Newly Professed Sister Finds Joy in Caring for Others
October 31, 2019
The lucrative career of a mechanical engineer and the sacrificial life of a religious sister seem worlds apart.
Or maybe not.
Sister Lumen Gloriae – formerly Rachel Foley of St. Francis Borgia Parish in Blair – described both undertakings as a way to care for others.
“I wanted to be a mechanical engineer working either in the aerospace or nuclear industries, but the ‘what’ I wanted to do wasn’t the important question,” she said. “The important question was ‘why’ did I want to do that – I wanted to care for people, quietly, without them ever knowing that there was a need to be cared for.”
She described it as a maternal instinct – to do work that would protect the safety of others.
And God used that desire to draw her to the Sisters of Life, where she professed first vows Aug. 4 following a one-year postulancy and two-year novitiate. After five more years of discernment, she’ll be eligible to take final vows.
The sisters’ vows include poverty, chastity and obedience, and one that is unique to the order: to protect and enhance the sacredness of every human life.
Founded in 1991 by the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York, the order’s ministries include prayer, crisis pregnancy help, hope and healing following an abortion, retreats, evangelization and college outreach.
It was as a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that Sister Lumen first heard of the sisters through Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionaries.
“I had considered the possibility that, if God was calling me to religious life, he may be asking me to enter a fully contemplative community, but by a sheer act of unmerited grace, he made it very clear that he was not calling me to that life,” she said.
“When I met the sisters, it was like a key fitting into a long-looked-for lock. My heart had found the life that most mirrored and revealed its own desires.”
But first, she would spend three years working as a FOCUS missionary at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
While she had hoped to enter the convent after a two-year commitment to FOCUS, Sister Lumen sensed God was telling her to wait.
“Across my heart I felt, ‘Here, but not yet.’ OK, this is where you want me, Lord. And for some reason you’re telling me ‘Not yet.’
“Come to discover, he wanted me to be the team director at Carnegie Mellon for FOCUS for my third year,” Sister Lumen said. “I really needed that. It was a great, great learning experience of loving and learning to love as a leader.”
A SIMPLE LIFE
Sister Lumen grew up in Blair with parents Jim and Christine Foley, a brother, James, and a sister, Patricia.
Sister Lumen said she was happy growing up. “We lived a simple life, out in the country, where we could run around and scream and laugh and play to our hearts’ content.”
As a child, she was athletic, and in high school played soccer, softball and tennis.
“Ours was a simple faith, not extraordinary,” she said. “We watched Husker football on Saturdays and went to church on Sundays.
“But in the midst of the simplicity, I learned to believe that God was real – that he was present.”
That reality became clear to Sister Lumen through some difficult challenges.
During high school, she was shaken by the death of her grandmother. “Just that experience of really encountering death for the first time and asking the question, ‘Is there more? Do I really believe that there’s more? If I do, what does that mean?’”
Looking back, she recalled knowing that “… the only way I made it through and was able to deepen and maintain my own faith is simply because God gave me the grace through the sacraments and imparted his own life to me.”
GROWTH THROUGH ADVERSITY
She also grew in faith through failure.
Studying physics for the first time as a freshman at MIT, she failed her first test. “I had never failed before,” she said.
“That was actually a turning point for me,” she said. “I had been leaning so much on my own success and my own ability to do things that, when that fell out from underneath me, I actually asked a question that I needed to and thought, ‘What is there? Is there more than this? Am I only leaning on my own success?’”
Through that setback and others, Sister Lumen came to see the Lord working in her life.
“There were so many times where I can look back and say, ‘I was too weak to do that,’ or ‘That looked like a failure at the time, and actually the Lord wanted that for me,’” she said.
Sister Lumen said she was bolstered by the example of the FOCUS missionaries and student members she was meeting on campus.
Seeing the students who worked with the missionaries and their joy despite experiencing the same struggles, she asked herself, “What do they have that I don’t?”
“They knew that the Lord was upholding them and they didn’t have to be perfect,” she said.
As Sister Lumen continued exploring a religious vocation while a FOCUS missionary, she sensed God leading her through sporadic encounters with the Sisters of Life.
In the course of four months, she encountered them four times: at a FOCUS conference in Denver; a retreat at Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire; a mission trip to New York and a eucharistic congress in Boston.
It was the love and acceptance that she felt from members of the community that confirmed her choice of religious orders.
“They had a way of even just looking at you and being able to convey with a look that you’re seen, you’re known, you are loved.
“My heart longed to be able to do that for others as well,” she said. “I think especially because it so mirrored my own heart and my own desires for others.”
Sister Lumen’s current assignment is refectorian at the order’s retreat house in Stamford, Connecticut, where she serves in the dining rooms used by the sisters and for retreatants.
“That particular area, I like to think of it as my place of intercession,” she said. There she is “taking care of the temporal needs … knowing that all of that is leading me to be able to intercede for those who will be eating off this plate or drinking out of this cup or having coffee or whatever. So that’s a great gift for me.”
LIFE OF JOY
During her free time, she still enjoys sports with the other sisters, as they play soccer in their habits. “It’s a little shocking to the eyes the first time you see it,” she said laughing. “This sister playing soccer in her habit, she just headed a ball with her veil into the goal. But then you kind of get used to it.”
As part of a semi-cloistered community, contact with family and friends is limited. She is allowed personal visits six days a year, phone conversations of 45 minutes a month, and a 10-day visit home each year, her parents said. But they can exchange letters as often as they want.
“When it comes to my children, I wanted to make sure that they’re healthy, that they have food, shelter, that they’re taken care of, and that they’re joyful,” said her father Jim. “She’s most joyful, and so I’m happy for her.”
“I’m actually looking to see how the Lord reveals himself to me through others as they’re coming into my path, which is a great gift,” Sister Lumen said. “I wish everybody had the opportunity to be able to experience (that), because it’s so freeing in my own heart and to others’ hearts.”