When former Nazareth College campus minister Laura Bishop was trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, her spiritual director, Sister Sheila Briody, asked if she had considered what God wanted her to do.
“It was such a simple and yet profound question, and I had not done that,” Sister Bishop said.
The answer for her was a religious vocation, but it took 15 different people asking her if she had considered becoming a sister before she took her call seriously.
“I thought it would be a voice, or a vision, but instead it came through many moments of grace,” she said.
Those moments culminated into her first profession of vows as a Sister of St. Joseph June 9 at the congregation’s motherhouse in Pittsford. Jesuit Father Bob Reiser, who had worked at Nazareth College when she was a campus minister, was the celebrant.
During the celebration, Bishop and several sisters who lived with her in Massachusetts during the Sisters of St. Joseph Federation novitiate program dramatized the song “Standing on the Shoulders” by Earth Mama. Bishop received a lit teal candle that she held high for all the sisters to see, and signed documents affirming each. During the sign of peace, many sisters went over to hug her and shake her hand. Her biological sisters also were there to show their support; two of them sang a hymn during the celebration.
“It was so impressive to me to see her with such joy,” Sister Janice Morgan, the outgoing president of the congregation, said following the celebration.
During the celebration, Sister Marilyn Pray reminded those in attendance of their baptismal commitment, and the additional promises Sister Bishop was making with her first profession.
“Your commitment encourages us, touches our hearts and raises a very serious challenge to our society and to us,” Sister Pray said.
Sister Pray said a sister’s identity is wrapped up in being dangerous, both as a questioner of authority and a helper of people in need.
“All of the sisters here know this might thrust us into situations and into people’s lives in a way that is glorious and powerful and at times inspiring and challenging,” she said. “These situations of unfolding mystery and struggle are what keep us going.”
In an interview a few days after the celebration, Sister Bishop said she was drawn to the Sisters of St. Joseph during her time as a campus minister, when she was working on her master’s degree in pastoral studies at St. Bernard’s Institute. She continued her ministry when she later worked in the Registrar’s Office at Nazareth College.
During an annual program called Urban Plunge, she spent a week along with Nazareth College students living in community with the Sisters of St. Joseph at Rochester’s Holy Family Church. During that week, students examined urban poverty during the day and spent nights participating in theological reflections. She enjoyed living in community so much that she later decided to return to live with the Holy Family sisters.
That was one step in her discernment process, she said, which also included meeting with a discernment group and Sister Donna Del Santo, the congregation’s discernment director. Sister Bishop also took a weeklong silent retreat in June of 2004, which is where she made her decision to join the congregation.
She entered the congregation as a candidate on Dec. 8, 2004, and entered the novitiate on May 15, 2005. After three to six years as a junior professed sister, she will make her final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Sister Bishop said she remembers when she told her parents, Bill and Carol, that she had decided to live in community. She had told them she wanted to speak with them, and before she could start talking, her mother blurted out, “You’re going to join the nunnery.”
At the time, Sister Bishop said she responded with surprise.
“I wasn’t there yet, (in the discernment process),” Sister Bishop said. “So I was very surprised.”
Carol Bishop said she just had a feeling that her daughter was going to pursue a religious vocation.
The next reaction from her parents, Sister Bishop said, was that they thought she had always wanted to get married and have a family.
“I thought so, too, but at the same time, I needed to explore this,” Sister Bishop said.
The idea took her parents a while to get used to, she said. During the celebration, however, they enthusiastically supported their daughter.
“It’s been hard as parents with the whole thing, but she’s so excited to be helping others,” Carol Bishop said.
Bill Bishop said his youngest daughter has the strongest faith of anyone in the family. Sister Bishop, the youngest of five children, had medical problems when she was born, but she proved she could survive tough beginnings, he said.
“Laura was given to us for a specific reason,” Bill Bishop said.
As Sister Bishop continues to discern what that reason is, she is looking at how she will serve with the Sisters of St. Joseph’s ministries in the future. During her novitiate program, she taught immigrants English as a second language, and she has visited nearly all of the congregation’s Rochester-area ministries as well as its mission in Alabama. For three weeks in July she will visit the congregation’s members who are working in Brazil.
“That is all going into the discernment,” Sister Bishop said. “I’ll pray and ask what’s the greatest need and how can I apply all my experiences?”
She said she is optimistic for the future of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which she noted was founded in France by six sisters in 1650 and revived following the French Revolution by one sister.
“Now we are 14,000 strong and in 53 countries, so I am catching that sense of hope for the present and future,” Sister Bishop said.