11 Apr I Had It All
by Loretta Fritz
By June 2008, I had it all—everything the world said I should have, and I had even more on the spiritual level.
Materially: I was a veterinarian, which means I had 100% job security, and I was working in my hometown in rural Saskatchewan. These were two dreams come true.
I had my own house and yard, a great truck, a cat, access to a gym; and an easy chair, popcorn and hot chocolate with a bit of Bailey’s on the cold nights when I wasn’t on call.
Socially: I lived near my family, and I had lots of good friends, who were loyal, loving, and challenging.
I had enjoyable, satisfying, and challenging volunteer positions—parish music minister, board member of the Credit Union, and co-ordinator of Search for Christian Maturity youth retreats.
Spiritually: I was at peace with my vocation as a single woman—sure that I was not called to marriage or religious life.
My parish and retreat ministries fed me spiritually as did my solid Catholic and other Christian friends and my prayer life. I had a great hunger for Christ in the Eucharist and received him as often as the Mass and my work schedules allowed.
Also, after struggling with it for years, I was finally being nourished by my daily reading and praying with the Bible. I felt that I was growing in my faith and love for God.
So how, in five years, did I get from “having it all” to finding my greatest treasure within the Madonna House vocation? It’s a fairly long story.
By the fall of 2008, my life started to unravel. Then in early January, all on the sameday, my great aunt died, things went very wrong in planning a retreat I was organizing, and worst of all, a case with an injured dog went all wrong, and I was served notice I was being investigated by the Saskatchewan Veterinary Association for misconduct.
By February 2009, I was so stressed out, so frustrated with my life and work, that I decided to take drastic measures: I decided to visit Madonna House. Hopefully, I could rest there, heal up and be rejuvenated so that I could continue on with my life as a rural Catholic vet.
(My friend, Renée Sylvain, a member of MH, had been inviting me there for years, but I had been afraid to visit for fear of what God might ask of me if I did.)
Anyhow, I went there for my vacation and stayed there three weeks. I had a wonderful, restful, healing 2½ weeks—and then I saw A Woman in Love, Cynthia Donnelly’s play about the life of Catherine Doherty. While I was watching it, God hit me with a very dramatic calling to join Madonna House.
I did not expect, want, or look for this calling. I wanted to leave MH immediately.
Over the next days, weeks, and months after I returned home, I came up with every excuse I could think of to try and explain to God that I could not possibly live this MH life.
On the other hand, I hungered for God, for Jesus, and over the past several years, I had had a growing fire in my heart to do his will.
My pastor encouraged me to spend time discerning this possible calling. So, in order to have time for this, I dropped all my volunteer commitments and started to pray before the tabernacle 30-60 minutes every morning before work.
I redoubled my efforts to get to Mass at least twice a week and confession every 3 weeks. I became more regular with praying at least one hour of the Liturgy of the Hours daily and prayed at least 10 minutes before going to bed.
And the Fire in me grew.
One day in August, I heard a phrase from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: chapter 3, verse 8. I consider everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ.
I was thunderstruck; and I understood! These were not just pie in the sky, airy fairy words a few saints understood. I understood! All in my life truly was worthless garbage compared to Jesus Christ, my Lord and Lover.
&#@%!! This was serious… It required some sort of response on my part.
I finally told my bosses (a vet and his wife) that I strongly suspected I might have a calling to Madonna House and that at some point I would probably need to resign to go check it out. I also told my parents, and they were extremely upset, to put it mildly.
By late September, I could confidently say to one of my friends: “If I had the money and holiday time, I would return immediately to Madonna House to further discern this call.” I say “confidently,” because I was sure that I would have neither the money nor the time for at least another 8-12 months.
Imagine my shock when she said, “Well, I happen to know about a fund set up to help people discern their vocations. I bet you would qualify for some money from it.”
My jaw nearly hit the ground. I said, “OK. I’m going over to the tabernacle and have a conversation with Jesus.”
&#@%!! Was I ready to make good on my word? Did I really want to return to MH for further discernment? Or was I just talking?
About two weeks later, I was on my way to Combermere for a two-week visit. After prayer, anguish, and talking with my spiritual director and with Susanne, the director general of women, I ended that stay with the deep knowledge and peace that, yes, I need to come back for a long-term stay to really test this vocation.
Back home in Saskatchewan, I continued to pray before the Blessed Sacrament daily, pray lauds or vespers daily, Mass when possible, etc… I found deep peace only when I was taking steps that moved me towards returning to MH—such as canceling magazine subscriptions and putting up my house for sale.
By now, I was longing to return to Madonna House, but my financial situation precluded it. Yet by early June 2010 I had a strong sense that I was to go there in October for six months. My house had been up for sale for three months, and not one person had even come to view it. “How?” I asked God. “I have too much debt and too many ongoing bills to have no income for months…”
Within six weeks (days after finishing a novena to the Infant of Prague) a friend offered me $1,000 per month “if that would help.” Plus a rental possibility for my house materialized less than 10 days later—at $1,000 per month!
$2,000 per month! “OK, Lord. I guess I need to start moving even if the house has not sold.”
I arrived in Combermere on October 31, 2010. After driving 3,100 km, part of it through a blizzard, I stopped a half-hour at a lookout point not far from Combermere, to gather up the courage to drive the last half hour to Madonna House. I very seriously considering turning around and driving back home.
I had an offer of a partnership in a vet clinic, family and friends who thought I was making a huge mistake, a few others cheering me on, and my unshakable belief that I could not possibly live with so many people in a tree-infested valley where I could see nothing! (I am a prairie girl, after all!)
I stayed as a working guest for six months. My prayer during that time was, God, please be very, very clear that this is my vocation, because I’m dense when it comes to this stuff.
During that time, through the sacramental and prayer life here, I was learning more about God and falling ever deeper in love with him.
And through struggle and tears and frustration—I nearly drove away in mid-January because I was so angry with what God was doing or not doing in my life—I grew.
Eventually, I asked to become an applicant, which gave me the most incredible joy. I was accepted—pending the payment of all my debt.
That very day, my house sold. It was over 13 months since I had put it up for sale. Not surprisingly, God being God, the money I received was enough to pay all my debts and what was left made me more financially secure than I had ever been in my life.
My time of applicancy transformed me. This past April, a couple months before I made First Promises, someone told me that a few people had been talking about how some of the members had given up so much to join Madonna House, and my name was one of the ones that came up.
My immediate gut reaction was: but I have gained so much more! What I gave up is nothing compared to what I have gained.
So I ask again: How did I get from “having it all,” and fearing what God would ask of me, to, five years later, knowing that this vocation is my greatest treasure?
It is still a mystery to me. From time to time, I still wake up and wonder, “How the hell did I get here?”
Part 1 of this story can be found at www.madonnahouse.org/
restoration under Archives, March 2014.