WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Sr. Annuntiata heard God's call to the Sisters of the Merciful Jesus even before she knew the order existed.
When Sister Annuntiata was almost 18, she was mulling over which religious order to join.
She prayed a novena to St. Thérèse, promising that if she received a yellow rose on her 18th birthday, she would join a particular order. She received birthday cards with yellow flowers on them, but no rose. She also received a pot of yellow flowers, but again no rose.
Later, she was reading St. Faustina's book, Diary: Divine Mercy in my Soul. The saint's diary spoke of a congregation that Jesus desired to have established. Its mission would be to worship, obtain and proclaim the merciful love of God for themselves and for the whole world.
"Right away I knew that this was the congregation for me. This is where I was meant to be. Then the question was, 'Where?' I didn't even know if this order actually existed. It set my heart on fire. I just wanted to be part of this congregation that she wrote about in her diary," said Sister Annuntiata.
In 1994, she and a two other laywomen started to live out their lives in the way that St. Faustina had described. The next year, two delegates from the Sisters of Merciful Jesus, both from Poland, came to Alberta. From there, the group of three entered the congregation.
Sister Annuntiata, 36, is of Filipino ancestry but born to a Catholic family in British Columbia.
She attended a Catholic elementary school, and religious sisters were there, but a religious vocation was never on her mind. Around Grade 8, however, she started contemplating what it would be like to be a religious sister.
"I think it's because I was going through a transition. I went from going to a Catholic elementary school to a public high school," said Sister Annuntiata. "I didn't know what a difference it would be. All of a sudden, I was moving out of my comfort zone."
Many of her friends had moved to other schools, and she felt alone. Her new non-Catholic friends asked her questions about her faith, and she was challenged to provide answers. Turning more towards the Lord, and opening her heart to prayer, she recognized that God was calling her to religious life.
Now with the Congregation of Sisters of Merciful Jesus, whose charism is divine mercy, she learned a lot from her mother and father, through the ways in which they served the less fortunate and showed bigheartedness.
"My parents have generous hearts, so we always had a big family because we had foster brothers and sisters growing up. There were at least eight in the family at all times," said Sister Annuntiata.
Her family's devotion to Our Blessed Mother greatly influenced her vocation. Her parents pray the rosary every day, and she attributes her ability to respond to God's call to their devotion.
"I was 18 when I made the choice to enter the congregation. It was challenging because there weren't many girls at that time, so I think (the Virgin Mary's) intercession and her presence in my family gave me a lot of strength to say 'yes,'" she said.
World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 also had a big impact on her call. She saw the sisters in their beautiful habits, and that was a witness to her. As well, her family had moved from Maple Ridge to Mission, B.C. when she was in Grade 11. The town has two monasteries, St. Clare's and Westminster Abbey, a Benedictine monastery.
"My mom was very prayerful, and would always go to the 6:30 Mass there. Of course, she would bring me along, and I'd witness their lives, the peace that these Benedictine monks radiated."
As a member of the Squirettes, she occasionally toured the Poor Clares' monastery.
The Poor Clares are cloistered contemplatives, a community of sisters wholly dedicated to praying for the Church and all of God's people. They aim to feed the hungry, heal the sick, console the lonely and abandoned, bring justice to those suffering from injustice - without leaving their monastery.
"Witnessing the joy and the peace that the Poor Clares had, a joy that wasn't of this world, it was something that tugged at my heart," she said. "The beauty and the simplicity of their lives was also something that awakened in me the wonder if God was calling me to that too."
From the Benedictines and the Poor Clares she learned that all people have crosses to bear and difficult times in their lives, but deep down when we are connected with the Lord, there is peace because one senses his presence.
The novitiate house for the Sisters of Merciful Jesus was in Stony Plain. In 1999, it moved to Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish in Hobbema where Sister Annuntiata now lives.
Today, she does pastoral work, mostly music ministry and helping children, in Hobbema. She helps with sacramental preparation, catechesis, a vacation Bible camp, Lenten missions, home visitations and leading retreats.
"Ministry is such a gift because it's an opportunity to pour out my heart and love Jesus through others," she said.
Experiencing God's call means having a close relationship with Jesus. It's important for her to spend time with him before the Blessed Sacrament. Her typical day consists of two hours in Eucharistic Adoration, rosary, and prayers in the morning, daytime and evening.
"Jesus is the whole reason why I'm here. He's the one who gives me my purpose of who I am. Without him, I wouldn't be here. Prayer, having time to spend with him before the Eucharist, and devotion to his Blessed mother helps me," said Sister Annuntiata.
The books of the Bible are God's love letters to us; daily Bible reading is essential.
Her hope for the future is more vocations in Western Canada, and that the message of divine mercy will spread in Canada and the United States.
"There are young girls who are interested, but we need to pray and encourage them," said Sister Annuntiata. "Young girls need prayer and support so they can hear Christ's voice, and have the grace and courage to answer the call."
If a woman is wondering whether God is calling her to religious life, she urges her to not be afraid, visit different orders, spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, attend daily Mass and make the steps to discern properly.
A sacramental life, including regular Confession, is necessary to help one open her heart, soul and spiritual ears to hear God's voice.
"He will reveal his will to them because they are seeking," she said.