A nun’s life
WE ARE IN TOUCH with the real world.”
With an earnest seriousness, Prioress Sister Teresa Mary Fredericks made this point during a recent interview.
“There are many myths about Religious Sisters who have consecrated their lives to God and to His mission. Some people believe that we pray all day, we never leave the convent, and others think that our way of life is tedious and boring!” the prioress said.
“People think that my life is so hidden . . . . but we go out to do many things. It is only because there are not enough of us that we do not seem visible,” she said.
The sister said it was true that they spent time praying but their life was also one of ministry to their brothers and sisters in the world – the two were interlinked.
“No two days are alike. Soon after breakfast we make our way over to school to begin our daily tasks. For some it is administration, others teach, while others visit the elderly and sick in homes for the aged. Besides teaching, invariably there are meetings with parents or some involvement with church-related activities,” she said.
After evening prayer and during the meal together, they relax and exchange news about the day’s activities as well as on what is happening in the country and in the wider world.
Sister Teresa Mary, who has already celebrated her golden jubilee (50 years), said that she became a nun because “I have always felt that my heart is too small just to have one little family and one gentleman in my life. I am just not at ease with that. I wanted to serve where I was needed to serve God and to serve His people,” she said.
She was educated by the Ursuline Sisters in Guyana, where she was born. The sister said her parents were practising Catholics who encouraged her to become involved in church activities – for example, teaching Sunday School classes. However, when she was 15 years old, she felt called by the Lord to leave her home and family to dedicate her life to His service, and she expressed this desire to her parents.
“There was no opposition on their part, but they felt that I was too young to make such an important decision. They also insisted that I should attend every party to which I had been invited,” she said.
After secondary education, she taught for almost two terms before she began her formation as an Ursuline Sister in Barbados, where after two and a half years she made her first vows and left for England to study for four years before returning to the Caribbean.
“I then made my final vows – saying “yes” to God’s call,” Sister Teresa Mary said.
She said her way of life invited her to serve God’s people where she was needed. Currently she works mostly in administration, but recalled the many lives she has touched over the years.
She fondly recalled working at an orphanage in Guyana, where there were 85 girls, aged four to 17, under her care.
“What I learnt there was to trust in God’s providence. I often thought if people did not provide for these children what would I do; would these children go to bed hungry? But no, they never did.
“It was the former students from the school in Guyana who sent barrels of oats and cereal for them during the difficult days that we had in Guyana some years ago. Years after those girls continued to communicate with me I was really their mother for a certain time in their life.
“Although the word orphanage sounds very harsh, it provided a home for them and I think what they were taught there by sisters were the values [they lived later] . . . truth, honesty, integrity, respect for other people and themselves,” Sister Teresa Mary said.
She said she believes she had more of an impact on those children because they were not confused about what society was teaching, what the home was teaching and what the school was teaching because they had the school and orphanage working together.
“In the 1970s and 80s I found parents . . . were very cooperative and we were going in the same direction.
“The children were not torn between one set of values and another; the parents had the same dreams for their children. Today I think everybody is so rushed and so hurried and have so little time to spend with the children,” Sister Teresa Mary said.
In reflecting on her choice to become a sister, Teresa Mary said that the choice meant a life of poverty, chastity and obedience.
“You have to make a choice – it’s God and God alone and his people. In our world today and certainly in Barbados that is not the mentality of our people.”
She said when you became a sister, you had seven and a half years to think about whether that was what you wanted to do for the rest of your life.
She added that with regard to marriage that is a choice as well. Though she has no children of her own she has built that maternal bond with many. She said: “It is a different kind of motherhood . . . . It is not flesh of my flesh, but there are the bonds of love.
“People think of love as feeling inside and only that and looking into each other’s eyes and sexual relationship, but love entails a word that is not heard these days – sacrifice – and even married people do not know what it is to forget self for someone else,” the sister said.
She noted that the society was not a giving one but there was a prevailing mentality of individualism and materialism that had seeped into our society leading to an attitude that says “What I have that makes me who I am”.
She said she had no regrets about her choice to become a sister as gave her a very full and fulfilling life and if she had to live life over again she would do it.
“God has created me with a purpose and happily I have found this purpose and that is it. I think I am going to close my eyes as a happy person because this is what I wanted, and this is what He wanted me to do,” she said, holding the gold ring she received when she made her final vows.
“It reminds me of my commitment to one person in my life,” she said.
It is a sign of her dedication to the Lord.