Fortuna Orman said she thought her daughter Laurie was safely exploring her faith while on a wilderness retreat for youth ministers six years ago in Seneca Rocks, W. Va.
She hadn’t realized, however, that her daughter was clinging to the side of a mountain.
During the retreat, her daughter climbed a cliff, explored caves and camped. Also on that trip, as well as on another a year later, the future Sister Laurie Orman realized she was being called to become a woman religious.
Throughout her discernment, Sister Orman kept drawing parallels to her rock-climbing experience. During the celebration of Sister Orman’s first profession of vows Sept. 29 at the Sisters of Mercy of Rochester’s motherhouse in Brighton, mountaineering metaphors abounded.
“Indeed it is a strong image, filled with lots of hanging on, and lots of letting go,” said Sister Cynthia Serjak, incorporation minister for the New York, Pennsylvania and Pacific West community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, which includes the Diocese of Rochester. “But what might not be so obvious is that what we see of the mountain may be matched by what we don’t see.”
“It’s time to leave base camp,” Sister Jody Kearney said during the profession. “We know you are ready.”
As Sister Orman recited her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and service to the poor, sick and ignorant, especially women and children, she paused in the middle and began to cry.
“When I got to, ‘vow and promise to God,’ that’s when I stopped,” Sister Orman told the Catholic Courier a few days after the ceremony. “Not that I couldn’t say them, but because it came from such a deep place. That’s when the tears came. To me it really emphasizes the commitment to it. I wasn’t just saying the words.”
The profession was presided over by Father Albert Delmonte, who worked with Sister Orman at Holy Ghost Parish in Gates when he was pastor there and she worked as faith-formation director. Her family also has attended the parish for several decades.
After graduating from Gates-Chili High School and State University of New York at Brockport, Sister Orman worked for a bank for five years. After that, she began taking college classes and worked first as Holy Ghost’s youth minister then as its faith-formation director. She also helped to coordinate diocesan retreats.
“If I was not working for the church, I was volunteering,” Sister Orman recalled.
But the draw toward the Sisters of Mercy began when Father Delmonte invited the order’s vocations director to speak at Holy Ghost. That’s when the future Sister Orman decided she wanted to learn more about the Sisters of Mercy.
That, combined with the rock-climbing experience, helped Sister Orman understand that she was being called to a religious vocation, she said.
“Once you find that missing piece, then it all makes sense,” she said.
The news that Sister Orman was planning to become a Sister of Mercy didn’t surprise her mother and her father, the late William Orman, her mother said. After Sister Orman received her master’s degree in theology in 2002, she announced her plans to her family.
“She was always drawn back to the church,” her mother noted.
Although Sister Orman was strong in her faith when she expressed interest in the Sisters of Mercy, she grew spiritually during the process, Sister Serjak said.
“I think religious life opens you up to possibilities that you didn’t think about as a single person,” she said.
Sister Orman spent part of her novitiate living at the Mercy Institute Novitiate in Laredo, Texas, working at the domestic-violence shelter Casa De Misericordia, which is Spanish for House of Mercy.
Ninety-five percent of the shelter’s clients speak Spanish and many are immigrants, said Sister Rosemary Welsh, the ministry’s director. Sister Orman said she found it eye-opening to be an ethnic minority, to grapple with a language barrier and to see firsthand the struggles of undocumented immigrants.
“I would struggle to learn the language, and they would struggle to speak English,” Sister Orman said. “There was a freedom there.”
Sister Orman’s attitude endeared her to many of the women at the ministry, who still ask about her, Sister Welsh said.
“She jumped right in there and kept on learning and kept on trying,” said Karen Pfitzer, a volunteer who also worked with her in Laredo.
After working in Texas, Sister Orman volunteered at Blessed Sacrament and St. Mary parishes in Rochester, helping to coordinate their youth ministries. She is now working as the diocesan coordinator of family and catechist formation as part of the diocese’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. Part of her job is to help coordinate the Catholic Youth Organization program. She also is working with the committee planning a diocesan pilgrimage of prayer and celebration for June 7, 2008, at the New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls.
In August, Sister Orman moved to the McAuley House, a home at Blessed Sacrament Parish, where Sisters of Mercy and young women live in community, work or attend school and serve the parish’s ministries. She will remain an initial professed Sister of Mercy for at least three years.
Sister Orman said she’s been surprised by how at peace she is inside since deciding to become a Sister of Mercy.
“It has been a natural fit,” she remarked.
Determination is one of the key traits that Sister Orman will bring to her community, her nephew said.
“She doesn’t give up,” said 9-year-old Tyler Decosse. “I think that’s why it’s good for her to give up her life for God.”