Nov. 3-9 is National Vocations Awareness Week
Dominican Sister Anne Therese Wilder, Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia in Nashville
TELL A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD, WHERE YOU GREW UP, WHO YOUR FAMILY INCLUDES, WHAT YOUR INTERESTS WERE.
I grew up in a small Catholic family in St. Cloud. I am the youngest of four children of Dave and Cari Wilder. We were blessed to go to Catholic school for grade school (Sts. Peter, Paul, and Michael Elementary and Middle School, now All Saints Academy), and to Cathedral High School (until the 11th grade. For senior year I did Seton Home Study School so that I could have more time with my family before entering the convent, and it afforded me a more flexible schedule as I discerned and developed my prayer life). Also, we were involved at our home parish, St. Michael. In junior high, my parents and I began attending a Bible study at our parish. This helped me grow in my faith as I grew in my knowledge of Christ through the Sacred Scriptures. We continued participating in Bible study, eucharistic adoration and other parts of parish life. My interests as a child always tended more toward the performing arts. I picked up various instruments, though I’ve mastered none of them. I enjoyed participating in theater both on and off stage. Reading, cooking, canoeing and hiking were all activities I loved.
WHEN DID RELIGIOUS LIFE FIRST ENTER YOUR MIND? DID IT SURPRISE YOU?
I first thought of a religious vocation when I was in sixth grade. The idea struck me, “It would make me so happy to be a sister. That would make me happy.” As I think back to this moment, it strikes me as odd because I had never really seen religious life apart from things like “The Sound of Music.” It truly must have been the Holy Spirit’s whisper. While I shoved the idea away for several years following, this moment has always stuck with me.
WAS YOUR DISCERNMENT PROCESS DIFFICULT? WHAT CHALLENGED YOU?
Discernment is a process that continues even after entering the convent, but it is always accompanied by great grace. When the Lord plants the desire for religious life in your heart and fills you with the love to fulfill it, burdens seem lighter, and every cross is a path to deeper union with him. That being said, the greatest challenge is certainly saying goodbye to my family. We write to each other and visit at various times throughout the year, but saying goodbye is never easy. My greatest consolation is knowing that this is God’s will and that it is another way to show him my love.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNIFICANT DATES IN YOUR PROFESSION/VOWS?
- I entered the convent on the feast of St. Clare August 11, 2010.
- I received the religious habit July 27, 2011.
- I made my first religious profession (first vows) July 28, 2012.
- I professed final vows July 25, 2017.
WHEN DID YOU FEEL THE MOST PEACE WITH YOUR DECISION?
The motherhouse in Nashville has always felt like home. I have always felt peace there. When I first visited, this peace took me off guard because I had never experienced a peace so profound before. This peace and feeling of being at home were confirmations for me that this is the place God had for me. My greatest peace came during the Mass of final vows. As I professed my vows and got to the line, “…for all my life…” I felt such peace. After professing vows the community comes forward for the sign of peace. The peace and love which filled my heart at that moment were truly a foretaste of heaven. To belong completely and totally to Christ, for all my life, this is my greatest peace.
WHO HELPED YOU WITH YOUR DISCERNMENT ALONG THE WAY?
The greatest support for me has been my parents. I was blessed to grow in my faith alongside my parents through Bible studies, times of adoration and spiritual conversations. Their constant love and encouragement, even when it was difficult for them, helped sustain me. They never once tried to dissuade me. Their goal has been the same as mine — to pursue God’s will.
Also, Father Gregory Mastey was a great source of encouragement and guidance as I discerned. It was through his work that I met the sisters and began seriously discerning.
In high school, when I was nervous or embarrassed about admitting that I was discerning, the faith and courage of my best friend, Nikki (Walz) Silbernick, always inspired me. It is such a blessing to have a friend who not only shares common interests, but pushes you to greater holiness.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
I am currently in my fifth year of teaching. I teach second grade in a small Catholic school, Saint Mary Star of the Sea School in Hampton, Virginia.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS DISCERNING A RELIGIOUS VOCATION?
At one point in my discernment, I was quite certain that I had a vocation; that this was God’s will, but I was not yet comfortable with this idea. I had much fear holding me back. I told the Lord, “You’ve shown me my vocation, now you need to make me want it.” Soon after, I was reading a work by John Paul II where he said “Be generous, do not be afraid, because you have nothing to fear when the prize that you await is God himself…always say yes to God.” Reading this was a moment of grace, and fear was banished from my heart. I would say the same to others discerning religious life: Do not be afraid to give everything, for you are placing it in the hands of a Father who loves you.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS (PARENTS, FRIENDS, THE COMMUNITY IN GENERAL) TO HELP SUPPORT PEOPLE WHO ARE DISCERNING?
The greatest support for someone discerning is prayer. It is grace that allows a vocation to blossom. And this grace is a fruit of prayer. I have always been blown away by the people who would tell me they were praying for me. Sometimes these were people whom my parents knew, but I had never met. I know it was prayer from family, friends and people I’ve never met that opened my heart to God’s call and sustained me in my pursuit of his will.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD?
We live in a culture of fear: fear of commitment, fear of what others think, fear of not measuring up, fear of rejection and the list could go on. This fear paralyzes people from following the path of discipleship. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Let Love, who is Christ, banish fear from your hearts. Only then can we live our vocations, whatever they may be, with the freedom and joy of the Gospel and so transform the world.
Both Lucas and Sister Anne Therese share their witness in the book, “By His Mercy 2: Living All In,” edited by Tricia Walz, a member of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. Books are available at the St. Cloud Book Shop and through the Vocation Office, 320-251- 5001. Proceeds from the book benefit vocation-related activities through the diocesan vocation office.