January 7, 2011

Religious Vocations Supplement

Sister who made demands of God lives a life of service

Since 1997, Benedictine Sister Cathy Anne Lepore has been a religion teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where she tries to help students have a positive experience of God. (Submitted photo)

Since 1997, Benedictine Sister Cathy Anne Lepore has been a religion teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where she tries to help students have a positive experience of God. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Growing up with four older brothers who often teased her, Cathy Anne Lepore learned not to be intimidated—which may help to explain the four demands she made of God on the day that changed her life.

The day was Dec. 26, 1993, and Lepore was visiting Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, the home of the Sisters of St. Benedict.

Seventeen years later, she jokes about how she was “kidnapped” by a friend and taken to the monastery that day, but in her heart she acknowledges that it was the work of God that brought her there.

After all, she was 34 in 1993, and the journey of her life was already filled with interesting twist and turns.

She grew up in New England, had 141 first cousins, and believed her command of a curve ball and a sinker at 9 years of age meant she was destined to become a professional baseball player.

When reality dashed that dream, she went to college to become an athletic trainer and also taught at a high school before moving to Bloomington to earn a master’s degree at Indiana University.

All during those years, she was involved in youth and music ministry at the parishes where she was a member, including St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington.

And all during those years, there was the gnawing thought within her and the encouraging belief from others that God was directing her to a vocation as a religious sister—which leads back to her visit with the Benedictine sisters in the monastery and her four demands of God.

“During my visit, I left the sisters, who were older, went to the chapel and put four questions to God,” she recalls. “I told him, ‘First, I want to hear you call me by name. Second, I don’t want to be the only young person here. I need other people my age. Third, I’ve made mistakes. I need to know I’m forgiven. Fourth, I want to know in six months [if this is the life I should live].’ ”

Moments later, someone walked into the dark chapel and asked, “Cathy, are you here?”

“I was called by name, and it was by [a sister] who was younger than me,” she recalls.

Her third demand was answered later that day when she returned to the chapel just before leaving the monastery. As she walked into the chapel, choir members were practicing and the lyrics were, “The Lord is kind and merciful.”

“It’s the whole psalm of forgiveness,” she recalls. “My whole boat was rocking. Three months later, I knocked on the monastery door in March and said, ‘I would like to investigate living with you for the rest of my life.’ ”

So there is the essence of the vocation story of Benedictine Sister Cathy Anne Lepore. Seventeen years later, it continues as the story of how her life has changed and how she has changed the lives of others.

Since 1997, she has been a part-time religion teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

“I think I have a defective gene. I really like teenagers,” she says with a smile. “Of course, I get to send them home.”

As part of her course, she even teaches the art of manners to her students, including the basics of “please,” “thank you” and “may I?”

“I don’t want them to get thrown out of restaurants. I want them to be able to go on dates, and I want them to help others in need,” she says with a smile.

For her, even good manners are a way of connecting with God.

“If we can be Christ in the little things, it’s easier to be Christ in the big things,” she says. “I want these kids to have a positive experience of God. I want to teach them to be able to be themselves and bring themselves into conversations with God.”

At Roncalli, she also helps as an athletic trainer, offering students and the school community a different view of a religious sister.

“She is a real role model for young women who might consider religious life, but also have aspirations to be involved in other areas of life,” says Chuck Weisenbach, Roncalli’s principal. “She’s also heavily involved in our pro-life issues. She goes to Washington, D.C., every year for the March for Life [with students].”

When her mornings at Roncalli end, Sister Cathy Anne returns to the monastery, where she provides physical therapy services for the sisters.

“Sister Cathy Anne loves the elderly, and it is a delight to see her with them during their time of physical therapy,” says Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner, the vocation director for the Sisters of St. Benedict at Our Lady of Grace Monastery. “She encourages them to keep going, and really takes time to listen to them. Many holy conversations happen during physical therapy time.”

Sister Cathy Anne savors that time.

“It’s an amazing experience of having one on one time with the sisters,” she says. “I have a lot of energy, and I’m able to share that with them. When they feel that touch, a lot of healing takes place. We also focus on a lot of prevention [of injuries].”

Sister Cathy Anne enjoys her two roles because they allow her to use her different gifts to witness God’s love for people.

“I get to use my sense of humor, my organization and my love of teenagers,” she says. “I also get to use the healing arts, my sensitivity and my knowledge of the human body. Having both ministries creates a balance in me.”

At 51, she feels a peace that comes from knowing she is following God’s plan for her life.

“It’s definitely a journey,” she says. “It’s learning about facing yourself and facing God. I’ve learned he’s much bigger than I am. Nothing is impossible with God.”

She smiles and adds, “We have an idea of what we should be doing and then God says, ‘Yeah, that’s good, but I want you to look over here. Turn your gaze and look at me.’ When we do that, a door opens. Then the question is, ‘Will I do it?’ ”

Sister Cathy Anne has learned to say yes to God.

“God is in everything we’re doing—if we just turn and look.”

(To learn more about vocations at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, log on to www.benedictine.com.)

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