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A Ship Sailing Away
Huguette Turcotte, M.I.C., Good Hope Convent
IF I WERE ASKED ABOUT MY VOCATION BY A YOUNG WOMAN:
“How did you meet the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception?”
It was through the pages of the "MIC MISSION NEWS'.? In those years, the Sisters were spreading the magazine themselves by going to parishes in most of the dioceses of the Province of Quebec, Canada.? They also gave talks on the Holy Childhood in schools.? I remember their visits to our house and my mother always subscribed to the magazine, not knowing that I would discover my missionary vocation in its pages! ?Reading about the poor babies that our Sisters were taking care of in their orphanages in far-away countries aroused my interest.? I believe the idea of becoming a missionary was then implanted in my heart and it grew with me as the years passed.
We had a summer cottage on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, which is just like the ocean at this place, being about 60 miles wide.? This was around 1934 and I was about ten years old. The only way to go overseas was to take a passenger ship.? I used to watch these big ships pass in front of the house, following them until they would disappear on the horizon, and think: "One day, I'll also be going to far-away countries..."? How is it that the dream was already very much alive inside my little person?
I must say that I developed my taste for traveling quite early. Even as a young child, my parents took me to many places.? Later on, I prepared for my trips by using maps and books. Reading about foreign lands and people was a favorite pastime.? I had penpals in Europe and Haiti and collected stamps and post cards.? Without knowing it, all these experiences were preparing me for my vocation.? This fascination for discovering new countries and different people grew naturally, so it was also natural that I would dream of becoming a missionary.? But I never wanted to share this great secret with anyone.? It happened once that I told my mother that I wanted to be a Sister.? She answered gently: "All good little girls like you think of becoming a Sister at your age (maybe 11 or 12). ?But they all marry when they meet a nice young man!" ?I was hurt at this answer, as I felt that my great secret was not taken seriously. ?So I kept my dream in my heart and I talked about it to Jesus alone. ?It was only many years later, when I was about twenty-one that I told my parents about my project.
My mother was opposed to my vocation but my father secretly encouraged me.? He had been a seminarian before getting married and he told me that when he had to give up his studies for the priesthood (he fell seriously sick just before being ordained to the sub-deaconate), he asked God to give his vocation to one of his children.? My mother had dreamed of a successful career and marriage for her eldest daughter.? Even though she had a strong faith, she was not at all the pious type.? She was a city girl of Irish background, with very modern and liberal ideas, much concerned with social life and worldly interests.? Moreover, she did not like sisters and she nurtured a lot of prejudice against them, dating probably from her own childhood: sisters were too strict, their life was inhuman, they had no feelings, no joy...? I did not know what to say to change her opinions at the time but I decided that I would show her a different kind of sisters if I only could become one! ?It took her many years to let go of her own dream for me.? I entered in 1947 and it was only when she and my father came to visit me in Manila in 1958 that she was fully reconciled with my missionary vocation.? She had met my M.I.C. sisters, my music students, their parents, numerous Filipino friends, she had seen our way of life and my happiness among these people I loved. ?She told me when she left: "You have done a beautiful thing of your life. ?I will never worry about you anymore!" ?What a Joy for me, at last!
“How did you come about to choose the M.I.C. life?”
When I was around twenty-one, without really wanting it, I found myself face to face with a marriage proposal.? Deep inside, I still felt a call to the foreign missions but I found it almost impossible to decide to enter the convent.? This was a period of struggle and conflict.? There was a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes near my parish church and I remember going there to pray, late at night.? The Blessed Virgin certainly heard my call and I came to reason my problem in this way: "If I get married and if it is a mistake, there is no way out of it, I'm bound for life...? If I enter the convent, it will take years before I commit myself, the risk of making a mistake is much less..." So I set to inquire about the M.I.C. community in which I was interested but which I knew only through the pages of a magazine, and I had a lot of unanswered questions in my mind.
