Jesus says, "I've been here waiting for you--now you're finally looking at me." He just wants to be there with us, helping us with whatever we are doing. I have had my back to Him this whole time.
--Sister Claire Metrejean, MC, August 2013
In 2012, I ended an engagement, quit my job, put an offer on my first house, and flew to Rome all within a matter of about 30 days. On that trip to Rome I met a girl that would become not only my roommate but best friend + adopted baby sister. (The privilege of being an only child is that you can pick your siblings... and nieces and nephews!)
After two weeks in a tiny Roman dorm room with no AC and a shower built for smurfs, Claire and I figured we could live together in any circumstances. She moved in to my house in August of that year. Claire worked nights as a nurse at the Heart Hospital, and I was beginning a new adventure as Programming Director at Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center (a title and job description I had just made up.) Claire would come home after a long day (night) and have a glass of wine (in the morning) while I would have a cup of coffee as I was getting ready to go to work. These hours of wine/coffee conversations forged a friendship that would last not only for the time we lived together but into eternity.
As with most friendships, you both start with a great deal of comparison and assumption. Having met Claire on a pilgrimage to Rome, and knowing her brother from the seminary, I assumed Claire was a SuperCatholic... and I was admittedly intimidated! However, after getting to know her I learned she had only recently started getting into her faith after never being particularly religious. She stumbled upon a Scott Hahn book in the public library that blew her mind and sparked a journey that would lead her from being a Heart nurse straight to Jesus' Sacred Heart.
While we lived together Claire became very involved in the bible studies I led with my college girls. She even co-lead a mini-pilgrimage with the girls to Mother Angelica's Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL. Claire joined us for retreats and conventions...serving not only as an additional adult mentor but sometimes as a speaker. Being able to share her real life work experience of trying to live out her faith in not only a secular environment but one often hostile to Christianity and the Church. The female students were dazzled. Not just from her cute Loft outfits and Tory Burch shoes but with her kindness, class, and true femininity. Claire never thought she had anything to offer... I was the writer. I was the speaker. I was the event planner. She had no idea how bright her light shined.
The joy of having a Catholic roommate who also desires to live out her faith includes lots of perks like being asked "Would you like to pray morning prayer with me?" or post it notes with incredibly heart-wrenching saint quotes that we knew the other would just love. Hours of theological conversations, bible studies, hopes, dreams, wine, boys, pinterest fails, life... all shared.
In the Spring of 2013, Claire and I were both dating people and the time had come for my Mr. Wrong to hit the road. I told Claire the saga of our 5 hour breakup in Girard Park, and her response was, "So, the park, eh? Hmmm..." The next day she called her gentleman caller and invited him to the park as well. We fondly renamed it the Valley of Tears. When we sat up late doing the post mortem of our breakups, Claire said to me, "I told him I'm discerning the Missionaries of Charity." I quickly hi-fived her and said "Good one!" But her face became very serious. She told me... that in fact, she was discerning.
I was shocked. My home generally stays a cool 68 degrees... and like I said, Claire liked her clothes and comforts. The Missionaries of Charity are basically the Navy Seals of the religious life... they truly live like the poorest of the poor. It is rare for an American woman to even commit to that kind of austere lifestyle. But this is what my baby sister had on her heart to do.
She began spiritual direction and planned to go to a Come and See for two weeks in August. The quote at the beginning of this post is from a letter she sent me during that Come and See. Her very skeptical big sis was now convinced. Claire had about 18 months before it would be time for her to enter, and we made the most of it!
We threw a big #clairewell tour in her honor... we went on more adventures. We even made it up to Steubenville, OH, for a bible conference--there at a cocktail party Claire got a chance to tell Scott Hahn how his book began her journey that was going to end with a white sari.
Photo: Claire meeting Scott Hahn (cameo by Aunt Katie and the Jason Romero).
Claire literally gave away everything she had. We threw her a bachelorette party, a going away mass, and a large celebration of her life. As people told her goodbye over those final months she kept saying to me, "Everyone is treating me like I'm dying." And I explained to her... you kind of are... Like this weekend's gospel said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life (John 12:24-25)."
The fruit that has come out of Sister Claire's departure for the convent is beyond my imagination and one of the great mysteries I can't wait to have answered when I get to heaven. Our YESes echo in eternity. In January 2015, Claire entered the Missionaries of Charity in Chicago. In January. If that isn't a big Yes, I don't know what is. January 2015 began my grieving process for my best friend. I could not have been more thrilled for her but selfishly sad for myself. I will tell you--almost nothing is like knowing your baby sister is with Mother Teresa's sisters praying for you every day--and that you are praying for her every day. Friendship in Christ is like no other experience. And prayers were all we had--I was not going to be able to see Claire for at least two years, and following that probably not for another 8. She could be sent to Yemen or even worse, the North!
