When did you first feel called to the priesthood or religious life?
As long as I can remember I have wanted to be a nun. In our family, Catholic and 2nd generation Irish immigrant, it was no big deal; both my father and my mother had siblings who were religious and as children we visited the convent where our aunt was and the uncles visited us and we loved them as special uncles and aunts. In a way it made church and home very integrated and ordinary. All the childhood memories connected with them are happy ones.
Were your friends and family supportive of your call?
This really leads on to the second question: my parents were neither enthusiastic nor otherwise, they wisely treated my aspirations as perfectly ordinary, not at all certain I believe, that things would work out as I planned, as I did not seem promising material for the enclosed contemplative life at 18 which was the age I planned to go! At first my father made a condition that I would get good A Levels before he would give permission (in those days the age of majority was 21) but the night before the results came out he relented and said 'If it’s really what you want, you can go anyway' and as things happened the results were pretty good. I don't remember anyone trying to dissuade me, the world was such a different place then and the church too, and it seemed we had the answers to most questions. Vatican II was still just coming into view (I entered in19961), my elder sister was at Cambridge with a full grant, life seemed simple and solid.
Did you have any doubts?
Doubts?!!!! Certainly not! I had the arrogant certainty of an 18 year old. and I have to say I was right in that. In spite of the fact that the community I entered proved dysfunctional and unhealthy, in spite of the fact that I had all the usual ups and downs , fell in love, had various crises connected with my own maturing and human growth, I never really doubted that God was my heart's desire above all else.
Have you been able to maintain the hobbies and interests you had before you became a priest or member of a religious community?
This is harder to answer. I really had not had time to develop any interests apart from family and school. I continued to read widely in the convent, books, which would never have got past the Abbess were smuggled in for me by my two younger sisters , …this meant a certain dishonesty and I lived with a permanently guilty conscience and yet at some deep level I knew it was a necessity and that Solzhenitsyn and Mauriac and others of the same ilk had to do with God in some mysterious way I could not explain.
What brings you the most joy as a religious?
What brings me most joy now, (I am 76) is the relationship with God that began all those years ago and fills every day with challenge, the lovely challenge of growing in love and trying to let go of all the things that stand in the way of deeper union with Our Lord, and genuine love of those around me. It sounds good but let me tell you it is no joke, 'costing not less than everything' as T S Eliot put it!) And also, the joy of seeing others grow and come through their struggles, this brings such joy and a sense of being on the same wonderful 'Camino'. It has got better and better.
What would be your advice to someone trying to discern their vocation?
Trust your heart, take all good advice, talk to God and ask Him to guide your steps. Visit places where you feel you might be called and really listen to your own reactions to what you find, and have help to discern what God might be saying. But in the end it is your own call and only your own desire and your own conviction will sustain you through a lifetime.