Sr Mary Joseph Barnes

Vocation Story

'God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.'

When did you first feel called to the priesthood or religious life?

The sense of vocation came to me as a child. I was intrigued by the catechism question:

 'Why did God make you?' My life's search, I knew, would be to find the best way of responding to the catechism answer:

'God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.'

By the age of fourteen I had decided to be a religious Sister with an apostolic order which cared for the elderly. My voluntary work with the Sisters deepened my desire to give myself totally to God. After my ‘O’ levels and  a brief time as an assistant librarian, and just one week after my 17th birthday I entered the convent.

I was very happy and my happiness increased when I went to France to begin my formal novitiate. We were 60+ sisters in the novitiate and as each group made their profession and then moved on to the apostolate I realized that this was not the way I was being called to follow. Almost shocked by this realization (as it was all I had ever wanted to do) I knew that I had to leave and to discern further if I was to be true to myself. The seeds of a contemplative vocation were being sown without my realizing it.

I then trained as a continental telephonist - taking time out to spend six months in Lourdes working in a private nursing clinic. There, away from all that was familiar, I prayed for guidance. Returning to England I began a 3 year course in general nursing during which time I came to know the contemplative Order of the Visitation in Waldron, Sussex.  Here, I felt, was the place I could know, love and serve God best. Here, in the monastery ALL was centered on God.

Did you have any doubts?

Alas, it was not all plain sailing. Before the end of my studies I fell in love and life seemed to change course.  I went on to do midwifery which I loved very much and tried to see clearly the way ahead. Always there was the desire to give my life to God. So, before committing myself to an engagement and possible marriage, I knew I had to follow my call to the contemplative life. Matthew, whom I loved, gave me just 2 weeks and said I would soon be back....but, almost 50 years later I am happy to say it was the right decision. 

Were your friends and family supportive of your call?

Being an only child, my parents, non-practising Catholics, were extremely upset and refused to visit for several years. My friends supported me. The one constant in my life that had kept me joyful and hopeful was daily Mass which I began attending age 13. I knew that if I was unsettled, then the one thing that had never changed was my love for the Mass. This enabled me to have the confidence to engage in searching for my true place in life.  I entered Waldron community after midwifery

Have you been able to maintain the hobbies and interests you had before you became a priest or member of a religious community?

For many years in my religious life the work of Infirmarian was asked of me, and I was delighted to use my gifts to nurse our sisters. My interest in historical research was channeled into the 400 year history of the Order of the Visitation and the writings of our Founders. I spent some years transcribing letters of our Founders from old French to modern French for publication  Also, with the help of online websites I have been able to continue my life-long love of genealogy - a fascinating and relaxing way to be connected with the Communion of Saints!

What brings you most joy as a priest or religious?

The greatest joy in my religious life is the rhythm of prayer and praise to which we are called each new day and to do this with the love and support of my sisters in the community. Joy in religious life comes from a grateful heart and I thank God for all the blessings and graces he has given me throughout my life.

What would be your advice to someone trying to discern their vocation?

To anyone discerning their call in life I would say 'Listen carefully to your heart...and follow it.