I’ve always wanted to interview a religious sister, and now I have my chance. Here’s my interview with Sister Elizabeth Ann Dockery.
1. What was your childhood like? I came from a broken home and lived in poverty. There were constant trials and tragedies, yet I was surrounded by love, especially my holy grandparents who raised me and encouraged me by example to have faith and trust in God. I began working at a young age so I could have nicer clothes, take music lessons, etc. I excelled in everything I did thanks to the gifts of perseverance, grace, and old-fashioned hard work, resulting in full scholarships for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. What seemed to be all odds against me ended up being a huge blessing with all of the life tools I ended up with.
2. Are you a convert to Catholicism or were you a cradle Catholic? Convert from the Church of the Nazarene.
3. What is your favorite biblical passage and why? 2 Cor 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” This is my favorite passage because the Lord has proven to me time and time again that His grace truly is sufficient and that my weaknesses are actually strengths in him.
4. Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus? Elijah.
5. How did you discern that you had a calling to be a Sister? I met a Sister in a post office one day. I had never seen one before and was intrigued as a fairly new Catholic. She spoke with me and invited me to their convent. After two weeks of declining invitations I finally went. Upon arrival, I felt a peace which surpassed my understanding and like I was “home”. From that time forth I went there as often as I could as a volunteer. One day my boyfriend of 5 years said to me, “Do you realize you spend more time with the Sisters now than you do me?” It was then I realized I might have a vocation. I broke up with him, got a spiritual director, went on several “come and see” retreats and entered religious life after the Lord confirmed my calling with several signs.
6. Which order does your convent belong to and what makes it unique? We are Fransciscan. We are unique in that we live by faith–praying for provision, living in poverty without the securities of health insurance, regular income, etc. Prayer, praise, and evangelization are at the heart of our charism and ministry. While home, we are quite contemplative, living on an 840-acre ranch called “Prayer Town”. For ministry, we go all over the world doing short-term missions such as retreats, speaking at conferences, parish missions, youth events, and so forth. Then we return to contemplative life. It is a constant cycle of being filled then giving, just as St. Francis did. Praise is a way of life for us. We are charismatic.
7. What is the difference between a sister and a nun? A nun is fully cloistered and does not go from the convent, except with permission from a bishop. Sisters are those who are non-cloistered, which are most of us. Basically, if they are in public they are Sisters.
8. What are your duties as a nun? What service do you provide to your community outside of your convent? I am the Mission Advancement Director both inside and outside our convent. I am also head of our music department, overseeing and taking care of the instruments, books, training, and so forth. In addition, in the convent, I help keep the mission house I live in cleaned and maintained in my chore areas, help with cooking, yard work, and anything else regular people have to do when they own a house.
9. Who is your favorite saint and why? Ephrem because of his poetry and music, which reflect a deep intimacy with both the Lord and Our Lady. He was a man in love.
10. How did your friends and/or family react when they heard the news that you had decided to become a sister? Most were supportive of the idea in theory, but in actuality were not. I had a career as a professional musician, orchestra director and teacher and loved it. They thought I was throwing it all away. I also had a boyfriend of 5 years that everyone knew we were planning to get married when he finished school. My family and friends thought I was running away from marriage because of my wounds from both of my parents having multiple divorces. The reality was that it wasn’t my calling and I couldn’t convince them otherwise until after I entered the convent and was incredibly joyful. It was unexpected people in my life who supported me through it all.
10. What do you do for downtime? Ha ha! With my present position I have limited personal time. I have a ministry right now of availability, whether that is to our own Sisters or to our family, friends or donors. Photography is probably the one thing I work on most in my “downtime”. I take TONS of photos and enjoy sorting and editing them and sharing them as a blessing. I enjoy walking, playing music, paper cutting, and art projects as time permits.
11. What part of your service gives you the most joy? Being present when someone has an “ah-ha” moment in their spiritual life–that God is alive, cares about them, loves them, is not a million miles away, blows them away with signs and wonders, etc. Equally joyful to me is helping people transition from this life to the next. Being with someone in their final moments on Earth is a privilege that I often have.
12. Is there anything you dislike about being a sister? That has never crossed my mind, so I guess not. I thoroughly enjoy wearing the habit and being available as a witness to God’s goodness. If anything I guess it would have to be that my family finds it difficult to have me around in public. If we go anywhere together such as to a restaurant or store, inevitably I get stopped repeatedly by people asking for prayer or wanting to share a story or insight or due to a request for help for a need they have. I am used to it since it is a daily thing for me. However, they feel like they never have my full attention when we are out because of the demands of others for my attention. I dislike that it is hard on them at those times.
13. What would you say to people who ask you why you felt the need to cut yourself off from the rest of society? I wouldn’t say that I felt a need to cut myself off from the rest of society. I would say that I fell in love, and when you fall in love all you want to do is be with your beloved. It is really not that different from young love on the natural level. You cut yourself off unintentionally at first then in a more committed way in the engagement/wedding stages. Nothing else really matters except for being together. The more you are together, the more united you are in thought, mind, and action. The desire to acquire goods or to watch or listen to unholy things fades. The small things really do seem so small in comparison to God’s immense love. In the case of religious life, you become surrounded by like-minded people on a similar journey, so you have a welcome group of new friends who become family.
14. What would you say to another woman who wished to become a nun or sister? It is so much more beautiful than you could ever imagine, if it is your calling. And it is so much more difficult that you could ever imagine, like any marriage. It is completely worth it, however. My heart is full. My cup constantly overflows. I can go anywhere in the world and be home. You could, too! The Lord is faithful. He ALWAYS provides. All you have to do is be open and receive. It really is possible to experience Heaven on Earth.