January 13, 2012

Religious Vocations Supplement

A bride of Christ: Desire for Christ leads Bishop Chatard graduate to life as Dominican sister

Holding her right hand on a copy of her religious community’s constitutions, Dominican Sister Imelda Grace Lee, right, professes her first vows as a member of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia on July 28, 2011. Holding her hand is Mother Ann Marie Karlovic, superior of the community. The liturgy in which Sister Imelda Grace professed her vows took place in the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Sister Imelda Grace is a former member of Christ the King Parish and a graduate of Bishop Chatard High School, both in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

Holding her right hand on a copy of her religious community’s constitutions, Dominican Sister Imelda Grace Lee, right, professes her first vows as a member of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia on July 28, 2011. Holding her hand is Mother Ann Marie Karlovic, superior of the community. The liturgy in which Sister Imelda Grace professed her vows took place in the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Sister Imelda Grace is a former member of Christ the King Parish and a graduate of Bishop Chatard High School, both in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

As a student at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, Katherine Lee had her mind set on becoming a lawyer, getting married and having a family.

During the Christmas break of her senior year in 2006, she shadowed a lawyer at a top-notch law firm in Indianapolis to see what a typical day in her future lucrative career might be like.

“At the end of the day, this lawyer said to me, ‘You can have all of this [in reference to his spacious office], any luxury—cars, houses, money. Anything that you could want in the world you could have,’ ” she said. “Rather than being overjoyed at this, I heard a voice in the back of my heart say, ‘Is that all that there is?’ ”

Five years later, she found what was missing—and more riches than she could have imagined when standing in that lawyer’s office—when she professed vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a member of the

Nashville, Tenn.-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. She is now known by her religious name, Sister Imelda Grace Lee.

In a recent e-mail interview with The Criterion, she reflected on her vocation journey.

“It is really beautiful to look back and see how the Lord has been at work through my life, and to see how he has taken those things that I wanted and transformed them into something more wonderful than I could have ever planned or chosen for myself,” Sister Imelda Grace said. “I am truly a bride—the Bride of Christ—and I am truly a mother, a mother to souls.

“Though I am not a lawyer fighting for the truth, I am a Dominican defending the truth, proclaiming the truth and living for the truth.”

As a child, she attended Christ the King School in Indianapolis. However, her parents, one of whom was Catholic, had chosen not to baptize her as an infant.

A desire for that sacrament grew in her when she and her first-grade classmates were learning about Christ and the Eucharist in their religion class.

“My parents initially thought that I was too young to make such an adult decision, knowing that baptism meant a lifelong commitment to God,” Sister Imelda Grace said, “but through my persistence and a strong desire to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, I was granted permission.

“And so, a year and countless formation classes later I was baptized only a few months before receiving my first holy Communion.”

The memories of her baptism as a first grader made a lasting impression on Sister Imelda Grace.

“As much as I would have preferred to have been baptized as an infant, I consider it a tremendous privilege to be able to remember my baptism—my birth into the Church—and to be able to hear the voice of the late, great Msgr. Francis Tuohy recite the baptismal formula, and to see my baptismal candle all aflame,” she said. “The Lord, in his mercy, granted me the most precious gift of faith as a child, and the grace to persevere in that faith as I grew older—a faith that I cherish to this day.”

After graduating from Bishop Chatard, she enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington still with the idea of pursuing a career in law.

But her experience in the lawyer’s office months earlier had set her soul looking more and more toward Christ.

“As I began my time at IU, I began to go to daily Mass and pray the [Liturgy of the Hours] daily,” Sister Imelda Grace said. “Through this, my desire for Christ grew and deepened, and I longed for him to be everything for me, my sole treasure. In return, I longed to give myself to him completely and entirely without reserve.”

It was during the first of the two years she spent in Bloomington that she began actively discerning a call to religious life.

Dominican Brother Cassian Sama was ministering at the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington at the time, and led a group of young adults who were discerning God’s call in their lives. He has since been ordained a priest, and has returned to minister there.

“You could see that she really exuded a devotion, especially when she came to daily Mass,” Father Cassian said. “She was always here hanging around St. Paul Catholic Center, even when she had nothing to do, just to pray.

“That kind of caught my curiosity and I got to know her. Our conversations were mostly about God. She was so passionate about her faith, about praying and offering her life to pray for those who don’t know God, and to serve Christ in a selfless way.”

One of the young adults in the discernment group was seminarian Michael Keucher.

“Her discernment was very much of a model for my own at that time,” said Keucher, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington, who is in his first year of theology studies at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

“Not that I would call myself holy, but it’s interesting how holy people stick together and make each other holier,” he said. “She took her discernment very seriously and prayerfully. I could tell that she lived her faith in a very real way, even on the campus.”

Father Cassian was also impressed by the way that she was able to forgo the temptations of campus life, yet at the same time have a great desire to lead others to Christ.

“The worldly things around her, [even] on this secular campus, didn’t affect her a bit,” he said. “That was something beautiful to see.”

He spoke to her about the Dominican community in Nashville. She made a retreat there in May 2008, discerned a vocation with the sisters over the course of the next academic year and entered as a postulant in 2009.

She was not alone, joining 21 other young adult women who entered the community at the same time. Fourteen other women professed first vows with her last July.

“Being a member of a community with so many other young women is truly a gift,” said Sister Imelda Grace. “There is a certain joyful zeal and enthusiasm that the young sisters bring, and I know this from the experience of being one of them.”

At the same time, she has valued getting to know many of the older members of the 151-year-old congregation.

“To see these older sisters living on the foundation that the sisters long before them had laid, and the younger sisters striving to live and embrace the heritage that has been passed down to them, was more powerful in my discernment than simply looking at the youthfulness of the community,” she said.

The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are primarily a community of teaching sisters, and Sister Imelda Grace is studying elementary education at her community’s Aquinas College in Nashville.

After volunteering as a catechist for third- and fourth-grade students in religious education classes at St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, Sister Imelda Grace knows the spiritual depths that can be found in teaching the faith to children.

“As I taught these children the truths of the faith and watched them grow closer to Christ, I realized that the Lord had not only asked me to be a teacher, but to be a mother—of souls,” Sister Imelda Grace said. “And this spiritual motherhood is what I began to long for.

“I realized that in religious life I would still be a mother, and I would still have the joy of being a bride.”

(For more information on the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, log on to www.nashvilledominican.org.)

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