Woman's unique life path leads to vocation - Catholic Courier

Woman’s unique life path leads to vocation

Sally Leyda has lived quite the full life thus far. She’s survived breast cancer; worked as a hairdresser, nurse, campground manager and security officer; resided in Arizona and Alaska for extended periods; and explored much of the rest of the world by camper and backpack.

"My family always had a thing that when I moved around, they’d say on the phone, ‘OK, where are you now?’ I guess you could call me a nomad. I guess that sounds better than a gypsy," she remarked.

Leyda, who will turn 63 years old on June 28, is set to once again relocate for what she expects will be her final destination: as a woman religious. She will join the Sisters of the Divine Savior order in Milwaukee this August.

"The Lord has been so, so good to me. I think it’s my time right now that I can give back to him," said Leyda, a member of All Saints Parish in Lansing, Tompkins County.

Leyda grew up in Woodlawn, N.Y., and later moved to Boston, N.Y., near Buffalo. She married at age 21 and had a son; she now has three grandchildren as well. In Boston she operated a hairdressing business, did ambulance duty and attended nursing school.

In 1988, newly divorced, she moved to Arizona where she worked as a nurse. She later managed a campground and bed-and-breakfast there, which led to a job as campground manager in Fairbanks, Ala., beginning in 1998.

While residing in Alaska, Leyda also spent considerable time in Mexico and backpacking across Europe. Her other employment during this period included working for a Catholic soup kitchen and thrift store, as assistant manager at a gas station, and in airport security.

She has felt compelled to give more to her Catholic faith since 1999, when she successfully endured a battle with breast cancer that included a mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments.

"That was when I’ve said the Lord hit me on the side of the face and told me to wake up. And I’ve waken up ever since," she remarked, adding that "I really got my claws into the church" as a volunteer around the same time.

In 2006 she filed for an annulment and went to confession for the first time in a long while. From then on, "I started to live the life Jesus wanted me to," as she put it. In 2008 she moved to Ithaca to be near family. She threw herself into parish life at All Saints Church, where she has served as sacristan and on several committees while also volunteering for Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga.

The winter of 2010 saw Leyda take a big step by formally committing to pursue the religious life. She said a mystical experience one year earlier gave her the impetus to make that move: "I kept hearing voices calling my name. It was a man’s voice. Then one time during a dream, my (deceased) father came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, ‘Everything’s going to be OK.’ And that was it."

She said she has the strong support of her son, Alan, regarding her vocational path: "When I did tell my son he said, ‘Mom, if that’s what you want, go for it.’"

Leyda settled on the Sisters of the Divine Savior order in part because there are "only very few (orders) that would take anybody over 60 (years old)," she said, adding that "I’m a very young 62 years old." Another key factor has been the influence of Sister Marion Etzel, SDS, who serves on the order’s membership team and is her sponsor.

"We were like sisters right off the bat," Leyda commented, saying her association with Sister Etzel has left her with "such a wonderful, wonderful feeling."

Leyda is nearing the end of her one-year commitment as an affiliate. She will move to Wisconsin near the end of August to begin her candidature — a process of at least five years of living in community, education, prayer and ministry toward becoming fully professed as a Sister of the Divine Savior. The Salvatorian order is present in 30 countries on five continents and renowned in the United States for ministry connected to the poor, parishes, education and health care. Leyda said the congregation is a great fit since she thrives on helping people and making their lives better.

Her life has included many ups and downs but Leyda wouldn’t change any part of it, saying all her experiences were meant to bring her to this point. Now she’s anxious to get started on yet another new journey — one that she’s sure is for all the right reasons.

"I always figure if God doesn’t want me to do something, he’s going to put something in my way," she said. "I just basically leave everything in his hands."

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