Friday, April 8, 2016

A religious vocation to the consecrated life from the Northshore of New Orleans

God prepared her heart for a vocation

Every soul has a story, and this is the story of Jenni Anderson.

At 27, she is traveling to the place where she has found peace, the place where the Holy Spirit has guided her over the past three years.

On April 1, her family began the journey from Mandeville to Terre Haute, Indiana, where Jenni was to join the Carmelite Monastery.

“I am so excited,” she said.

Abandoned as a 3-month-old in China – “maybe because I was a girl or because I had a heart problem” – Anderson was adopted from an orphanage at age 9 by Bob Anderson and Martha Osborne of New Orleans. The family, who adopted four other children – three from China and one from Korea – moved to Mandeville in 2008.

Jenni had a happy childhood and said she went to church every Sunday but was not overly “religious.” She was baptized with her sisters at age 13 at St. Rosalie in Harvey, and although she remembers that day well, she said it wasn’t until much later that she realized that the Catholic faith was the best gift her parents had ever given her.

A long search
It was her baptism that planted the seed that grew into a call to religious life. Jenni said she didn’t begin to hear that call until about three years ago.

“I wasn’t planning on this,” she said. But after working for more than two years as physical therapy assistant, “I felt God was calling me to do something else. I felt some detachment from life, like there should be more to my life. ... Maybe I was having a midlife crisis!”

So in 2013, Jenni quit her job and moved to China to work with special needs orphans through Love Without Boundaries. During her 13 months there, she said, “I asked God to show me what he wanted me to do. I told him I would do anything. Somehow I knew I was not going to have a ‘regular’ life.”

Not when her favorite book as a child was “Damien the Leper,” the story of St. Damien of Molokai, who spent years caring for the lepers in Molokai, Hawaii. And not when, as she learned later, her mother had promised to dedicate her eldest child to God. (Although Jenni was the family’s second adopted child, she is the eldest.)

From China, she ended up in India working with the Missionaries of Charity, after having met some of the sisters while visiting the Philippines.

“I prayed a lot, asking God to show me what he wanted me to do,” Jenni said. The thought of becoming a nun began to nudge her, although she said she knew nothing of nuns until she visited the Missionaries of Charity.

“All I knew about nuns was from ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Sister Act,’” she said. So she continued asking God, “Please tell me what to do.” Eventually, a voice asked her, “What if he wants you to be a nun?”

That was the question that kept coming back to her. She eventually went to the Missionaries of Charity “Come and See” week, living with the postulants and going to Mass every day – and learning what “real” sisters do.

“After that, by the time I got home to Mandeville just before Thanksgiving in 2014, I knew,” she said. Jenni knew God wanted her to serve him as a religious sister.

The unanswered question was which order she would join. She was drawn to the Missionaries of Charity, but she began to look into other options. She met with Teresian Sister Marina Aranzabal, pastoral associate at Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville, who introduced her to the Teresian way of life. Although Jenni loved her time with the Teresians, she said, “Teaching is not my thing.”

Attracted by solitude
And so she continued to discern the right place for her. She and her mother visited the Carmelites in Covington, the Benedictines in Colorado and the Carmelite Monastery in Indiana, which captured her heart.

“I enjoy solitude,” Jenni said. “I just felt peace there.”

The monastery has a “huge vegetable garden and an orchard,” Jenni added, “and I always wanted a garden. My dream job was always to be a fruit picker.”

Jenni plans to settle into her new routine of study and adapt to a new way of life. She will be able to call her family once a week, but other communication will be limited. “I will need to detach from the world,” she said.

Meanwhile, many in her hometown will be praying for her. Our Lady of the Lake, Jenni’s home parish in Mandeville, held a farewell Mass and reception on March 19, and the parishioners of Mary Queen of Peace, where she attends daily Mass and works part time in the office, said their goodbyes on March 28.

Her parents and sisters are “sad, but happy that I am happy,” Jenni said. After the tear-filled, joyful goodbyes, the story of Jenni Anderson’s soul will continue just a few hundred miles north of Mandeville, in a place where “day and night on Carmel’s height someone prays for you.” 
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