The Quest Lives On

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| This is the 346th story of Our Life Logs |


It’s crazy to look back on my life and see that I went from a nun candidate to a mother of five. For years, I wondered why I wasn’t destined for that life, but now, I see how it all connects. Let me take you back to where my quest for life’s meaning began.

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I was born in October of 1951 in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents who had lived through WWII. My dad, a protestant minister, and my mom, a housewife, were very active within our Christian community helping the poor while raising my 10 siblings and me.

As I grew up, the flames of my faith remained strong. I had an insatiable curiosity about the world, love, and the meaning of life. This curiosity led me on a quest toward California with my best friend Marge after we both finished our first year at the University of Minnesota. It was the “hippie” thing to do–hitchhike out West, be free, smoke, and explore. Truly, the ‘70s were something else.

So, with no real plans, Marge and I packed our matching orange backpacks and headed to the West Coast. Neither of our parents were overly thrilled. They worried for our safety, especially because we had no real plans. But we wanted it that way—that was the fun of taking an adventure, wasn’t it?

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Marge (right) and me (left) as we prepared for our trip out West, c. 1970.

We arrived in Boulder, Colorado, and felt a pull to stay. See? That’s the beauty of not having plans. You can do whatever feels right in the moment. In the city, we were welcomed by complete strangers at a Christian commune. It was such a peaceful place that Marge and I decided to stay and adapt to the commune’s everyday routine.

It was jarring how different commune life was from the hippie lifestyle we’d been chasing. Women wore long dresses, men and women slept in separate houses, and they encouraged us to give up smoking and drinking. As a girl who had made it through college with this lifestyle, I was shocked at the idea of stopping. However, as I attended group scripture studies, it became easier to give up the fleeting “luxuries.” The Christian leaders encouraged us to look to Christ rather than our selfish desires of free love and living the “me” generation. I became attracted to the idea of becoming devoting my life to Christ and becoming a nun.

When I returned home from the trip, I was a changed woman. As it turned out, while I was having my own mystical experience in Colorado, my parents were having a Catholic conversion of their own. As we processed into the Basilica in Minneapolis where my family had recently moved, my heart felt full to the brim. The lights, the incense, the beauty all around me made me—it all made me feel so close to God. In my heart, I dreamed that the next time I walked down an aisle, it would be as a Catholic nun making my vows. This sense of belonging gave me a lot of peace in my quick and heartfelt decision.

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Our family Christmas card, shortly after we became Catholic. I’m front and center.

With the desire to belong totally to Christ burning in my heart, I pursued a nursing degree and majored in Catholic studies at the college of St. Catherine’s, and started a job at the local Hennepin County Hospital. When the January term came, I was given the opportunity to study and live behind the enclosure with the nuns for a month to discern the lifestyle I had been dreaming about.

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I chose to live with the Cenacle Order nuns who were based in Minnesota. They were intriguing to observe because they carried out charismatic retreats where we were baptized in the Holy Spirit and taught to respond more quickly to the grace of God. The nuns wore traditional habits and veils, signifying their call to belong completely to Christ and, as I stepped across the stone threshold into the simple convent, I felt joy filling my heart. The beauty and silence of this place was home.

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I longed to be like these nuns, dedicating their lives to Jesus.

Sister (Sr.) Faith, the vocation directress of the order, took me under her wing for spiritual direction, answering my questions about religious life and helping me discern whether this was the right path for me.

As the month progressed, my desire for religious life grew deeper. Yet, when it came time for Sr. Faith to learn more about my intentions, I was not prepared for her questions.

“Have you considered marriage, Barb? Have you dated any men? Are you sure you want to live this life forever?”

I told her, “Yes, this is what I want. I didn’t need a husband or children. I want to belong totally to Jesus.”

Still, Sr. Faith seemed convinced that I was supposed to consider marriage more deeply. This confused me greatly. I knew what I wanted! Could it be that God was showing her otherwise?

• • •

A few days later, I went for my usual meeting with Sr. Faith, but it was not the meeting I had imagined us ever having.

“I’m leaving the convent, and, getting married!” exclaimed Sr. Faith.

I was stunned. “How can you leave?” I stammered. Sitting in front of me was the woman I had looked up to and saw as a model of faith, who had taken on the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience…and here she was telling me that she was needed elsewhere!

