Sister Mary Joanna Ruhland, RSM
This National Vocation Awareness Week we thank God for the many religious sisters who serve the Church with great devotion. Today, Sister Mary Joanna Ruhland, RSM, shares her vocation story:
The Joys of a Religious Vocation
How and when I realized I had a vocation to the religious life:
Our experiences of the sacraments often require a heart and eyes of faith to see beyond the tangible, visible signs that draw us to the deeper Mystery, Christ, Who is being communicated to or by us. When the Bishop who confirmed me anointed me with oil and prayed over me, little was I prepared to understand the warmth that poured over me and the gift of tears that followed. I knew then that the Lord had given me a particular mission and gift, even though I could not articulate what it was on that night.
During my youth I did not have much exposure to women religious. Through my undergraduate studies in Theology at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, and graduate studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville I came to a deeper understanding of my Catholic Faith and through friendships I met people who truly desired to love the Lord and do His will. I attended Eucharistic Adoration and grew in my personal relationship with the Lord and with the Blessed Virgin Mary through prayer. The strength to respond to the vocation that God desired for me grew through prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments.
After my graduate studies and working for two years for the Diocese of Duluth, I entered the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan in 1998. After the first levels of basic formation, I was given a mission to Rome, Italy, and have served there until my recent arrival at the USCCB in the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
The joys of living it out:
One of the joys I have experienced in my vocation is an ever-unfolding relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the only person who gives the ultimate meaning to our lives because He is the only One who can! Being consecrated by God for a particular service in His Church gives me the joy of living my Baptismal promises intensely, uniting all I do to God and being blessed with the grace to help others know His love for them.
Another joy I have experienced in my religious vocation is life in communion with the other Sisters of our community. True communion requires true friendship, and true friendship helps us grow in virtue. Growing in virtue is difficult because we have to examine ourselves with honesty, courage, and hope. It’s been a privilege to build friendships with other Sisters who desire to love God deeply and joyfully - to encourage them, and be the recipient of their encouragement and love.
As a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, we have the privilege of having St. Thomas Aquinas as a heavenly patron, a role that is like a heavenly spiritual father. Through prayer and studying his works, I have had the joy of coming to a deeper understanding and appreciation for how God has created every human person in His image. Every person is invited to a very personal and particular relationship with God, a privilege we receive and strengthen through grace.