By Jennifer Neville, Special to The Catholic Virginian
As Michele Haggard, a parishioner at St. Joan of Arc in Yorktown, prepares to enter a religious order this summer, she said she is apprehensive and eager, but mostly she feels at peace.
“This is what God wants for me. It just makes sense,” she said.
Miss Haggard, who is 22, said she first felt the call to be a nun in college. Before that, when she was in middle and high school, she aspired to be an actress. She was in a number of plays during those years, and she studied theater in high school at the School of the Arts in York County. She said she loved how movies and plays could speak to the audience and make them more empathetic about other people and issues.
A turning point came at a Steubenville Youth Conference in Ohio her junior year which she attended with her parish’s youth ministry. She was particularly struck by a presentation that challenged the teens to evaluate if they were “holding onto what they wanted to do rather than being open to God’s will.” With that in mind, she said she “opened herself to new possibilities” and realized that her passion was to work with others to better the world. Thinking she might someday work for a non-profit organization that addressed international issues, she decided to study global affairs at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax. She graduated this year.
Miss Haggard credits the youth ministry at her parish, Campus Catholic Ministry at GMU and her family as nurturing her faith at each stage of life. Like youth in many Catholic families, she and her sister and brother attended religious education classes and went to Mass Sundays as a family and said grace together before meals. But her family went a step further. She said that at dinner they discussed current events from a Catholic perspective.
During her freshman year at GMU, Catholic Campus Ministry encouraged the students to pray daily in front of the tabernacle during Lent. While on spring break, as she was praying in front of a divine mercy image in her home, she said she heard God clearly whisper in her heart, “I want you for myself.”
“In that moment, I felt like this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I’m going to be a religious sister. That’s what I was made for,” she said. She decided it would be prudent to finish her degree first. In her sophomore year she visited a number of orders in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. She was attracted most to the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara.
Meanwhile, back at GMU, she was active in Campus Catholic Ministry throughout her college years. She was on the group’s leadership team during her last three years of school: her sophomore year she directed the group’s pro-life ministry, and in her junior and senior years she led the Peace and Justice Committee which served the community in several ways including regularly visiting youth in a local juvenile detention center and preparing a hot meal for, and eating it with, homeless individuals in the area. At the Baccalaureate Mass at her commencement ceremony, GMU Catholic Campus Ministry awarded her its Peace and Justice award.
She hopes to enter the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara in its novitiate house in Maryland, but first she must pay off more than $100,000 in college loans. She has set up a gofundme page in hopes of receiving enough donations to do just that.
Miss Haggard said she was attracted to the order because of its charism and way of life.
“They were always so joyful, so in love with Jesus, and it was so beautiful to see,” she said. The sisters are missionaries who work throughout the world, and their work is tailored to the needs of each location. For example, they may work with disabled children or the elderly in third-world countries, or they may be catechists in Catholic parishes in the United States. Miss Haggard is not sure where she will be sent after she has completed her first years of formation, but she is content to leave it in God’s hands.
“Wherever God leads me, I know I’ll be happy, and I know he will give me the grace to do what he wants me to do,” she said.