Wednesday, August 3, 2016

God's Beautiful, Inscrutable Paths

Sr. Neville Christine with her parents and Bishop Andrew Nkea of  Mamfe
 Diocese, Cameroon.
 Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission. 
People often ask me how my dear friend and I ever discovered our vocations to the Daughters of St. Paul when the Daughters of St. Paul are not even in Cameroon. I am sometimes tempted to answer, “I really do not know,” which in a way is true but not a very satisfactory response. But I can tell my part of the story, which reveals the mystery and majesty of God. 

I was born into a Catholic family in Cameroon, the second of five children who have always stayed close. My parents, who both attended Catholic school, wanted us to benefit from a good education and formation. I attended a Catholic secondary school run by an international congregation of religious Sisters.

At school we learned about the faith, about values, and about our freedom and responsibilities as young people. We weren't considered too young to study, understand, discuss, and live out the Church’s invitation to inculturation. Our prayers were not too insignificant to be offered for social, political and economic situations in our country, other African countries and the world. This widened my heart and prepared me to become a Pauline open to the needs of the world. 

Sr. Neville Christine and Sr. Beatrice Mary rejoicing with their secondary
school classmates after Sr. Neville's perpetual profession mass
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission.
When I was about twelve, I found out 
about the Daughters of St. Paul through the excellent religion textbooks we used in school, which were published by Pauline Publications, Nairobi, and which I enjoyed reading. When I was fifteen, a friend from class shared a vocation magazine from the United States with me and our mutual friend and classmate, Beatrice. I prayed about the many options presented and decided to write to the Daughters of St. Paul. I liked that the sisters wrote and communicated the Gospel using the media. I was also drawn by St. Paul, who was the patron of the order, because I liked reading his letters.

The vocation director of the U.S. and English-speaking Canada province wrote back from Boston, sending brochures and the address of their sisters' community in Nigeria. I wrote to them and they invited me to visit. But I did not have the courage to ask my parents for permission to travel out of the country to visit the Sisters. I had not yet told them directly that I was even thinking of religious life. After high school I continued attending local vocation events and retreats, discovering more about different charisms and apostolates, and hoping to discover God’s will. 
Neville & Beatrice with schoolmates: friends seeking the will of God
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission

In 2001, I moved to Augusta, GA, to join some members of my family in the United States. Soon after, I contacted the Daughters of St. Paul in Boston. The Sisters not only remembered me, but invited me to visit their community in Charleston, SC—the closest community to Augusta. I eventually made it to Charleston and went back between school breaks. Then I visited Boston a couple of times for Pauline Discipleship Week. 

It made a difference to meet the Sisters in person. I was inspired and edified by their joy and love for Jesus and his people. I was drawn to the profound Pauline spirituality of their founder, Blessed James Alberione. The Daughters of St. Paul live the Pauline spirituality by striving to center every aspect and every moment of our life on Jesus Christ, Way, Truth and Life. We desire to be ever more rooted in Christ as we spend time with him daily at Mass and in Eucharist Adoration, meditating on his word. We are never complacent, but always striving; whether in our spiritual straining forward to live in Christ or in our apostolic efforts to bring his word in languages and formats accessible to people today. We are committed to ongoing conversion until Christ is formed in us (Gal. 4:19).

Sr. Neville Christine's first profession of vows in Boston.
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission.
After a period of discernment and completing the application process, on September 8, 2005, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, I entered the postulancy of the Daughters of St. Paul. Postulancy was followed by novitiate, which I concluded with the profession of my first vows. 

At the same time that I had been discerning, Beatrice, my school friend and classmate who long ago had looked through the vocation magazine with me, had also written to the Daughters of St. Paul in Africa, and she joined our Sisters in Africa a couple of years before I entered in Boston. Sr. Beatrice Mary Iguem Efembele became the first Cameroonian Daughter of Saint Paul. When she made her perpetual profession in Cameroon three years ago, it was a joy for me to attend!
Visiting their alma mater in 2013. Sr. Neville Christine and Sr. Beatrice 
Mary with current principal, Sr. Ndidi Anozie, MSHR
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission.

This past year—my final year of temporary vows—I went to Italy to attend the international course in preparation for perpetual profession of vows. We were 20 young Daughters of St. Paul from 15 different countries! It was a beautiful and enriching time of study, reflection and communion. Since we were founded in Italy a little over 100 years ago, we were able to sink our roots deeper into our Pauline history, spirituality and charism. 

Finally, this year on June 18, I professed perpetual vows as a Daughter of St. Paul in Cameroon. I thank the Lord for the grace of belonging to this wonderful Congregation forever. But this year the Lord granted me another special blessing. Not only did Sr. Beatrice attend my perpetual profession of vows, but she was asked to represent our Superior General on this occasion! As the Delegate of the Superior General, Sr. Beatrice received my vows, welcoming me to our congregation with the beautiful words, “Dear Sister Neville Christine, now you belong forever in this family of the Daughters of St. Paul; and from now on everything will be common among us.” 

Old friend and classmate Sr. Beatrice Mary welcomes Sr. Neville
Christine to the Congregation. 
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission.
 With her sisterly embrace, my Sister and friend welcomed me home. What a powerful manifestation of grace in action in my life! And how beautifully the story of our lives and vocations continues to unfold!

So when people ask me, “How could two classmates and friends, who read the same vocation magazine, separately discover and discern a vocation to the same religious congregation—a congregation which is not even present in their country?", I really do not know how to answer. We both are in awe of the ways of the Lord.

All I know is that Someone who knows me better than I know myself and loves me unconditionally, guided me to the Daughters of St. Paul. And I thank the Lord for this gift every day.

Sr. Neville Christine Forchap, FSP joined the Daughters of St. Paul in 2005. She professed perpetual vows in the Congregation this summer (2016) and is currently missioned in Metairie, Louisiana where she shares the love of Jesus and his message through the Pauline media and publications the Sisters offer to parishes and schools.

1 comment:

M-L Handal, NYC said...

Thank you Sr. Neville Christine, for sharing the story of your beautiful vocation journey. I say a prayer of thanksgiving for the richness and depth of your Pauline spirituality which you so generously share with our fellow Pauline Cooperators in formation. God bless you.