The next step was to make secret visits to the M.I.C. Sisters in a convent, which was not very far from my home.? All the sisters I met there were full of JOY, very SIMPLE and down to earth, much concerned with persons.? This impressed me, as I had known other communities of very serious and dignified Sisters, who seemed to live on a pedestal, and I did not feel attracted to them.? I was a very happy person with a great zest for life because-except for long periods of ill health in my youth-life had really smiled on me since my birth.? I went on with my survey by going to the Mother House in Montreal and to the Novitiate, which was in a beautiful site, along a river.? I made these visits "incognito", as I wanted to be sure nobody would know about my plans as I felt so uncertain, or try to put pressure on me.? I had seen this happen before in other religious communities and I wanted to keep my freedom during my search.? At the Mother House, I rang the bell and simply asked to go to the chapel.? Once there, I was left alone and I knelt in a pew at the back. ?Then one thought came:? "It is here!" ?And I had an interior feeling that this life was for me. ?All the information I gathered on the M.I.C. community answered by wishes: this religious group was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin whom I loved dearly, it was founded in Canada (I did not like the communities with a European mentality) and the Sisters were sent to the foreign missions (this was my great interest, this call was strong).? Moreover, they wore a white habit (I could not bear the thought of spending my life in black, it was too sad depressing) and a gold ring as a sign of their consecration to God.? These last aspects were external but to me, they were symbols of joy and commitment and they had some importance.
The day I entered the Novitiate (at twenty-three), I felt a great peace and I knew I had come home. ?I often wonder how I did it though!? There is only one explanation: the grace of the Lord was there and it carried me, after I had decided to give Him a chance with His own marriage proposal...? The religious family I discovered, its spirituality and works answered my aspirations.? The thought of leaving the convent never occurred to me afterwards, in spite of the unavoidable trials that can fill a human life now reaching over seventy years.? I can resume this part by saying that I heard the call and answer was to offer myself.? Then I let the Institute and the Church put their seal of approval on every step I took.? How could I have doubts when I was always told by the superiors I could go on? ?I was really "home", peaceful and happy. ?The MIC life was mine to live, thank be to God and to our Blessed Mother! She did a lot in my vocation as I went to Her many times when I needed light and guidance.
“What about your experience of being a missionary "ad extra"?”
I was assigned to Japan on Pentecost Day in May 1953.? My joy was great and I prepared my departure by taking Japanese lessons and learning some cultural aspects of the country.? Then, three weeks before leaving, I was told that my assignment was changed.? I was to go to the Philippines to replace a Sister in charge of the music department in our Manila school, who had fallen ill.? In those years, you were leaving for fifteen years.? My mother would never accept that and she said that she would ask for my return after five years; if this was not granted by the superiors, they would come to see me (of course they came!). ?After crossing the continent to Vancouver by train, I went to Seattle to board a ship that took one month to reach Manila. ?My childhood dream had come true! I was sailing to the missions!
The twelve years of this mission "ad extra" have been filled with joy and happiness.? As I look back on this period of my life, I see how filled with blessings these years were and I feel I contributed something to the history of the M.I.C. in the Philippines.? I witnessed the building of what is now our largest educational institution: the Immaculate Conception Academy and the provincial headquarters, the house in Davao, the Chinese school in Intramuros, the opening of the Novitiate in Baguio.? I was the choir directress for the first clothing and the first professions.? I have been helping in the formation of the first generations of Filipino Sisters who are now the largest M.I.C. group outside of Canada.? My former students in religious studies and in music are now scattered all over the world.? Many of them who have kept in touch with me through letters or visits have often told me that my presence at ICAM had touched their lives...? Some of them have heard from me the Good News of God's Love.? Some who have become religious continue this mission to the four corners of the earth.? Mothers now pass on to their children and grandchildren the love, the care, the concern and the advices I gave them during these years.? God placed in my path some children who were sick or malnourished, who are now adults with families of their own. ?I have been both mother and sister to thousands of persons. ?I have been part of the M.I.C. history being written in this country. ?What a rewarding vocation!? What thanksgiving I render to God for the wonderful gift of my call to the M.I.C. life!
