Sr. Mary Gabriel, SV, is one of Renewal Ministries’ newest Board members. As a member of the Sisters of Life religious community based in New York, NY, Sr. Mary Gabriel has served her community in various capacities since 1999. We are thrilled that she has agreed to serve on our Board of Directors as well. During her recent visit to our Ann Arbor office, we had a chance to get to know Sr. Mary Gabriel a bit better and be inspired by hearing a portion of her personal testimony.
“Jesus and connection to the Gospel are what our hearts are made for,” Sr. Mary Gabriel shared with us. “Living even a part of our life outside of that connection is a recipe for unhappiness, restlessness, anxiety, and the kind of pain that He has saved us from. But we don’t have to live like that. I know this first hand.
I grew up Catholic in New York. I went to a Catholic school, and in 7th grade, I experienced being mocked by my two best friends for singing too loudly, for really belting out the songs during Mass. After that experience, I made the real decision that it was too costly – socially – to mix my faith and my social life. So fast forward, I went through high school and college and had a surface level faith, well, sometimes a little more than surface level, but I really dedicated myself to my social life. That had much more weight than my faith life.
When I got to college, I had settled into this pattern of compartmentalization, but halfway through, I found myself very unhappy and restless. I came to this fundamental question of, ‘Am I really living as if God truly exists?’ I say I believe, but does it impact every part of my life? So, I sent up this heart-felt prayer for the first time in a long time; ‘God, if you exist, I need you to break in.” I truly needed him to answer that prayer. I couldn’t go on anymore in my faith on the intellectual level only because it was just not sufficient.
After praying that prayer, I began to have more of what I called these ‘tap-in moments.’ Moments where I knew that the Lord was real. He existed. He had a plan for me. Slowly I began to recognize that I wasn’t going to come to a deeper understanding about my faith by just going through the motions nor by thinking hard enough, but by responding to his grace. And it was by that grace that I began to incrementally understand many of the hot button issues, such as the Church’s teaching on birth control. As I brought my thinking into alignment with the Church, I became more and more convicted that the Lord was for me, was for women. Through this time, I really fell in love with the Church. Once I could say, ‘I don’t understand; I need your grace, Lord,” that is when I found that there was a love for me (his love), that I could respond to that love, and that I wanted to be with that love.
When I graduated from college, the Lord began working on this fear of mine of stepping out beyond my private faith. I was working in Manhattan at the time and had a lot of friends who didn’t share the faith, so there were still these two separate worlds, but I began to volunteer with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Very quickly, they invited me to train to do sidewalk counseling (for pregnant women), and I did, and every time I went out and said ‘yes’ to that really public witness, there was such a grace that was not of my making but from the Lord. Every time I said ‘yes’ to just a little bit more trust, the Lord really visited me with greater peace and greater love, really with more joy which was fuel for the next step (of considering the religious life). Finally I knew I could trust his love and goodness wherever he called me, and I could share his love and goodness with those tempted to disbelieve it with confidence. And that’s what the Sisters of Life do – loving each woman, so she comes to know God’s love for her, her own dignity, and the gift of her child.”
Today, as a professed member of the Sisters of Life, Sr. Mary Gabriel wears a full, religious habit with such ease and visible joy and confidence that it is clear to all who meet her that she has responded to the Lord’s grace. She has let her heart want what his heart wants for her future without reservation or fear of others’ opinions.
When asked about her decision to join our Board of Directors, Sr. Mary Gabriel said, “For decades now, Renewal Ministries has been dedicated to proclaiming the unfathomable gift of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am humbled and grateful to serve on the Board of an organization whose love for the Lord and his Church and zeal for souls is manifested in courageous witness to the truth.”
And we are so very grateful for her witness to the transforming power of God’s love, for her ‘yes’ to protecting and enhancing the sacredness of human life as a member of the Sisters of Life, and her ‘yes’ to joining the Renewal Ministries’ Board of Directors. Thank you, Sr. Mary Gabriel!