The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Finding her true calling

    Nicole Robinson

    When God calls, it is hard to ignore him. Senior Mary Gabriel had been sharing herself with the Lord for her entire life when her faith took a turn the summer before her senior year in high school.

    Gabriel said she was praying at home one day when an idea popped into her head. The idea, which she refers to as “God’s calling,” was a belief in the possibility of living a religious lifestyle and becoming a nun.

    While shopping at Target that summer, she shared this insight with a friend.

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    “She has a heart for God and a heart for others.”
    Heidi Auchtung

    “For shock appeal, I laid it out to my best friend,” Gabriel said. “I was standing in the shampoo aisle when I told her I wanted to become a nun, and she thought I was nuts.”

    It isn’t every day young people hear such serious talk from their peers, let alone an idea possessing such commitment.

    This was the beginning of God’s plan for her life, she said. She became open to the idea of religious life and has stayed open to the thought ever since.

    In less than a year, she could see herself living in a very different world. It is a world she said she is excited to begin.

    How it began
    Gabriel grew up in a religious home, and God has always been part of her life.

    She was raised in a Catholic household and attended a Catholic elementary school. Gabriel said she believes this early exposure helped mold her into the individual she is today.

    Gabriel also credits her strong faith to her grandmother and her mother, a youth minister.

    Her mother encouraged Gabriel to attend religious conferences to develop a deeper relationship with God.

    One of her most influential retreats was the Steubenville Youth Conferences, she said.

    Her first experience with the conference was before her freshman year in high school, she said, and she has returned to the conference numerous times.

    About a month after the idea to become a nun first entered her mind, she attended her fifth conference with a friend. It was there, she said, she received another sign from God.

    A youth minister attending the conference approached her and asked if she had ever considered a religious vocation.

    “That really shook me up,” Gabriel said. “I had only been there a short time and she didn’t know me very well, and out of the blue she asked if I had ever considered becoming a sister.”

    During her senior year in high school, she said, she ran from the thought of becoming a nun.

    The idea returns
    Gabriel said her faith became more real as time progressed.

    “The summer after my freshman year of college was really a turning point in my relationship with Christ and my love for the Catholic faith,” Gabriel said.

    At the end of the summer, she had the opportunity to see the Pope in Toronto.

    “I could feel Pope John Paul II’s love for Jesus and the Church, and I was able to be part of the Universal Catholic Church with nearly one million Catholics from all over the world,” she said. “This was a perfect ending to an amazing summer.”

    Gabriel became more involved with the campus and joined InterVarsity, a religious organization in Eau Claire.

    Following her sophomore year, Gabriel put her thoughts into action and traveled to Connecticut to work with the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, an order of missionary sisters.

    An order is a term used to describe a specific community of Christians who have devoted themselves to the Church and taken the vows of religious life: poverty, chastity and obedience.

    Upon her return, she was revived with excitement, but, she said, this order was not the path she was destined to follow.

    Gabriel later took her youth group to Youth 2000, another religious retreat.

    At this conference she met a priest from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and discussed with him the characteristics she wanted in an order.

    “I wanted to find the order I was created for,” Gabriel said.

    He challenged her to consider an order where her gifts would prosper and to consider visiting the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, the friars’ sister order stationed in New York City.

    “Ever since, it has been the order I feel compelled to pursue,” she said.

    In January, Gabriel had the opportunity to spend a day with the sisters.

    “It was an amazing experience and my next step is to spend more time with them so I know where God is calling me to be and what he is calling me to do,” she said.

    Breaking the stereotypes
    A common misconception among her peers is that she will be cut off from society , she said.

    “Many people envision me entering a cloistered convent, taking a vow to not live a public life,” Gabriel said. “But in reality, I would be entering an order to work with people in inner-city New York.”

    She will be devoting her life to Christ and sharing his love with others she said.

    “Having an undivided heart for Christ alone is amazingly appealing to me,” she said.

    Those closest to her say her public speaking ability is one of her many gifts. Friends and family say she posseses the skills necessary to take her further into the duty of her order, which focuses on evangelism.

    Gabriel said she wants to use every gift God has given her to spread the Gospel.

    Gabriel disagrees with individuals who say her life will possess no joy by not marrying. She doesn’t feel she will be missing out on anything.

    “I will be God’s most effective tool in the vocation he calls me to,” Gabriel said.

    “To me, the vocations of marriage and religious life are equal in dignity and respect,” she said. “If God calls me to religious life, I am going to feel amazingly blessed because it is a vocation of beauty and service. If he calls me to a married life, I am going to feel just as blessed because marriage is a vocation of beauty and service.”

    Love and support
    One of the challenges Gabriel faces is leaving her family and friends behind.

    “My family wants what God wants for my life,” she said. “They just never imagined me being so far away.”

    Gabriel said her family viewed her openness to a religious vocational path as a fad in the beginning, but they have begun to take her more seriously.

    “It is her decision and she needs to do this,” her father Robert Gabriel said. “If she doesn’t at least give it a try, it will get in the way of everything else in her life.”

    Her family and friends admire her ability to work with people and her willingness to help others.

    “I don’t know anyone else who would be better suited to be a nun,” said sophomore Chantal Ivey, Gabriel’s friend. “She is always willing to help and make time for you.”

    Gabriel and Ivey met just last year, but Ivey said Gabriel was so refreshing and spontaneous they hit if off right away.

    “I’m in awe of her,” Ivey said.

    Gabriel said many people are taken aback by her desire to become a nun, but those closest to her say her openness suits her.

    “She is one of the most genuine people I know and she has a heart for God and a heart for others – and that is inspiring,” said her roommate, senior Heidi Auchtung.

    For the future
    Those around her say Gabriel’s gifts are unavoidable, and that they are very aware of her strengths.

    She has always been very active in the Catholic Church and with her outgoing, go-getter personality; she possesses a natural ability to lead, her father said.

    Gabriel said God had been pulling at her heart for a long time to start something more for Catholic youth.

    “In January of my sophomore year, I could no longer ignore God’s mission for me in Eau Claire,” Gabriel said.

    She didn’t know if anyone would support her with the process or if her idea would be accepted.

    Gabriel started a youth ministry program for high school students and her parish priest, Father Norbert Wilger, supported her ministry and brought Gabriel onto his staff at St. Mary’s Church in Altoona.

    The youth ministry, called 4:12 Ministries, has quadrupled in size since its beginning in 2002.

    “Youth ministry is what I love. I love my students. Christ is so apparent in them,” she said.

    To follow this passion, she has a philosophy she follows from Pope John Paul II: “It is the responsibility of the Church to meet the expectations of the youth.”

    “Whatever vocation I end up in, I know God has called me to try to meet young people’s needs and expectations,” she said. “We need to meet these kids where they’re at – that should always be the desire.”

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