There were moments of pain, of trials, of difficulties.? Exactly as in the life of a woman who accepts to be led into the unknown because of her love for a man, who faces the birth pangs to bring children into the world and the years of unceasing care to raise them. ?Such blessings have to be bought by sufferings. ?The price must be paid. ?But they are forgotten now as I look back at my life so filled with God's love and countless graces.? The hundredfold? ?Yes, and more and more!
“What about community life?”
This was the most difficult part for me and it still is. ?When you put together persons of different family backgrounds, cultures, education, talents, virtues and defects, it cannot be easy, it is never easy, it will never be easy! ?Some young people have a tendency to look at community life as some sort of a paradise and they are sometimes disillusioned when they get into it.? The truth is that it has always been difficult to adjust to persons who stretch your patience, who call for tolerance and support.? But are not these situations the same as those we meet in married life, in our families, in professional circles, at work or in school? ?Consecrated persons living in a community have received a special formation. ?They are bound by a common ideal. ?Because they strive to love God and their brothers and sisters above all, there are chances that they have a higher tolerance, a greater acceptation of each other, in a word, more charity.? I want to look at my companions as gifts and blessings of the Lord for me.? What matters the most are the bonds we have among ourselves: a common mission, common spirituality, common roots, common ideal...The small things that hurt in daily life are so insignificant in comparison of these binding forces! ?Respect of others and reconciliation that brings peace are always possible.? They are my secret to overcome the difficulties of community life.
“What about internationality which is a characteristic of the M.I.C. life and mission?”
This is another great gift to the entire M.I.C. family! ?We are all richer because of the cultures our companions of other nationalities bring us. ?I have been enriched by spending many years of my life in Asia in the first place, then by another twenty years of service in an international organization of the Church in Europe. ?They provided opportunities to meet persons all over the world, to enlarge my heart to all nations under the sun! In my dealings with "strangers", I quickly came to the conclusion that all human beings have many things in common: basic needs of love, care, consideration, and recognition...? Physical needs of food, clothing, housing, work.? A smile speaks the same language everywhere, even in spite of the language barrier.? Many times in a foreign country, when I was the object of curiosity because of my strange appearance, I experienced that my smile can give birth to a smile on the lips of perfectly unknown persons, especially children.? First, I look at the person with a serious face, no sign of recognition at all, except that my eyes go to meet theirs.? For a few seconds, I keep this straight face and I observe that the person does exactly the same.? Then, I let a smile be born on my lips, very slowly.? The miracle takes place: as my smile unfolds, I see it reflected on the face of the other person.? My smile says: "I am not a stranger, I am a friend." I have often started friendship with this " recipe" while in foreign countries.? Truly, I feel that I am a SISTER to all, wherever I go, whoever I meet, this is another face of my M.I.C. vocation: to embrace the whole world in my love and care. ?To be at home everywhere!
We must try very hard to overcome a "narrow nationalism" that rejects others because they are different, because they were not born on the same land or of the same race or religion.? There were some messages of the Popes on this subject recently.? Since "Catholic" means "universal", how can we be Catholics and practice discrimination among fellow human beings, all created by God and given the same world to share? This leads us to open our arms and hearts to the plight of immigrants who, most of the time, are the victims of conflicts for power.? Wherever we are, the welcome and care of immigrants is a privileged work of M.I.C. sisters.
Now that I am close to my golden jubilee of religious vows, I sometimes look back at these fifty years behind me. ?They were happy years. ?I belong where I am. ?The Lord gave me much more than the little I give Him, He really gave me a hundredfold! The words that come to my heart to express this are those of Psalm 2, verse 8: "Ask and I will give you the nations for your heritage, the ends of the earth for your domain."
Indeed, Lord, you did!
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