Sister Boram Lee poring over a text. Study is a key part of the “formation” process for becoming a Catholic sister. “During a charismatic prayer meeting . . . God said to me through one of the brothers there, ‘Go where my Light is,’ ” she says. (Photo courtesy of Sister Boram Lee)
Despite being a cradle Catholic, I never considered becoming a sister—that is, until the rat race burned me out.
Frankly, God wasn’t my biggest priority while I climbed the corporate ladder. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history and journalism, I was blinded by the allure of a glamorous, fast-paced life in network television in New York City, and I chased after a career in broadcast media, for three years working in areas ranging from production to research to multimedia news. I moved from job to job, working overnight and weekend shifts, holidays, doing whatever I needed to do to get ahead. As a result, my health and relationships suffered.
But God was still good to me. He gave me the grace to persevere through the difficult times, and eventually my work conditions got better. I was able to spend more time with my family and friends and serve at my parish as a catechist. And that’s when I identified a yearning in my heart for something more, something better. But I was still a long way off from sisterhood.
Encounter with a saint
Growing up, I had little contact with sisters. My family belonged to a Korean Catholic parish in northern New Jersey, where I attended public schools. Two Korean sisters served in our parish, and they spoke little to no English. Although I saw them around church, I couldn’t relate to them and didn’t get to know them well. Nevertheless, the sisters from my childhood must have left an impression on me because when I started getting involved with campus ministry in college, I noted the absence of sisters at our Catholic center and on retreats and wished there were some there.
It was not a religious sister but my biological sister, Rosa, who inadvertently piqued my interest in religious life. While I was still working as a journalist, Rosa invited me to venerate the relic of Saint John Bosco when it was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City as part of a U.S. tour. This would be my first encounter with the saint who was a friend of the young and the poor and who had founded the men’s religious congregation the Salesians of Don Bosco as well as cofounded the women’s religious congregation, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, also known as the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco. After patiently waiting my turn in line among thousands of pilgrims, I had my first encounter with Don Bosco through his relic. As I touched the glass box that encased a life-size wax replica of his body containing his relic, I prayed for guidance. Little did I know that a few years from that moment, I would be entering religious life in the congregation he founded.
Seed of vocation grows
My vocation discernment didn’t happen in a nice, orderly, logical fashion. I don’t know if anyone discerns that way. God worked in mysterious ways over the course of three years, speaking to me through various people, events, places, and dreams. I was terrified at first that God might be calling me to be a sister! I had no idea what the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience were all about, and I didn’t want to give up the life I was living, despite the misgivings I was starting to have about it. Like most people I had always dreamed of getting married someday and starting my own family. But the Lord gave me the grace to have courage and remain open.
I thought it was my career that was causing this growing unrest within me. So, I prayerfully considered a career change and decided to leave journalism for a field where I saw greater potential to effect positive social change. With a desire to help communities through the built environment, I decided to get a master’s degree in urban planning. It still hadn’t dawned on me that the hole in my heart could be filled by a religious vocation.
Halfway into graduate school, I attended a “Life in the Spirit Seminar” hosted by a charismatic young adults group. During the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” program of the retreat, I was touched by the Holy Spirit in a very powerful way. I felt the fire of God’s love burning in my heart and on my tongue. I felt my heart filling with great joy and peace. That seminar cultivated the seed of my vocation. I began to hear God’s call to live exclusively for Him.
Inspired by religious in Haiti
That call grew louder while I was on a church service trip to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, which had suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010. For one week, we stayed and served at a nursing home facility for the homeless elderly of Croix-des-Bouquets, about a 30-minute drive from the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The facility was staffed and operated by consecrated religious men and women of the Korean congregation known as the Kkottongnae Brothers and Sisters of Jesus. These missionary brothers and sisters, most of whom were in their 30s and 40s, were trained medical professionals who lived at the facility and took great care of the residents there. I was fascinated by their life. They were some of the happiest, most authentic people I had ever met. Their life of love and sacrifice for others inspired me and challenged the way I saw the world around me.
One night during a charismatic prayer meeting with the sisters and brothers of Kkottongnae, God said to me through one of the brothers there, “Go where my Light is.” When I heard these words spoken aloud, I began to sob uncontrollably because deep down in my heart I knew what that meant. God was calling me to follow him in a radical way, now more clearly than ever. I welcomed his invitation into my heart that night. And finally I felt free.
Finding the right fit
Upon my return from Haiti, I began to visit other communities closer to home with the help of a spiritual director. I looked at the spirituality of each congregation more than its core work, and I asked myself if I could honestly see myself living the community’s charism and lifestyle.
As I continued to pray and discern, God led me to the Salesian Sisters a month before my graduation. These sisters were gentle, joyful, and a whole lot of fun. They offered me friendship and cordiality, without pressuring me to visit them or enter the community, allowing me to decide for myself if and when I wanted to enter.
During this time, my parents were very apprehensive about my desire to pursue religious life, with my father concerned that I was trying to escape the world and avoid responsibility for my expensive decision to go to graduate school. Many arguments ensued. He started to warm up to my decision after graduation when he saw how hard I was working—at multiple part-time jobs—to pay off my student loans. Additionally, God sent people to my dad to advocate for my vocation. Once he approved, it didn’t take long to win over my mom.
God continued to send me little signs to reassure me that I was on the right path even during my application process to be accepted into the Salesian Sisters. When I retrieved my baptismal record from the church where I was baptized as a baby in Seoul, Korea, I learned that the date of my Baptism was January 31, the feast day of Saint John Bosco, one of our founders. I also learned that Saint Francis De Sales, the saint I had chosen for my Confirmation, was the patron saint of the Salesians and the source of its name.
Hopeful for the future
Now I’m in my third year of formation with the Salesian Sisters—that is, preparation for full membership. I feel more fully alive now than ever before. Living the virtues of poverty, obedience, and chastity enables me to be totally free to love and serve others. And though my vocation journey is not without fear, doubt, or difficulty, I have faith that God’s plan for me is, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “a future full of hope.”
Related article: VocationNetwork.org, “Why being single and living as a sister aren’t the same.”
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