Schuyler teen moves on to religious life - Catholic Courier

Schuyler teen moves on to religious life

She has resided in Australia, Tasmania, the Watkins Glen area and now Missouri — all before her 19th birthday.

Yet with her latest move, Jessica Littler has taken a decisive step toward planting down deeper roots. In early August she entered the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus.

"I feel very excited. It’s been something I’ve been looking forward to for awhile, but it always seemed way out in the distance. It feels kind of a bit unreal," Littler told the Catholic Courier in a late-July interview.

Littler, who will turn 19 on Oct. 25, spent the first 11 years of her life in Queensland, in mainland Australia. Her family moved south to Tasmania, an Australian island state, in late 2006. Three years later Littler, her mother and brother all converted to the Catholic faith. Around that time, she recalled, her interest in a religious vocation was sparked by her reading of The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

"That really confirmed for me that I wanted to become a nun," she said. "I was totally enthralled."

Littler graduated in late 2011 from Mount Carmel College in Tasmania, an all-girls’ Catholic school that goes up to grade 10. Shortly thereafter she made the 10,000-mile move to Schuyler County with her mother, Rosemary Petchell, who had become separated from her father. Eventually her mom married a local man, Michael Nabogis; they reside in the town of Hector just north of Watkins Glen.

Littler began attending Watkins Glen High School in the spring of 2012, graduating in 2013. For the past year she has taken online classes through Corning Community College. She joined Schuyler Catholic Community at the beginning of 2014 and settled in quickly by taking part in youth-group activities, attending daily Mass and sharing her considerable violin talents during 10 a.m. Sunday Masses at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen.

Although her overall time in Schuyler County has been brief, Littler said she’s felt very much at home at St. Mary of the Lake, where she was greeted by many well-wishers at coffee hours in her honor July 20 after the 8 and 10 a.m. Masses.

"Everyone in the parish was really lovely, all very supportive. I’ve been blown away by this parish," she said.

Now it’s on to a new and profound chapter for Littler. She has relocated to Kirkwood, Mo., near St. Louis, to join the Carmelites of the Divine Heart. Her interest in Carmelite spirituality, originally sparked by St. Thérèse, deepened during a five-week stay last year with the Missouri community. During that visit she got a close-up view of the sisters’ ministry at a nursing home and children’s day-care center — both operated by the order — as well as the considerable time they spend in prayer.

Whereas Discalced Carmelite sisters are cloistered — in fact, a cloister exists in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford — the Divine Heart Carmelites were established in 1891 in Germany to combine the contemplative experience of cloistered nuns with active ministry in the community. Littler noted that the international order’s foundress, Blessed Mother Maria Teresa of St. Joseph, also began the order to make reparation to Jesus for all who didn’t believe in his divinity.

Littler has begun an eight-year process toward becoming fully professed. She is designated a postulant for her first year, with a two-year novitiate to follow after which she would make first vows. Those vows are to be renewed annually over the following five years until profession of final vows.

Littler emphasized that she’s still very much in the discernment stage, saying she places the possibility of a lifelong religious vocation in the hands of God "because if it isn’t what he wants, it’s not going to probably pan out very well."

For right now, though, she feels religious life is the path God would like her to follow. She noted that a few years ago, consumed by schoolwork and musical endeavors, "I felt quite dry in my faith — I still had my faith, but it wasn’t interesting to me." But by the summer of 2012 her prayer life had intensified, setting the stage for her new life with the Divine Heart Carmelites.

"I felt God was drawing me back," she said.

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