Listen, trust, believe. They are the key words Sister Madeline Rockwell said she leans upon while following God’s call.
Two years ago, that journey involved leaving her job, selling her Ithaca home, moving to Rochester and starting a new life as a candidate to be a Sister of Mercy.
“I think that’s where there was a lot of trust,” she said with a laugh.
Her vocational path has been sure and steady since that time. With her candidacy now completed, Sister Rockwell has been received as a novice into the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Her reception service took place July 15 at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. Regional communities representing Rochester, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Erie and the Philippines took part in the event.
Sister Rockwell was due to move Aug. 17 to Laredo, Texas, where she will spend the next 16 months studying theology and the constitutions of the Mercy order while residing with fellow novices.
“It’s a time of prayer and quiet study, to listen,” she said.
Sister Rockwell also will perform various ministries, learning Spanish while serving the area’s many Mexican-American residents.
Texas is quite a change of scenery for Sister Rockwell, 57, who was born and raised in Binghamton and was an adult parishioner for 28 years at Immaculate Conception in Ithaca. She has three children, all in their 20s, from a marriage that was annulled.
Sister Rockwell said the foundation for her strong faith was provided early in life by many family members, especially her parents who still reside in Binghamton.
“I think of their service to the church and community. It’s something I tried to instill in my children,” she said.
She became profoundly aware of a pull toward the religious life about five years ago.
“Something was starting — a gentle tapping,” she recalled.
She explored the Mercy Associate program, but found a different calling on the night she attended Sister Cathy Solan’s reception into the Mercy novitiate in 2002.
“I walked into the (Rochester) motherhouse, through the front door and felt, ‘This is where I want to be.’ From there I felt there was something stronger — to go a lot further,” Sister Rockwell said.
She entered the discernment process for the Sisters of Mercy later that year, and became a candidate in 2004 in a covenant ceremony at Immaculate Conception Church. From there she moved to the convent at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Brighton.
“The community is set up for new members. It’s just been wonderful,” she said.
Sister Rockwell has served as a full-time teacher’s assistant for preschoolers at Seton Catholic School on the Our Lady of Lourdes campus. That duty has meshed nicely with her lengthy background as a teacher’s aide and in home child care.
“There’s always going to be that place in my heart for the little ones,” she said. “Seton, it’s been wonderful. The staff has been fabulous, and I’m sad to be leaving, but I know I’ll have to move on.”
Also during her candidacy Sister Rockwell 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 as well. She has returned to Ithaca frequently, continuing in a discussion group made up of friends who share her strong devotion to the Mercy order. Many from the contingent attended her reception ceremony in Erie, and Immaculate Conception also hosted a gathering in her honor Aug. 3.
Following her two-year novitiate, Sister Rockwell will be due to profess her first vows. Final vows as a Sister of Mercy would occur at least three years after that. Regarding the types of ministries she will pursue in the future, she said that “part of the process is to remain open.” She explained that rather than chart her own course, she’s leaving it up to God to shape and reshape her.
“I found out a long time ago who’s in control,” she remarked.
Due to her age, along with the fact she had been married and had children, Sister Rockwell acknowledged that she wondered initially whether pursuing a religious life was right for her. However, she has come to realize that “somehow God will take care of me and he has been gently leading me along. I just knew I was OK, and to go with it. I’m at peace. (There’s) peace and joy.”