By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
A sense of community and a healthy dose of hospitality led Sister Marie Flowers to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth more than a decade ago.
She’s certain God has a plan for her, even as she undergoes chemotherapy treatment for stage four cancer.
Sister Flowers professed perpetual vows as a Sister of Charity of Nazareth June 11 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nazareth, Ky.
The 49-year-old first encountered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in the early 1990s while serving at Covenant House, a shelter for runaway teens in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
At the time, Sister Flowers had recently completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Maryville University in St. Louis, her hometown.
“I liked the way they lived community. I was very inspired by them but I wasn’t interested at all in discerning,” Sister Flowers said, noting it simply wasn’t the right time.
She returned home and earned a master’s in social work from St. Louis University and began a decade-long career in social work, a field she’s very passionate about.
“After graduate school, I did the single woman thing. I bought a house. I was active in church and serving on boards. I loved my profession. It was a good time,” she said.
But, she said, she began to detect that something — she wasn’t sure what — was missing. By that point in 2004, she had lost track of the two SCNs she had met all those years ago in Florida.
With the help of the Internet, she found Sister Nancy Gerth, who was by this time the community’s vocation director.
“I had this literal fear that if I said it out loud that I would be signed up and done. There would be no turning back,” she said.
Sister Gerth invited her to attend a “no strings attached” discernment weekend.
Following the discernment weekend, she returned home to St. Louis and began to seriously contemplate her call to religious life. Over the course of the next few years, she began to visit with the sisters regularly.
During one weekend visit, Sister Flowers recalled that several sisters were seated in a living room “just having fun.”
“I had this vision of sisters in a habit seated in a chapel praying,” she said. “These sisters were just sitting around clowning on each other and telling stories. I felt so comfortable and relaxed.”
A line from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s mission statement sealed Sister Marie Flowers’ fate.
The line reads, in part, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth “risk their lives and resources … as they engage in diverse ministries.”
“We, as sisters, are willing to risk our lives and resources, to put it all on the line for Christ. To me it was clear. That line hooked my heart,” Sister Flowers said.
She decided to become a candidate for the SCNs in 2008 and then entered the order in 2012. She professed first vows in 2014.
In January of this year, Sister Flowers moved into a home with two other Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and a candidate who is discerning for the SCNs on Browns Lane. The following month, she was diagnosed with advanced cancer in her bile duct.
“I had all these plans and in a breath they were blown away. God has a plan that I don’t know. I don’t know what it is, but I know that God is with me,” she said.
Her diagnosis has forced her to make some drastic changes. She had to resign her position as an advocacy supervisor with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), an organization that serves as a voice for children who are going through family court proceedings.
“I love that ministry. I’ve gone back to do a little volunteering,” she said.
But the chemotherapy treatments have left her weak and with little energy. She began her sixth round of treatment this week.
Sister Flowers reflected on her life as a religious and called it a “gift, a privilege, a joy and a challenge.”
“I am exactly where I am supposed to be,” she said. “I am completely at peace.”