BY SISTER SHEILA LANGTON
The following is an excerpt from an address Sister Sheila Langton made this February to members of Holy Family Parish during Vocation Week in the archdiocese of Kingston.
A favourite question people have for a Sister is “Why did you become a nun?” For many years I would go blank when anyone asked me that. I didn’t know how to answer.
It was a mystery to me. How did such an ordinary and very young person as I was, know that I had a vocation to religious life? I would ask myself, “Why am I so sure this is my way of life?”
I should tell you that another favourite question for a Sister is “How long have you been a nun?” On March 19, it will be exactly 40 years since I made my final vows in the congregation of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. The passage of time has given me a better understanding as I look back over my journey in life to this point.
Very definitely any vocation is a call. We don’t usually hear a real voice calling us, but the call comes in other forms. My call to religious life came through three channels.
The first would be through the influence of my family, and in a particular way, my grandmother. When I was in elementary school, I went once a week for lunch with my grandmother. Grandma Langton would prepare all the things I liked to eat, and that was a highlight. Everything would be delicately and tastefully set out for me. My grandmother made me feel very special. After lunch we would sit together and talk about many things. There was always some spiritual sharing. My grandmother would talk about her love for Jesus and all she knew about His life and example on earth. We would talk about the Gospel stories. Somehow, I learned from my grandmother how to pray – to praise and thank God, to ask forgiveness and to ask for help. Jesus became real for me through my beloved grandmother’s deep faith which she shared.
Then came high school when decisions about the future had to be made. I was very attracted to the Sisters of Providence who taught me at what was then St. Michael’s High School in Belleville. What really appealed to me was their happiness. I knew that they had made personal sacrifices when they had taken the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They worked hard, with very few resources, to impart a good education to us in that simple little school. But their obvious joy and contentment was attractive, and caused me to question whether I should follow their example and enter religious life.
As the story goes, I did decide to at least try this way of life. I was sure that our loving God would let me know soon if this was right or not right for me.
It was during my studies in the training period known as the “novitiate” that I again gradually felt a strong attraction. This time it was to the special “charism” of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. I learned that these Sisters were gifted with compassionate care for God’s people, especially the most destitute, the poorest, the most needy, the most vulnerable. They served others in a spirit of humility, simplicity, and charity, and they always relied on the Providence of God.
The stories of our foundation in Kingston and the spread of our ministry across Canada showed me that our Sisters were pioneers among pioneers in this country. They were “on the cutting edge” as they say today.
The stories of the early days are gripping. Four Sisters from Montreal came to Kingston on December 13, 1861, to begin a congregation to care for the poorest at that time – the orphans, the elderly, prisoners. Within two weeks of their arrival, the Sisters had 10 orphans in their care and had made 40 visits to the sick in their homes.
Our Sisters went to various places throughout Canada when they were asked to respond to unmet needs. They would begin a work with very little other than their strong hands and willing hearts. They often had to beg for food for themselves and for those in their care, the sick and elderly.
As a young person, I wanted to be part of this courageous group of women and do my share of the work for the Lord. The attraction and the call persisted and was deepened by the example of the founders of our congregation, and by the living examples of the Sisters themselves. For me, they had an “authentic ring.”
We have heard many times that it is in giving that we receive. I remember as a young person reading these words of Jesus to his Apostles:
“And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life.” Like all people, I was wondering, “What’s in it for me?”
Our Lord Jesus during His life on earth spent His time teaching and healing the sick. I have been privileged, through my vow of obedience, to be involved in the teaching and healing ministries of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul.
I taught 25 years mostly with high school students, and for the last 15 years I have been working in health-care administration.
By saying my final yes, 40 years ago, I have more than received a hundredfold in this life. I have been given opportunities for education, for travel in ministry, and, most of all, for working with dedicated partners in the Christian mission of service to others.
Now I must admit, I have “fast-forwarded” through this “video” on my vocation. I wouldn’t want you to think that all was easy. This life, as any life, has its ups and downs. There have been good days and not so good days, good years and not so good years.
The journey is not over. I am still on the way with all of you, faithful people of God. However, I have two desires:
- That I will always remain a true Sister of Providence and completely trust in Providence.
- That I will always be able to say, “Here I am Lord, I come to do Your Will.”
I encourage you, members of Holy Family parish, (mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfather, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters) to continue to model for others your fidelity to our Provident God.
You never know how the Lord will work through you to call others even in your own family to special service.
May God bless all of us as we journey together onward or, as a Sister of Providence would say, serving with compassion, trusting in Providence, we walk in hope.
Sister Sheila Langton is the president of the Providence Health System.