January 8, 2010

Religious Vocations Supplement

‘Caught up in God’: Franciscan sister feels at home as part of Oldenburg community

Franciscan Sister Clare Teixeira is a secretary in the guidance office at Oldenburg Academy, a private Catholic high school for about 215 students. She is pictured with some students. (Submitted photo)

Franciscan Sister Clare Teixeira is a secretary in the guidance office at Oldenburg Academy, a private Catholic high school for about 215 students. She is pictured with some students. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

She believes she is home now, right where God wants her to be—sharing life with her Franciscan sisters, working with teenagers and living close to the animals that she loves.

As she travels the twisting, hilly roads in southeastern Indiana that lead to Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception, Franciscan Sister Clare Teixeira marvels at the remarkable life journey that has brought her to this part of the world.

For 14 years, she was married to the man she loved deeply—“a wonderful life” in Florida that ended in heartbreak, with her wanting to die.

She has also lived in New Mexico, doing mission work for a Catholic parish that ministered to the Navajo Indians.

And now at 56, she is in Oldenburg, living the life she often dreamed of as a child—“caught up in God,” wanting to be a religious sister who makes a difference in the lives of students.

“My whole journey in life is listening to God with my ears, my eyes and my heart,” Sister Clare says. “I believe God speaks to us, speaks to our heart and allows us to know what’s life-giving and what gives us life.”

After three years in the Franciscan order, she professed her first vows in August. She is scheduled to profess her final vows as a Franciscan sister in 2012.

Named Stephanie Kozlowski at birth, she had wanted to become a religious sister after graduating from high school in Miami, hoping to join the Adrian Dominican Sisters, who taught her in grade school. But the order encouraged young women to first get a college degree and work experience. She eventually taught religion and music at an all-girls academy in Florida, a time when she met Richard Teixeira, a teacher at an all-boys high school.

“Rick and I married in 1984,” she recalls. “We moved to north Florida in the hope of establishing a retreat center. We didn’t have the money, but we did have a certified organic farm with 52 acres and 90-plus animals—goats, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, horses, dogs and cats. I had always dreamed of being in the country. I love working with animals. I feel I have a special God-given gift in working with animals.”

Even with the demands of the farm, the couple kept their focus on their faith.

“Our main focus as a couple was our walk with God,” she says. “Whatever came our way, we accepted with open hands and continued our walk with God. We had a wonderful life. We had a prayer life together and we were very involved with our parish.”

Still, there came a time in the fall of 1997 when Rick wondered about the depth of their faith.

“He said because everything was so wonderful and smooth, he wondered whether we would still be faithful if we had a tragedy,” she recalls. “He said he was going to pray so God would test us. In January of ’98, he had a lesion on his tongue that was diagnosed as cancer. The doctor said there were really no options. He handed Rick a death sentence.

“Both of us prayed for God’s will. It was a short journey. Rick died on March 20 of ’98. In that time frame, I truly had the most wonderful and awesome life-giving experience from God. There were so many grace-filled moments. Rick had restless nights with the pain. I stayed up with him. I’d think of how Jesus said to his Apostles, ‘Can you not stay up an hour with me?’ We both focused on Jesus. Rick never complained. He never got angry. We truly were walking it together.”

His death devastated her.

“I wanted to die myself,” she says, almost in a whisper.

She kept going because of a conversation she had with Rick shortly before he died.

“I told him again how I felt called to be a sister in my youth. I asked him what he thought about me pursuing a vocation as a sister. He thought it was a wonderful idea. That’s what gave me the strength to go on.”

At 45, she began contacting several religious orders to express her interest, but she was told she was too old. So she decided to follow where God led her and began to travel, including to the Holy Land and Medjugorje. She then moved from Florida to New Mexico in 2004, hoping to find a volunteer opportunity to work with the Navajo Indians.

She became the mission coordinator at St. Mary’s Mission in the New Mexico community of Tohatchi. During that time, she became close with two Oldenburg Franciscan sisters who also ministered there. She was happy there, but then her younger sister, Gail, died in 2004 on Aug. 11, the feast day of St. Clare.

“I returned to Florida,” she says. “After I was there for about a month, I realized I missed the sisters in New Mexico. I felt very drawn to them. Sister Millie asked me if I felt called to be a sister. I said I did, but I assumed I would be too old. She told me, ‘No,’ and encouraged me to visit the motherhouse in Oldenburg. I came and found the sisters I met were down-to-earth, real, very prayerful and holy women. I was especially drawn to the fact that each sister was encouraged to be fully the woman God was calling her to be.”

She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Oldenburg in 2006. She serves as a secretary in the guidance office at Oldenburg Academy, a private Catholic high school for about 215 students. She appreciates that the Franciscan sisters’ community also includes a farm.

“I’ve always felt called to work with teenagers,” Sister Clare says. “Their energy and passion for life are life-giving. I feel it’s where I’m supposed to be. I love the outdoors, too. I go over to the farm and walk the dog there. There are people in the local community who have horses, dogs and cats, and we’ve found each other.”

She has also found a home, according to Franciscan Sister Diane Jamison, the formation director for the Oldenburg Franciscan sisters.

“Clare has come to a congregation where she has found her sisters,” Sister Diane says. “She feels that we are sisters to her. It’s a very familial bond.”

Joy is part of Sister Clare’s life again.

“I have fallen in love all over again,” Sister Clare says. “I’m caught up with the grace and the gift of having sisters, of being in community. We have a saying in the Oldenburg Franciscan community—‘Where one is, we all are.’

“I have experienced that feeling.”

(For more information about the Oldenburg Franciscans, log on to www.oldenburgfranciscans.org.)

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