” and this has become a simple motto. For any high schoolers who have wondered if God might be calling them to religious life or the priesthood, my advice would simply be to trust that God knows your heart better than you could ever know. He knows your desires and wants to give you everything. God didn’t give us life just to let us kind of “get by” or live content with mediocrity. Rather, He created us for greatness and wants us to be wildly happy and satisfied. I never expected to be where I am now, but I can honestly say that following God’s will has led me to places that have been better than I would have ever imagined. God asks more of us than we think we are worthy of or capable of because we are His sons and daughters and He just wants the best for us. I am profoundly grateful for the surprising way God has called me so far, and I’m only at the beginning.

In the words of St. John Paul II, “life with Christ is a wonderful adventure” and if you give your heart to the Lord and trust in His call for your life, you will be surprised, but He will never leave you disappointed.