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MY VOCATION STORY
Sr. Mary Ellen Burns, CSJ

When I go into our Catholic schools, no matter what the subject I am speaking about, the children nearly always ask me two questions. "Why did you become a Sister?" and "How did you know that God wanted you to be a Sister?" It is always difficult for me to give the children a satisfactory answer to these questions when I am bound by the time restraints of the school schedule, but now I will have the opportunity to expand a little on my response.

When I was growing up in Sardis, a small village near Chilliwack, the thought of being a Sister never occurred to me but I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. This was not surprising since I come from a family of educators. My mother, sister, aunt, uncle and cousin were all teachers. But I particularly wanted to teach catechism. Actually, my twin sister and I began our catechetical careers at age six by conducting class for the neighborhood children (none of whom were Catholic) under the steps of St. John's Anglican Church Hall. All went well until the minister, Rev. Scudamore, complained to my mother that we were singing "Mother Dear, Oh Pray For Me" so loudly under the steps that we were disturbing his Bible class. That didn't end my career, but my mother insisted on a change of venue.

It was within a few days of my fifteenth birthday that I received my vocation to become a Sister. I was not a gracious recipient. In fact, the idea terrified me and I kept telling the Lord over and over that I just wanted to be an ordinary girl and do ordinary things. In my view, this meant getting married and raising a family. I was convinced that there had been some kind of heavenly communication glitch and that I had mistakenly received somebody else's vocation. Although it shames me to admit it now, I spent a number of years trying to "lose" my vocation. 

During those years of struggle I had a wonderful parish priest, Father Gordon McKinnon, who patiently introduced me to a contemplative form of prayer and, although I was too shy to speak about my vocation, I think he knew what was going on. I was eighteen before my love for God had grown enough that I was finally able to say my "yes." I soon came to understand that a religious vocation is not just for an individual but rather it is a gift of God to the Church. I intended to enter the convent, but I thought it was prudent to wait and get my teaching certificate first. I had spent my high school years working in the local hospital, and this convinced me that I wanted to join a teaching order.

When I was twenty, I entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and two and a half years later I made my first profession. To those who have asked me how I knew I had a religious vocation, this was when I knew for sure that I did - when I was accepted into the Congregation. For the next twenty years I taught all the various grades in many different schools in Ontario and British Columbia. I loved teaching but mostly I loved preparing the children to receive the sacraments. I was a little apprehensive when the Bishop asked me to work in the Religious Education Office, but I soon discovered that training new catechists and working with teachers was just as interesting and rewarding as teaching children. I worked there for fourteen years and now I am directing the Holy Childhood Program in the schools and teaching Japanese students from Nanzan University in Nagoya who come to Vancouver each year to learn- English and to experience living in a Catholic home and studying in a Catholic parish.

I am very grateful to God for calling me to be a Sister and for all the graces and opportunities He has given me during my life. I am particularly grateful that I have been able to serve the Church for so many years in my home diocese of Vancouver. Jesus once said, "there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time." (Mk. 10:29) 1 can attest to the fact that Jesus meant what He said because I have surely received the hundredfold during my life as a Sister.