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Recognizing a calling

Sisterhood: Ministry wasn’t always the obvious choice, but became one Bradford couldn't push away

Posted: April 16, 2010 10:34 p.m.
Updated: April 17, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Sister Laura Bradford of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Parish displays her apostolate necklace. Sister Bradford accepted her calling after spending a year as an archeologist.

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Laura Bradford was living the dream of many college graduates.

She had an interesting job, and she enjoyed her work.

She was employed at an archeological research firm for almost a year.

But plans to go to graduate school and become an archeologist began to dim in comparison to another path that had been tugging on her heart since she was a young girl.

"I wanted to be an archeologist since second grade," she said. "But I realized, actually, it's not enough."

Through four years of college, Bradford tried to push aside a calling she felt to join the Catholic ministry. But on Sept. 15, 2007, she stopped pushing.

That day, Bradford announced to her employer and co-workers she was quitting to become a religious sister.

"I only had true joy when I was talking about God, or was with the sisters, or was doing something with the church," she said.
Sister Laura Bradford, 25, professed her first vows at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Parish, in Santa Clarita on March 27. Before a sanctuary filled with her supporters, clergy members and Catholic worshipers, she committed to two years of obedience, poverty and chastity.

"It's life-changing," she said. "I'm really giving my life to church, God and this community."

Growing up with the sisters
Bradford attended public school while growing up in Big Bear. It was in her religious-education classes at her home parish where she began to grow familiar with the religious sisters.

"I always noticed the great love they had for God and for each other," she said. "I remember thinking I wanted to be like them; I didn't know I would be a sister."

At that time, life was pretty much about softball.

During her senior year in high school, Bradford became more involved at her church after recognizing that her heart missed it, she said. The sisters began to catch her attention again. But ministry as a life path was more of a back-up plan.

"I thought if I'm 40 and not married, I'd become one of those sisters," she said.

A softball scholarship earned her four years to college in New York. But the summer after high school threw her a curve ball.
She attended a summer camp with the sisters and became convinced that God was calling her to the ministry.

A path that would mean she would have to surrender her softball scholarship. Bradford chose college instead.

Surrendering her dream job
For most of college, Bradford tried to convince herself that there was another path waiting for her, she said. She enjoyed her softball team, but her anthropology classes quickly grabbed her interest.

"I thought God was calling me to be an archeologist, get married and have a family," she said. "I knew God was calling me to be a sister, but I pushed it away and pushed God himself away - especially (my) senior year."

Between graduation and starting her dream job, Bradford visited her friend Sister Gabrielle at a summer camp. She went in with a closed heart and left wanting more time with the sisters.

"God does his thing; he slowly worked on my heart, and I became more open to the possibility (of joining the sisterhood)," Bradford said.

For some time, Bradford tried to balance work and her desire for ministry. For almost a year, she went to work and spent time with the sisters in between.

"The more I became involved, I realized I find my greatest joy and fulfillment with them," she said. "I feel most at home with them."

To her surprise, her co-workers and employers were accepting of her decision to leave.

Obedience, poverty and chastity
On March 27, Bradford entered mass feeling somewhat nervous at Blessed Kateri, where she teaches communion-preparation classes once a week.

Four fellow sisters of the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart were there to renew their vows, but Bradford was the only one to profess her vows for the first time.

Feelings of uneasiness dissipated as she knelt in prayer with crucifix in hand before Sister Jane Stafford, superior general, and Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, auxiliary bishop of the San Fernando Region of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

"As soon as I knelt down, everything was OK," she said. "I felt confident this is where I was supposed to be."

She professed my vows of chastity, poverty and obedience with great joy, she said.

A vow of obedience calls on Bradford to be faithful to the will of God and the instruction of her superiors, she said, "but also that I would be obedient to (God's) will in the big events in the day, but also the very small events."

A vow of poverty requires that she surrenders ownership of belongings to God, and that she also submit her ideas without expecting any return for them, she said.

A vow of chastity means that her "heart is set on God alone," she said.

"People think those who live a chaste life, love less. But actually, I think you love more," she said. "Now I'm able to love more freely and purely - that I love that person for who God made them to be."

It's the type of love that drew her into the sisters in the first place. And contrary to what people may think, she said, it's not a lonely life.

"I'm espoused to Jesus; what greater or more perfect love can there be," she said. "Not only do I have Jesus as my constant companion, but I also have my sisters."

Set on forever
Bradford, who resides at Sacred Heart Novitiate in Chatsworth, is considered a temporary professed sister. She can renew her vows for up to six years, discerning throughout whether she wants to remain a sister.

"It's such a big decision," she said. "It goes so much against society, that we do have a long period of discernment to see if this is where it is God is calling us."

After six years, a sister must profess her vows forever, marrying her to God and requiring her to wear a gold ring, Bradford said.

"My heart is set on forever," she said. "But I don't want to jump ahead, so I'm taking it one day at a time, following how our Lord is leading me right now."

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