I love this feast day honoring the Conversion of St. Paul. When I made my first vows in the religious community and received the name Sister Paula from Archbishop Brady, I felt so honored. And I still do today.
The theology at the time, which changed at the Second Vatican Council, was that when a person made their vows to God that person received a second baptism, and all past sins were forgiven. After the Council we were allowed to return to our legal names, however I had already been published as Sister Paula and did not go back to the name of my childhood and youth.
I was born the eldest daughter in a family of seven children. I had an older brother, James, who was born 16 months earlier. We lived on a farm, so Jim was my best friend and playmate for years until he went to country school. We worked at our assigned chores and tasks with great enthusiasm so we could go back to our exciting games and events we planned together.
We learned very early on the value of working together on tasks assigned us as part of the family. Tasks like setting the table for meals, bringing in fuel (wood and cobs) to keep the house warm, and drying dishes and putting them away. Mother was always the person washing dishes. When we finished, Dad would always give us a “horsieback” ride on his leg. One time he told me, “You are a good girl.” I must have looked puzzled because I’d never heard that before. Then he said, ”you are a good girl because you see what needs to get done and you do it.” That night as I lay in my bed, I wondered what that meant. But I knew it was good and I went to sleep happy. I will never forget that he said that to me when I was 3-4 years old.
Jim and I both loved school, and he helped me with my lessons. He was very kind to me. We grew up in a God-centered family with meal prayers, night prayers and the family rosary, but no Saints. Only when I thought of becoming a Sister did I start to think about a saint’s name. I needed to submit three names and one would be given to me when I got the habit as a Sister and made my first vows. I knew I wanted a women’s name so I created Paula as a combination of Paul and Anna as my first choice. And I got it.
In our classes that prepared us for celebrating the daily liturgy, we had learned a lot about St. Paul, so I grew to be very fond of my name and even thought if I ever left, I would legally change my name to Paula. As I grew in my expression of my faith, there were three ways that St. Paul has been a great model for me:
- Paul's experience of conversion to Christ made him passionate about his relationship to Christ and his call to Ministry.
- Paul was not afraid to present new ways to reach out and teach people the Gospel according to Jesus Christ. He was especially called to reach out to the Gentiles. I definitely have been called to reach out to the lay persons/leaders.
- He was not afraid to venture out to new parts of the countryside and form new followers of Jesus and that was not easy, because it threatened the current ways of worship.
So that is how I got my name and how I grew to love being Sister Paula as a member of St. Paul’s Monastery. When I die and go to heaven, after I see all my family, I will ask to see St. Paul and thank him for being such a great friend and answering my many prayers for his help.