When I was eleven years of age, I was confirmed and received my first Holy Communion. That was a memorable day for me and again I pledged my life to the church.
God had blessed me with a natural singing voice, and every day I sang the Latin Mass and songs, even though it was only from my throat — not from my heart.
My life was a lonely one. I had friends but no one to think aloud with, in whom I could confide. My mother and grandmother were busy and did not share the same views, so I lived in a world by myself — deep in my thoughts and books. It was a hard, cold life, yet it was God's own training place for me. Many times, alone in my room, I would cry and agonize as if my heart would break, calling out to "Someone" to make me happy, for I realized I was very unhappy but knew not the remedy. I didn't know that there was One who loved me with an everlasting love.
One night in church, my attention was drawn to one of the beautiful windows — it portrayed Christ as the Good Shepherd, and the sheep with Him seemed so peaceful. My heart ached for that peace but I didn't know what was wrong. I would make many novenas and send up many prayers but — no peace.
There were several things in the Catholic system that puzzled me. On Saturdays the nuns baked the communion wafers in a big flat pan and allowed me to eat what was left after they had cut out small, round pieces. Then on Sunday, this same substance was changed into the body of Christ. This indeed was a mystery. Also, not eating meat on Fridays and going to confession when I always had the same sins to confess bothered me a little, but my faith in the great church system was still strong. My activities changed when I attended high school and for the first time mingled with those who were not of my "faith," but I still attended to my church duties very faithfully.
I started studying voice with a teacher in Chicago. There was another girl from my school who also studied with him. This girl was the soloist at the Baptist church. When she left to go on a singing tour, it was suggested that I take her place as the soloist in the church. I was aghast — a Catholic girl who was going to be a nun sing in a Protestant church?
I had never been inside a church of any other faith than my own. I talked it over with my priest and, to my surprise, he said it would be all right because it would be a paying position and I could keep up my own church too. Thus, I took my first step to religious freedom and started singing in the Baptist church.
I shall never forget my first Sunday. I came up the steps, and the strains of "Dwelling in Beulah Land" greeted me. It was a revelation to hear such joyous singing. The Sunday school superintendent met me and invited me inside. I asked him if the church service had begun and he said, "No, this is the closing session of the Sunday school, won't you join us?" I said, "Oh, no, I can't come in now. I can only sing for the church service; that is what I am paid for." So I waited outside the door, like a poor lost sheep, for the church service to begin. The song I sang that day was "The Ninety and Nine," and truly I was the lost sheep "far off from the gates of gold."
For over a year I would attend early Mass and receive Holy Communion and then sing in the morning and evening services in the little white church on the other side of town. How the Lord's hand can be seen in it all — that I was allowed by the priest to sing — and that I was allowed by the wonderful group of praying Christians in the Baptist church, to stay and sing.
By this time I had heard God's plan of salvation and had also read the Bible, which had been a closed book to me before. But I still was not ready to take an open stand for God.
After a revival meeting one summer, the visiting evangelist spoke to me and seemed to make many things plain. I had been thinking along the line of the right church — which I should choose, and he pointed out to me that salvation was something between myself and God — no church could help me.
I went home from the service, and that night knelt beside my bed and prayed for the first time in my life. Oh, I had "said" many prayers but this one came from my heart — it was a broken prayer — the only prayer a lost sinner can pray. God heard and answered. A great wave of joy came over me as I knelt there. In memory, my mind traveled back to the time in church when I had gazed longingly at the picture of Christ and the lambs, and had yearned for the peace I knew I didn't possess. Now, at last, I had the real peace and joy that I had been seeking for so long. I was now a child of God, and He not only saved me from all sin, but made up for all I had ever lacked in my lonely life. I found Him not only necessary, but enough — He completely satisfied me and became All-in-All to me.
Of course, there were days of testing to follow, both at home and at church. It was something unheard of for a devout Catholic to leave and enter another church, and in a small town it took strength to stand firm. But I found His grace sufficient, and was able to take my stand as His child and testify to many by my life which was now filled with new joy and power as I drank deeply of the Water of Life. My ambition had been to be a nun of the church but God had called me to be a Saint of His.
Shortly after my conversion, the priest called and tried to get me back to the "fold" again. God gave me a wonderful opportunity to witness to him of my faith and trust in Christ.
As the years went by, He never let go of my hand, and many times when the way was dark and I stumbled and fell, I knew that underneath were His everlasting arms and He had promised to be with me until the end of the age.
Once again, I had an opportunity to witness among my Catholic friends. I was stricken very suddenly with appendicitis and a ruptured intestine, and peritonitis set in. My folk had always been so healthy that we didn't even have a family doctor, so several physicians were called but could not be reached. The only doctor available on that Sunday afternoon was a young man who had just recently graduated from medical school. He was summoned even though not much faith was placed in him — but the Lord's hand could be seen in this because with God's people, things never "just happen." Everything in our lives and circumstances is controlled by His love and power, and we know that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."
After the doctor had made his examination, I was taken to the hospital — it was a Catholic hospital and as I raised my eyes to the cross above the entrance I realized they had brought me to a Catholic hospital to die. I thought of the saying, "once a Catholic, always a Catholic, and on your deathbed you will always repent."
Just before I was taken into the operating room, the priest came in with extreme unction, intending to administer it to me and also hear my confession. My mother had informed him that I had at one time been a Catholic and he was ready to bring me back to the "fold." I was able to witness to the priest and the nuns in the room, telling them of my faith in God, and in Jesus Christ as my only mediator. I said, "I don't have to confess my sins to any earthly priest. If my God wants to take me home now, I know I will be with Him in Heaven as soon as I leave this earth — but, if His purpose and training for my life is not yet complete, I will live even though the doctors have given up hope for me."
The young doctor asked permission to perform a new method of operation on me, because he thought I didn't have a chance to live anyway, and it would be a good experiment. The permission was given and I became guinea-pig number one; I fooled them all and came through the operation. I was very ill after that, and on Wednesday night they thought I wouldn't pull through, but about nine o'clock I rallied and made steady progress after that. I was able to explain this to the wondering doctor and nuns, telling them that the whole church prayer-meeting time on that Wednesday night was spent in prayer for me, praying that God would spare my life, if it were His will. My Christian friends proved God's promises. "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much"; and, "the prayer of faith shall save the sick."
It was with a deep sense of humbleness and thanksgiving that I came back to my activities again, for I realized that I was yet needed in the Lord's work. I knew He would have taken me home if my work had been ended.
In looking back over the years of fellowship with my Lord I can see His leading in every step of the way. There were times when I was out of His sweet fellowship because of disobedience to His commands, but He always brought me back again. Trials, too, came my way, for this was my training place, and my Lord allowed these so that His child would be drawn closer to Him. Through these tests, and in completely surrendering my heart and life and talents to Him; I found the unspeakable joy, peace and satisfaction which comes only from a life wholly yielded to God.
Now I am living a happy, victorious life; rejoicing not only in the knowledge of sins forgiven, and the daily leading of the Holy Spirit in my life, but in the blessed hope of the near return of Christ when I will be taken up to be with my precious Lord and Heavenly Father forever.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not from yourselves, for it is the gift of God, not as the outcome of works, lest anyone may boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9, From the Douay Version of the Bible).