In a grace-filled series of events Claire was actually able to come home after only 1 year. Her formation process, like everything in Claire's life was expedited... and she was moving on to her next phase of formation that would take place in Mexico. Sister Claire was able to visit with friends and family for five days in December 2015. During that time she came back to our old house, got out her old coffee mug, and we talked for what felt like hours about everything that had happened in the last year. I gave my baby sister a goodbye hug that needed to last 5 years, as it looked like the next time I might see her would be at a vow ceremony in San Francisco or DC (those MCs get around).
I found out later from her spiritual director that Sister Claire had dedicated her vocation to St. Thérèse's care. How fitting, as that is where Mother Teresa had taken her name. When your best friend gets a new best friend, it is often a good idea to make that chick your friend too. And what a friend I have found in Thérèse! I knew Claire had read Story of a Soul but I had no idea that she had such a great devotion. This new information led me on a journey to get to know the Little Flower and... little did I know... would shape the next several years of my life!
In 2016, I was invited to join a women’s prayer group called a Theresian community--an international organization based in the spirituality of St. Thérèse. There are over 2000 women in 150+ different communities in 9 different countries. This was my 3rd attempt to join a Theresian community in the 6 years I had been back in Lafayette.
My Theresian Community is named Les Amies de L’Avent (the Friends of Advent). We are 12 women who meet together monthly to pray, learn, grow in community, explore our vocations, and reach out in service. We are a mix of married, unmarried, mothers, and childless. We have different fears, anxieties, insecurities, hopes and dreams… and yet, because we come together to pray and to share about those differences we find a great deal of commonality. My Theresian sisters have been a gift and a joy. My involvement with the Theresians quickly grew... including being part of the Theresian National Gathering planning team and providing a keynote at our Acadiana Theresian Day of Reflection (the audio is here. It's much funnier than this post.)
From getting to know Thérèse, and seeking to develop community with new female friends, I was also given the opportunity to work with a group of local women in the Diocese of Lafayette to develop a new program: Abide Catholic Women's Conference. We will offer our inaugural event in February 2019! Our mission is for women to Gather. Connect. Rest. Renew. What a gift Sister Claire sent to me... growing in community with other women by helping other women grow in community! My recalibrated mission now seems so clear.
The gift of a friendship rooted in Christ, rooted in eternity, is a gift we should all be asking for... and we don't. We are often so stuck in survival mode that the idea of community or even friendship falls to the wayside like a luxury our calendars cannot afford. We need each other. We will never take the time to stop, rest, breathe, when we do not have friends that are rooted enough to remind us of what is most important. To remind us that Jesus is there saying, "I've been here waiting for you--now you're finally looking at me."
Do you have a community?
Where are you planted?
Who reminds you to abide in Him?
Where do you gather?
When do you connect?
When do you rest?
How can you be renewed?
On April 9, 2016, I received a phone call that changed my life. I was sitting in Claire's chair in her old room that I had turned into a library/prayer room. It was Father Bryce Sibley. He had just finished saying mass with the Lafayette Missionaries of Charity. When your boss calls at 8AM on a Saturday, you know it can't be good. He says, "I have some bad news... Sister Claire died this morning."
There is no explaining what that phone call was like. Sister Claire had had a seizure about six weeks prior (I had known about it for 2 weeks or so); a series of tests had been done but nothing conclusive was found. She was ready to return to serving with full force but was made to take it easy. She hated that. Of course she did... so very Theresian of her. That morning she woke up, knelt on her bed like all of the other sisters for her morning prayers, had a seizure and died. It was that fast. She was 28 years old. The actual cause of her death was never found but was categorized as an "unknown cardiac event." A woman whose whole heart was given over to Jesus finally found rest in His. The Heart Nurse now had the Sacred Heart to lean on for eternity.
April 9th is the anniversary of St. Thérèse's entry into Carmel. Thérèse's deepest desire was to enter Carmel. Sister Claire's was to be with Jesus. Both got their wish on April 9th.
I'm glad you said it wasn't good for man to be alone.
Community is such a gift!
Thank you for the dear friends in my life, old and new, on earth and in heaven.
Thank you for the gift of Sister Claire, and Mother Teresa, and St. Thérèse!
Please bless our efforts to build community,
to have the courage to make new friends,
to forgive old hurts,
and to encourage each other while it is still today.