Call and Response: A Holy Child Sister’s Vocation Story

10 March, 2020

Holy Child Sister Philomena Grimley was recently asked to contribute an article on vocation for the Lancaster (UK) Diocesan News, The Voice. Below is what she submitted.

If you look up the word VOCATION on Google, you find several explanations of the way it is used these days, for example to describe how someone who feels drawn to a particular profession. But they all agree that it comes from Christianity, from the Latin word that means a calling. The Old Testament offers us so many powerful and unforgettable stories of God calling people to speak and act for God. The Gospels reveal to us how Jesus himself responds to the call of God’s Spirit and how he in turn called his first disciples to follow him and share his mission of love. This is what all Christians are called to be and do through their Baptism. For most people their call, their vocation, is lived out day by day as they go about their lives in their homes, at work, and in the local community. For some, however, the call that comes from Baptism draws them to a particular way of life which might be priesthood for some, or consecrated or religious life for others. I want to tell you a little about my call and response.

Philomena Grimley and Marie Quayle

On March 30th 2019, with another sister, Marie Quayle, I celebrated the Diamond Jubilee, 60 years of our religious profession as members of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. We had both been in the same class for seven years at Layton Hill Convent School, Blackpool, now St Mary’s, and together we literally left our families and our homes in Blackpool and Fleetwood in September 1956 to join the Society. Why? Because, in spite of all other possibilities open to us, we knew in our hearts that love was inspiring us to follow where God seemed to be calling us.

How did this “call” happen? Well, I remember vividly when I was about 13, we had a day retreat in school, led by Father Vincent Whelan. We were in the school chapel and he read to us a short passage from Matthew’s gospel how Jesus was deeply moved, was heart- broken when he saw the crowds of people “harried and abject, like sheep without a shepherd.” It was as if I could see what Jesus saw, hear him speaking, feel what he felt and I wanted to be with him and to share his life and his way. That experience has never left me and has strengthened me over many years since, as I came to discover more and more how to share the life, the love and the mission of Jesus is possible as a religious sister.

Philomena Grimley (at right)

Of course any vocation has to be carefully considered and tried out, so wisely there were three stages over seven and a half years in our initial training for us to experience religious life fully before we made our perpetual vows. Both we and the Society we were joining needed to be sure that this was God’s will for us. I remember an older sister telling me that a sure sign would be if I felt “at home”, and I did! So the Society became my religious family where I lived and prayed and worked in community and was thoroughly trained to share in the mission of education.

One huge event has affected my religious life profoundly in the sixty years since my profession of vows: the Second Vatican Council and all that has been emerging in the Catholic Church since then as it responds to “the signs of the times”. For us religious it was a powerful call to renewal, to return to the Gospel, to the inspiration of our Foundress. It opened up for women religious wonderful opportunities to deepen our faith, our understanding of scripture and theology, learning how more far-reaching and diverse our call was to education beyond the more formal setting of schools. Outwardly people would have seen changes in our dress to make it more appropriate for changed times. Inwardly we were responding anew to the call of the Gospel, as we still are.

Sixty years as a Holy Child sister! I can never thank God enough for this call that never leaves me and the love he gives me to respond.

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