Corning native makes vows - Catholic Courier

Corning native makes vows

In the summer of 1995, 16-year-old Mary Jackson detailed in a Courier story the strong calling she had experienced on a teen retreat — one that led her to begin attending daily Mass at the former St. Patrick Church in Corning.

“I know ministry’s in my future somehow. I’m willing to do whatever God wants me to do,” she said in the article.

That openness to God’s plan resulted in a vocation as a woman religious. Today, Mary — now Sister Jackson — remains as confident about putting her life in the Lord’s hands as she was 11 years ago.

“My motto is very simple, to let God be God. He makes me who I am — and if I become who I am, then I’m living like him,” Sister Jackson said in a recent telephone interview.

Sister Jackson professed her vows Aug. 5 as a sister in the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, also known as the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco. The profession took place in St. Joseph’s Chapel at Mary Help of Christian Academy in North Haledon, N.J., just a couple of days after she returned from a two-year novitiate in Italy.

“One little phrase kind of caps it off,” Sister Jackson said, recalling the event. “I had made vows and received the crucifix and constitutions, and my mom leaned over to me and said ‘Mary, your dream came true.’ I said, ‘You know what, Mom? God’s dream came true and so did mine.'”

Sister Jackson’s parents, Andrew and Barbara, attended her profession as did her siblings; she is one of five children. Among the other well-wishers who traveled to New Jersey were Mercy Sister Edna Slyck, former pastoral associate at Sister Jackson’s parish, who now holds the same role at Immaculate Conception in Ithaca. Sister Slyck was the first person in whom Sister Jackson had confided about her calling. Also on hand was Sister Jackson’s sixth-grade religion teacher, Olga Biasi, making good on her promise from many years earlier to witness Sister Jackson’s profession.

Sister Jackson said she also was thrilled to be in the presence of Mother Antonia Columbo, superior general of the Italy-based Daughters of Mary Help of Christians order, who rarely ventures to the United States but received Sister Jackson’s vows.

The day after her profession, Sister Jackson moved to Tampa, Fla., where she is now in residence at the Villa Madonna Convent and has begun teaching religion to Catholic-school students in grades six and seven. Although it will be at least five years until she professes perpetual vows, she stated, “In my heart I’ve taken my vows for life.”

Yet the 27-year-old pointed out that her religious vocation wasn’t always a given. A 1998 graduate of Corning East High School, she attended Corning Community College for two years and SUNY College at Cortland another two, graduating in 2002 with degrees in secondary education and mathematics. It was during her college years that she separated herself somewhat from her high-school calling, opting to pursue her future with open-mindedness. She dated and had a boyfriend.

But then one day, while surfing the Internet, the Web site of Daughters of Mary Help of Christians caught her eye. She began to exchange e-mails with one of sisters, and the connection deepened from there. In January 2003 she entered the order.

Sister Jackson is glad her vocation evolved the way it did.

“Living the college life, that gave me the opportunity to choose this life for real. It’s not just something I thought of in high school,” she explained.

She taught in New Jersey during a one-year period of formation and training, then moved on to her novitiate. She described her two years in Italy as “an intense time of prayer” along with study of church history, sacraments and her order’s origins.

The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, founded in 1872 in northern Italy, is an international congregation with more than 15,000 religious in approximately 90 countries. The order is devoted to the education of young people, with a special emphasis on children in need.

Sister Jackson said her dedication to youths stems from her belief that young people “cry out in different ways. There is such a need to be accepted, to be recognized, to know who they are. There’s just an absolute hunger from the young people — you can see it in their eyes; they want to know who the Lord is.”

During her novitiate Sister Jackson lived in community with 20 women from around the world. She is hoping other young women will take a similar step toward religious life.

“There are so many college-age kids (who) come searching; there are so many girls who are just on the edge — ‘I really think this is what I want’ — but they don’t make that jump,” she said.

Regarding her own jump, she noted that friends and family have gradually come to understand her desire to commit to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience.

“‘How can you give up all those things’ — it’s always give up, give up. Sure, I can’t deny that I’m giving up a lot of things, but it’s for a mission. It helps me to become free to share everything that I have, it frees me to go anywhere,” she said. “First when I was in high school, it was ‘oh, don’t waste your life.’ Once I was in college there was such an encouragement by many, many people, and inquiries. It seems like most people, they were just fascinated by it — ‘what, you want to be a nun?'”

Though joyous about her recent profession of vows, Sister Jackson remains humble.

“Many people say to me ‘Wow, Mary, you’re doing something so great, we really need people like you.’ You know what, though? My vocation and call — I’m not called to anything greater or better than you’re called to,” she said. “We’re both called to a greatness because we’re all made in the image of God.”

For that reason, she does not want to be put on a pedestal.

“It’s ridiculous — that’s not God’s love. God’s love is for everyone, once we have that idea about who we are. I am beloved, and so are you. (Religious life is) my way of living the love of God, whereas my parents have chosen it through marriage,” she said. “Everyone has a vocation, and each person has a calling.”

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