November 6, 2015

Vocations Supplement

Sister’s focus on doing ‘small things’ leads to closer bond with God

When Franciscan Sister Monica Zore was asked where she wanted to have her photo taken at Marian University in Indianapolis, the longtime math instructor chose the school’s fountain, explaining, “It’s a reminder of God’s extravagant, overflowing love. It’s constantly pouring out, and it never runs out.” (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

When Franciscan Sister Monica Zore was asked where she wanted to have her photo taken at Marian University in Indianapolis, the longtime math instructor chose the school’s fountain, explaining, “It’s a reminder of God’s extravagant, overflowing love. It’s constantly pouring out, and it never runs out.” (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

With tears streaming down her face, the Marian University student rushed into the office of Franciscan Sister Monica Zore.

The young woman told Sister Monica that she had just learned that one of her friends had died of a drug overdose. Sister Monica offered condolences, gave comfort and then made plans to let the student reschedule the math test she was supposed to take that day.

“Letting her take the test later is not a big thing in my sight, but it was a big thing in the student’s eyes,” Sister Monica says. “I would have to proctor her test another day—not everyone would do that—but she was so relieved. It made a major difference to her that someone saw the pain she was in and offered comfort.

“That’s what Pope Francis, Archbishop [Joseph W.] Tobin and St. Francis are calling us to do. We don’t have to do the big things. It’s the small things that can make an important difference. If I can help others to understand that, to do that for a child in the classroom, then that ripple is just going to keep going on.”

That combination of caring, teaching beyond the classroom, and understanding the importance of the bonds that connect us have defined the vocation of Sister Monica ever since she professed final vows in 1975 as a Sister of St. Francis in Oldenburg. In fact, her own need for community and connectedness eventually became a major factor in her twisting journey to becoming a religious sister.

She entered the Oldenburg community for the first time straight after high school, but then she left after 10 months.

“I was beginning to question if religious life was what I was supposed to be doing,” she recalls. “I also knew I couldn’t continue my education immediately in mathematics. In high school, I decided I wanted to teach math because I believed God had given me a gift to teach it to others. Other students told me I made it understandable for them.”

So she spent the next three years at Marian University in Indianapolis, pursuing her math degree while discussing her future with God.

“For me, giving up family and children was a real challenge. After I left the community for the first time, I prayed to God, ‘If you really want me to be in community, don’t make me choose between a physical partner and you.’ I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to do that. I knew a lot of good guys in college, but I never really met someone.”

Still, those three years led her to a better understanding of herself and a deeper relationship.

“That’s when I discovered that I needed the community to continue my faith journey. When I entered the community the second time, I was 21, and I knew Jesus in a personal relationship. I knew I needed community to strengthen and develop my relationship with God.

“For me, community is that place where I know I’m going to get support through my struggles, whether in spirituality, growth or whatever. I know that even when we disagree, we believe in the same fundamental things. And I know these people love me and I love them even when we do struggle. It makes it easier to go outside the community and do the same thing.”

Beyond the community of the sisters in Oldenburg, she has established another community at Marian where she has taught math for the past 32 years. When she first arrived at Marian, she estimates there were about 30 other sisters teaching there. Now, at 66, she is the only one still teaching.

Yet her impact is considerable, usually in one-to-one connections.

“She’s my greatest mentor. She means everything to me,” says Stephanie Hostetler, a senior from Shipshewana, Ind.

Hostetler first became connected to Sister Monica during a “math for elementary education” class. But their bond grew stronger during a difficult time in Hostetler’s life, when she was upset by a breakup and struggling with preparing for math tests for her teaching license.

“The summer before my junior year, I thought about transferring,” she says. “Sister Monica called me weekly for a month or two before school started. She was very helpful and giving of her time. I drop by her office to visit, and even if she’s grading papers, she’ll take the time.

“She gives great advice. I’ve learned from her to never give up, to be confident, to trust that even when things are bad, they’re going to get better, to trust in God’s plan.”

Those beliefs are at the heart of Sister Monica’s approach to life, says a friend who has known her for about 50 years.

“She’s extremely generous, always helpful and very supportive,” says Franciscan Sister Carol Slinger, who taught Sister Monica when she was a high school student at the former St. Mary Academy in Indianapolis.

“She’s also a very family-oriented person—her blood family and her religious family. She’s always striving to do the best for them.”

Sister Monica’s love shines through in the rosaries she prays for others, the extra efforts she makes for students, and even in the homemade spaghetti sauce she creates with tomatoes that she grows in her mother’s garden.

“I’ve learned that God works in ways we never imagine could happen,” Sister Monica says. “The older I get, the more I see that. God is so creative. He can take the things we do and use them to move us to a closer union with him.”

Sister Monica has found that deeper relationship with God as a religious sister. She believes everyone will find their vocation by putting their trust in him.

“You have to listen to your heart and follow it,” she advises. “You won’t go wrong if you do that. It’s in your heart that God will speak to you. God will give you the grace. Trust what you hear and take time to listen. The plan that God has for each of us is the best.”
 

(For more information about the Congregation of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Oldenburg, visit www.oldenburgfranciscans.org.)

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