It felt like a big bucket of cold water had just been thrown upon the flame that had burned in my heart for religious life. Sr. Faith, who had always seemed so unwavering in her vocation, now made me question my own. If she wasn’t meant for it, maybe I wasn’t either.

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With my momentum squashed, I decided to leave my dreams of being a nun behind. I started dating, wondering if maybe I was destined for a husband and a family after all.

As if it was destiny, my quest for meaning and purpose in life was tied again to my best friend Marge. She was engaged and invited me to her wedding on June 10, 1977. Little did I know that upon showing up at her groom’s dinner table, that I would meet my own future groom, her brother Pat.

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Pat and me, shortly before we met in 1977.

I was attracted to Pat right away. And when I sprained my ankle at the wedding the next night, he sweetly brought me crutches to help me make it home. He shared with me some time later that I had made an impression on him when he came around the back of the house on Marge’s wedding day, and found me laying out in my bikini saying my rosary…quite the killer combination!

I trusted Pat and saw in him the same prayerfulness and hard work ethic I loved in my own father. After just a few months of dating, we got engaged. The topic of children came up at an engagement retreat as we sat at the table with several other engaged couples. With the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy, the couples around us said, “We don’t want to bring children into this world when things are so violent and so evil!” I asked Pat if we were being selfish. He didn’t hesitate to answer, “The world needs lights, Barb.”  This quickly became the motto we would live by in our marriage—open to life and raising lights!

We were married a year later in August of 1978. We ran into some speed bumps getting our large family. We had 12 children in total, but several were miscarriages and two were stillbirths, leaving five beautiful children on earth. We were grateful all the same!

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Our five “lights” for the world.
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As I raised my daughters, I told them the stories of my life discerning the convent and encouraged them to dedicate their lives to God from a young age, choosing to live for him, whether that meant as a religious sister or a wife.

When our daughter Maria decided to become a religious sister with the Poor Clares, a branch of the Franciscan Order, Pat and I were overjoyed. But soon, I saw the parallel to my own life when she left the convent five months later—and I knew exactly how to embrace her afterward. When she cried saying, “I’m just disappointed that God didn’t call me to live that life!” I held her tight and comforted her, as I remembered my own feelings after leaving 30 years ago. Maria is now happily married and just had her sixth child, reminding me more all the time of my own journey.

But that’s not all. Our youngest daughter Susan, tells a different story. She has remained in the convent and has just made her perpetual vows as a religious sister. She is now Sr. Hallel!

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Our little girl, Susan (now Sr. Hallel).
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The journeys of all my incredible children have prompted a lot of reflection in my life over the years. Though I ended up happily married with a large family, I have always carried a certain nostalgia in my heart for the religious life I walked away from, wondering why God led me in one direction only to steer me in another. This was an unsolved mystery in my life until recently, on a retreat, when I experienced an epiphany. As I prayed, I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and looked up with surprise as a woman leading the retreat sat next to me.

As we talked about the lives of my children, she suddenly smiled and said words I will never forget, “God is blessing the lives of your children because you said yes to him all those years ago when you dedicated your life to him. You have your nun in your family because of your own call!”

It was a profound moment and brought new tears of gratitude to my eyes. Perhaps the confusion I experienced with feeling that call to religious life and then leaving with Sr. Faith was all so that I would meet Pat and later be able to help my daughters in their quest for faith in their lives. I see now that sometimes, life finds its meaning later in life. You just have to be patient while its purpose unfolds.

I suppose the quest I began so long ago now lives on in my children.

 

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This is the story of Barb Verly

Barb Verly currently resides in Minnesota with her husband Pat. Barb grew up with a hunger for truth and a belief in God that led her to travel to Colorado in the 70s, turn Catholic and ultimately consider a vocation as a nun in a convent. When Barb’s mentor, Sr. Faith, high tailed it out of the convent, Barb was left feeling betrayed and lost in her own discernment journey. Deciding to leave the convent behind, Barb ultimately found love with the man of her dreams but would later be able to use her experience in the convent to assist her daughters in their own faith journey. Barb and Pat recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. When Barb is not caring for her grandchildren, canning in the kitchen or feeding the chickens on her farm, she is writing their family blog and spending time in prayer and gardens.

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This story first touched our hearts on May 29, 2019.

| Writer: Mary Flanagan | Editor: Kristen Petronio|

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