Sister Madeline Rockwell acknowledged that her life’s journey — raising a family before beginning pursuit of a religious vocation in her mid-50s — has certainly been unconventional.
"It’s not like I haven’t sometimes stopped and thought, ‘Wow, who ever thought?’" she remarked.
Yet for Sister Rockwell, her path has been sure and steady ever since she first heeded God’s invitation to religious life nearly a decade ago.
"Right from the very beginning, there just seems to be this unfolding, responding to a call. It just feels natural," she said, citing John 15:16 — "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain."
By continuing to follow God’s call, Sister Rockwell, 62, is now a fully professed member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. She made her perpetual vows during a Mass on Aug. 27 at Mercy Center in Brighton; a reception also was held Aug. 29 at her home parish of Immaculate Conception in Ithaca.
Five days later Sister Rockwell returned to Laredo, Texas, where she has served since 2006 with the Sisters of Mercy. That’s quite a change of scenery after a life spent in Binghamton, where she was born; and Ithaca, where she lived most of her adulthood while raising her three children, running a home child-care business and later working as a prekindergarten teacher’s aide.
Sister Rockwell said she’s always had a strong Catholic faith, but it wasn’t until after her marriage was annulled and her children were grown (they’re now ages 28, 30 and 31; she also has a 10-month-old grandson) that she sensed a call to a religious vocation. Heavily influenced by the example of service from the Sisters of Mercy at Immaculate Conception Church, Sister Rockwell considered becoming a Mercy Associate — one who practices Mercy ministry and spirituality but is not a professed sister.
Then, while attending Sister Cathy Solan’s reception into the Mercy novitiate in 2002, she felt so much at home that it became a watershed experience: "There was something changing, stirring in me."
Sister Rockwell still wasn’t sure whether she would fit in as a Sister of Mercy due to her age, previous marital status and being a mother. She entered the order’s discernment process and, gaining confidence she was on the right track, became a candidate in the Mercy order in 2004. That involved selling her Ithaca house and moving to Rochester, where she worked as a teacher’s assistant at Brighton’s Seton Catholic School. Also during her candidacy she earned a bachelor’s degree in community and human services from Empire State College and completed classes at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.
In 2006, shortly after Sister Rockwell became a novice with the Mercy Sisters, she moved to Laredo for further studies and to perform a variety of ministries while living with fellow novices. She originally anticipated returning to Rochester after completing her 16-month novitiate, but one of her volunteering experiences effectively scrambled those plans.
She began assisting weekly at Casa de Misericordia (House of Mercy) and the Lamar Bruni Vergara Education Center. Both operations are sponsored by Mercy Ministries of Laredo and provide support for women and children fleeing domestic violence. She became deeply attached to these people while helping provide clothing, school supplies, tutoring, educational programming, counseling, support groups and social activities.
"Sometimes they leave (an abusive situation) without even their clothing," Sister Rockwell remarked, adding that her goal with the children is providing activities to "just let them be kids as much as they can" despite their difficult circumstances.
Sister Rockwell sought, and received, permission to stay right on in Laredo after making her temporary vows in 2008. She’ll remain there indefinitely, as a full-time child-care advocate, following the recent profession of her final vows.
However, since she considers herself to have three homes — Laredo, Ithaca and Rochester — she was "very, very happy that I could come back to Rochester" to make her perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience rooted in service to the sick, poor and uneducated. The Aug. 27 liturgy was celebrated by Father Raymond Fleming, with many cohorts from the sisters’ New York, Pennsylvania and Pacific West Community in attendance.
After spending part of the summer visiting family and friends in New York, Sister Rockwell is back in Laredo as she continues to rely on God to draw up her vocational blueprint. She implores others, also, to listen carefully to how God might be reaching out to them.
"It’s important to share my story, to let folks know God calls us in different ways to a vocation — single. married, religious. We all have a call," she said.Tags: Religious Orders, Tompkins County News