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home : features : people of faith

10/6/2011 1:29:00 PM
Runner sets course for religious life

On Oct. 2, Mary McMahon will suddenly have sisters - a lot of them. In a ceremony at Our Lady of Hope Residence in Latham, the 21-year-old will enter the Little Sisters of the Poor as a postulant, a first step in religious life.

"They're welcoming to everyone and they're a lot of fun!" she told The Evangelist in excitement. "It's just like having a lot of sisters. I can relate with the younger sisters, but I'm also learning so much from the older sisters. Their stories and experiences are fascinating."

Even when she was growing up in Delmar, Ms. McMahon was drawn to religious life. But it wasn't until she was 18 that her vocation became clear.

"I was looking deeper into the sisters while I was on retreat with them in Queens," she remembered. "I told God that if He really wanted this to happen, I would need a concrete sign. That day, one of the sisters pulled me aside and told me, 'I think you're being called to the religious life.'"

A parishioner of St. Mary's Church in Albany, Ms. McMahon had learned about the Little Sisters when she worked as a "Marian aide" at Our Lady of Hope Residence during high school. The program brings young girls into the retirement home to teach them about service and faith.

Later, her freshman year at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, continued to affirm her vocation.

"It was all preparation," Ms. McMahon said of college. "I kept meeting other people who were discerning and [I] just kind of fell into the routine of daily Mass and Liturgy of the Hours."

She looked into the Franciscan Third Order Regulars, a religious order that staffs the college's campus, "just to see." But in the end, she was drawn to the Little Sisters' charism of hospitality in addition to poverty, chastity and obedience.

After spending some time with the sisters, she discovered that the mother superior loves to celebrate feast days with parades and parties.

Even Ms. McMahon's love of running could fit into her future as a woman religious.

"I was a little nervous about that, because I've been a runner for a long time," she confessed. "But when I visited the convent I saw a novice running laps around the grounds, in her habit and everything, so that was a relief."

When she decided to enter religious life, Ms. McMahon first finished her associate's degree in humanities and Catholic culture and returned home to work as a home health aide.

"My family was very supportive, but didn't want to interfere or influence me too much. They just said I have to pay off my student loans first," she explained, adding: "Some of my friends didn't get it, which I understand. They think you're giving up on something in choosing the religious life, but you're actually gaining Christ."

Ms. McMahon's main obstacle, however, was within herself.

"My struggle was to surrender more of myself to Him," she told The Evangelist. "I kept wondering, 'Is God enough for me?' I thought He could fulfill my desire for a real relationship with a real man. It took some real, honest prayer with God to realize that He can't make a desire in me that He can't fulfill."

Since the beginning of August, Ms. McMahon has been living with the sisters at Our Lady of Hope as an aspirant and working in the infirmary. After her postulancy is made official in October, she and the five other young postulants will travel together to Washington, D.C.

There, the women will go through two years of formation before they become novices. Final vows don't occur until three years after that.

In the meantime, she remarked, "I'm just wearing jeans as much as possible."

However, she's eager to begin her journey toward wearing a religious habit.

"I didn't do anything to deserve this; it's all a gift from God," Ms. McMahon said. "To be all His, finally: that's what I'm excited about; that's what my heart was made for."

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011
Article comment by: Christina Strain

Congratulations, Mary! I'm so proud of you and your decision to follow your vocation. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and I'm sure your testimony will be a great example to others.

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