November 1, 2021

“Sister, how did you get your name?”

Happy Feast of All Saints!

     Today is a wonderful feast in the Church, as we celebrate not only the saints we have a personal devotion to, but also all the unknown saints in Heaven! So many faithful in the Church live lives of great intimacy with the Lord, completely unnoticed by those around them. From children to the elderly, from those dying of terminal illnesses to those who sacrifice their lives for others, or who simply bear patiently the ordinary trials of life, without any extraordinary events to bring attention to their sanctity. We praise God for their lives, and ask their intercession in our journey to Heaven!

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, grant you a spirit of wisdom and insight to know Him clearly. May He enlighten your innermost vision that you may know the great hope to which He has called you, the wealth of His glorious heritage to be distributed among the members of the Church.

— Ephesians 1:17-18 (from Morning Prayer for the Feast of All Saints)
We enjoy trying to identify all the saints pictured in this copy of a mural in the Marian Shrine in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.
The pastor of Gruta de Lourdes, Fr. Fernando Felices, commissioned the piece and brought this copy for our community when visiting.

In our community, a Sister receives her religious name and new patron when she receives the religious habit, after her year of postulancy in the community. As a postulant, she prayerfully considers saints she has devotion to, and submits three names to the Superior. But the Superior has the freedom, listening to the Holy Spirit, to choose a name not on the list! The days and minutes leading up to the moment each Sister hears her religious name are very suspenseful! We thought you would enjoy hearing Sister Marie Francesca’s story of being named for St. Francis.

      “Hello! My name is Sr. Marie Francesca and my patron saint, who I am named for, is St. Francis of Assisi. The first time I read any in-depth biography on him was early on in my college years. I loved his zeal for God and that he was Our Lady’s Troubadour. His zeal and love of God led him to live fully and not half-heartedly. I also read in this biography about St. Dominic meeting St. Francis and how St. Dominic attended St. Francis’ first Chapter of Mats (a rather famous Chapter in Franciscan history). I saw their similarities and how St. Dominic wanted to combine the two communities. At the time I thought it would be wonderful if both communities were combined. I forgot I thought this until years later.

Sister Marie Francesca with Mother Mary Gabriel on the day of Sister’s First Profession

                Well, time passed and as things go, I forgot how much I loved St. Francis. I entered the Sister Servants and during my postulant year I was reading about all kinds of saints, trying to get ideas for what names I could suggest to Mother for my religious name. When asked whom I was devoted to I always responded, ‘The Blessed Mother’. It wasn’t until I read Louis de Wohl’s novel The Joyful Beggar about St. Francis that I remembered how much I liked this saint. I thought about taking his name. But I did not want a masculine name. What feminine versions did I know? Well, there is Frances, but that gets confusing, after all there is a St. Frances of Rome. She was a wife, mother and mystic and lived in the 1300’s. AND she was Benedictine.

                Then, there is Francine, but I’ve never been really crazy about that name. So, then I thought about Francesca. I liked that! So, what about the ‘Mary’ part? All of us have Mary or Marie as part of our name. I played with various versions of that for a little while, settling on Marie Francesca.  I liked that, a lot.  But…

                Well, then I thought Marie Francesca has a lot of syllables and doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as some of the other names in our community at that time. THEN, I considered that St. Francis is one of our communities’ patron saints, a big feast day in our community. ‘I won’t likely get this name’, I thought.  So, without telling anyone about my thoughts I went about choosing three different saint names for Mother Mary Gabriel to choose from, even though I wasn’t particularly happy about any of them.

                By the time the day we receive the habit and our religious name came around I had forgotten all about St. Francis and that I liked Marie Francesca as a name. I strained to keep my emotions calm as I waited to find out which of the three names Mother chose for me. Then, I heard her say, ‘You will be called Sr. Marie Francesca…’ Was I excited about this? Honestly, I had so forgotten about this name that I was in shock. About an hour later I remembered THIS was the name I had wanted all along.

It seems that the Holy Spirit works through our Superiors even in surprising little ways. I always take this story as a confirmation that God really did want me here in this community. I remember I wanted a community where St. Dominic and St. Francis were combined. God brought me here without my being completely cognizant of all the details. He works with the thin threads of our life. Never doubt His work in your own life!”