By Sister Mercedes Torres, O.P.
Before I begin telling you my unexpected path to religious life, I would like to lay out my Brooklynite facts: My parents are from the Dominican Republic. This results in strong bonds with my extended family in Brooklyn and in the Dominican Republic.
I spent my childhood living between Bushwick and Cypress Hills. I grew up as a parishioner of St. Martin of Tours parish, Bushwick, and I attended schools bearing names that began in “P.S.” and “I.S.” in Ridgewood, Queens.
Religious life never crossed my mind as a possibility until months prior to entering the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Mich. I was raised in a culturally rich Dominican household where Catholicism was intertwined with extremely close and highly valued family ties. My family has been intricately linked with our parish for decades. Several parishioners are either extended family or families closely associated with my own. This results in making each Sunday Mass like a mini-family reunion usually ending at an aunt’s house eating Dominican breakfast fare through the remainder of the morning (and sometimes into the afternoon).
The faith became a truly beautiful cultural experience, connected with my love for my family and my heritage. The faith-life at my parish was both familiar and vibrant. And my most beautiful examples of faith were my grandparents in the Dominican Republic. Despite all of this, I distanced myself from that faith over the course of growing up in Brooklyn. Additionally, my parents’ emphasis on education led to my growing up with little personal investment in my Catholic faith, while my whole focus was elsewhere.
I received a scholarship to attend boarding prep school in New Jersey and later went to college in Los Angeles, Calif. I delved into my academic surroundings. The more classics I read and secular interpretations I learned, the further I drifted from any practice of the faith.
After college, I began working at a non-profit organization with offices in Union Square, which involved regular travel to Latin America. It really could not get any better, or so I tried to convince myself. The truth is that in leaving my faith behind, I surrounded myself with living a “successful” worldly life and began to feel trapped within it.
Being back in New York after college also brought me back to living directly with and near family. Through the beautiful witness of several young adult youth ministers throughout New York, and in a most special way through one of my cousins, I had a powerful encounter with Christ on a retreat in Brooklyn on Divine Mercy Sunday.
This led me to immediately join my cousin in ministry, which included working with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Sisters of Life. Their witness of young, joyful, consecrated love of Christ as religious suddenly began to correspond with an unexpected call that God put on my own heart.
What began as a gentle lifting in my heart at the thought of religious life soon became a pressing desire and I had no idea where to start. Though they were each beautiful communities living religious life fully and joyfully, I did not feel called to either the Franciscan Sisters or to the Sisters of Life. My uncertainty cleared when I met the Dominican Sisters of Mary at the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Directly after meeting the Sisters, I contacted the community and attended a discernment retreat in Ann Arbor three weeks later. On this retreat, God made it abundantly clear to me that He had made my heart to love Him, and to love others in Him, though consecrating myself to Him in this religious community. And I could not fathom any response but “yes.”
After speaking with the vocations director, I received the application paperwork to apply to enter that August.
There is no greater joy than accepting the invitation, the challenge even, to love God more each day. He calls me to draw nearer to Him every day in my community as His spouse. This is religious life: an invitation to love.
Sister Mercedes is a teacher at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, Ariz.