Gloria smiling

A Long Journey

by Gloria Lawton

When I was a young girl, I had two dreams: to marry and have a family, and to live in a house on the water. And God, who has shown me mercy all my life, fulfilled these dreams in ways I never could have imagined.

His first gift to me was Catholic parents who raised my siblings and me as such and made sure we received a Catholic education.

But I did not have an easy childhood. For one thing, my father was in the Air Force, and we moved often. I attended many schools, resulting in my doing poorly in school and having to continually leave my friends.

My parents raised us the best way they knew how, and today I understand better the crosses they endured and the sacrifices they made to keep the family together.

However, they carried their own inner wounds into their marriage. Dad carried a lot of anger, and Mom was depressed and had few coping skills. As a result, life at home was chaotic.

At age eight, I somehow decided that I’d take over and help keep peace in our home by trying to make Mom and Dad happy. I learned how to cook, clean, and take care of the baby.

I was given love and praise for this, which encouraged me to become “a Martha” and a little god in my universe. What in fact I did was usurp my parents’ roles.

As you can imagine, this way of living, while it helped me survive as a child, caused many problems in my adult relationships.

At age fourteen, while we were living in Toronto, I went to St. Mary’s Boarding School in Combermere. This was a huge grace from God. It got me out of the house, and I was given attention and the help I needed with my studies.

I loved it there, and even dreamed of getting married in the St. Mary’s chapel. But my time there did not last long. After Grade 10, as Dad was driving me home for summer vacation, he told me that I needed to go to school at home the next year.

I was devastated; I hadn’t even been able to say goodbye to my teachers and friends. Much later, I learned that the reason was that Mom, who had just had a baby at age forty, needed help. I became Gloria the helper again.

Grade 11 was a disaster. I felt lost in a school of a thousand students, and my average grade was 35%. I quit school after Easter.

I wanted to be a nurse, and fortunately, my mother found out about a ten-month nursing assistant program where only grade ten was required, and I was accepted into it.

This time, too, was a grace from God. I lived in a Catholic girls’ residence, and I got involved with the YCW Movement (Young Catholic Workers), went to dances, outings, and conferences on the faith and social justice, and I had some good Catholic friends.

I graduated, and during my first job the head nurse, seeing my potential, suggested I get my RN (become a registered nurse). That meant going back to school for grades 11 & 12.

I asked St. Mary’s if they’d take me back even though I was older, and, they did. I did grades 10 and 11 in one year. My time there was another mercy of God in my life.

Then I went on to nursing school and after graduating worked in a hospital, eventually becoming an OR (operating room) nurse.

I enjoyed music and dancing, and I dated over the years, but I always attracted separated or divorced men whom I thought I could help. Not surprisingly, they didn’t want my help.

I missed Mass at times when I did shift work on Sundays or when I was out dancing on Saturday night. But if I did this for a few Sundays in a row, my life would be in turmoil. Peace would return when I went back. It was God’s mercy that I realized this.

I was getting older, and by age thirty, I felt an inner pressure to get married. The man I set my sights on was divorced without a Church annulment.

I did talk about all this with a priest, one time, and he tried to subtly tell me not to get married, but I couldn’t hear him.

My boyfriend and I eloped and got married in Las Vegas. There were no family or friends at our wedding, and it was the loneliest time in my life. The marriage lasted 3 years.

The year we split up, my father died of a heart attack, and my job of seven years as the manager of a healthcare agency ended.

I took time off and rested and cried buckets of tears. I took a course in color and cosmetic consulting, which I loved, hoping to get a business of my own going, but the doors kept closing.

I went back to OR nursing, but this time the hospital I worked in performed abortions. I had to take my turn once a month in the abortion unit.

I figured abortion was the mother’s decision, not mine. I had a deep compassion for them, and I would pray a Hail Mary for the mother and child.

There were signs that what I was doing was wrong. There was never a woman who didn’t cry before the anesthesia, and because of the abortions, there was a lot of unrest in the operating room among the doctors and nurses.

But, despite this and my Catholic education, I somehow didn’t become sufficiently aware of the deep disconnection between what I was doing and the Church’s teachings. My conscience was not well-formed, and it never came to full consciousness that I was assisting in murder and was in a state of mortal sin.

Once again, God, in his mercy rescued me. My sister, Patricia, who is nine years younger than me, was an applicant at Madonna House. With the help of her spiritual director, she wrote me a letter, which was both firm and moving.

She told me that what I was doing was wrong and that I had to get out of there if I was going to save my soul. She also told me to get a spiritual director.

I was shaken by my sister’s firmness and honesty, and I began to pray asking God to help me.

I talked with Fr. Bob Bedard, the pastor of St. Mary’s, a charismatic parish in Ottawa, and I went to confession. After that, I resigned from my job in the operating room.

I attended Mass and took part in prayer meetings and other activities at St. Mary’s, and Fr. Bedard was instrumental in my growing deeper in my faith. His homilies spoke to me like none I’d ever heard before.

Then when a Life in the Spirit Seminar was offered, I made it. Through that, I was given a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit.

I was praying for a good Catholic man to marry, but finally, my prayer changed. I began to pray a prayer in St. Mary’s parish bulletin: “Lord, I want to do your will in my life.”

I visited Madonna House in Combermere and asked one of the priests to be my spiritual director. The first thing he asked me to do was consecrate myself to Our Lady, which I did. After that, Our Lady led me by the hand and doors began to open.

My spiritual director suggested I get a divorce (I hadn’t been married in the Church.) so that God could work in my life. I did that, too.

I had obtained a good job in Toronto, and as I prepared to move there, my spiritual director told me that I needed to do three things: go to daily Mass, work at my job, then go home alone and listen to God. I am a joiner, but at this time I was not to get involved in prayer meetings, music ministry, or anything else.

I did as Father suggested, but I still wasn’t happy. I attended a Charismatic Conference and received the word, “community.”

Some time after that, my job in Toronto ended. I cried for a few days, then called my spiritual director.

He said, “Praise God! When are you coming up to Combermere to listen to God and find out what he wants for your life?”

I came in September 1989 for six months to discern my vocation. In the back of my mind, I was hoping that a good man would also be visiting MH, and well …

By Advent, I was beginning to sense that I might have a Madonna House vocation. I said to God, “I am not a mystical person, so if this is my vocation, you’ll have to give me a few signs.” He did!

One day, looking down the Madawaska River, it hit me, “Oh my God, this is my house on the water!” Then lines from a song came to me: “He leads me beside restful waters to revive my drooping spirits.”

After Christmas, my mother, who had strongly opposed my joining Madonna House, phoned and said, “Gloria, if MH is your vocation, I’ll be behind you and support you in it.” (Unbeknownst to me, she already knew I had a vocation to MH. She said, “When we visited Patricia, you were like a different person.”)

There was a third sign: During the Dawn Mass at Christmas, I heard in my heart the words, “Gloria, you have come home. This is your home.”

I made First Promises in June 1992. Our class was the first to make Promises at St. Mary’s Chapel—the St. Mary’s that used to be a boarding school, the one I had attended!

So I married Christ the Bridegroom in St. Mary’s Chapel which was now a part of Madonna House! And I now live in a house on the water in the largest family I could ever have imagined.

I have always been grateful to God for my Madonna House vocation. MH has not been an easy life, and I continue to learn about obedience, surrendering my way of doing things, being open, and listening to the Spirit through my MH brothers and sisters.

But there is a certain freedom in finally knowing that I am where God wants me to be.