Posted May 15, 2006
Success Stories Well Worth Pondering
Religious vocations can come from anyplace
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A few years ago Teresa Min-Sook Kim was a young Korean
immigrant in Minnesota, a non-Catholic who spoke little English. Jay
Toborowsky was a young Jewish man working as an aide to the mayor of
Woodbridge, N.J. Carol Derynioski had been teaching more than 25 years and
had her own home in Boca Raton, Fla.
What do a Korean immigrant in Minnesota, a Jewish political aide in New
Jersey and a Catholic teacher in Florida have in common? Now they are called
"Sister" or "Father" and each was recently featured in a local diocesan
newspaper as an example of some of the ways the call to priesthood or
religious life can be heard.
It was 15 years ago that Kim -- now Sister Teresa in the Sisters of St.
Joseph of Carondelet -- telephoned her algebra teacher at St. Paul (Minn.)
Technical College, Sister Agnes Foley, to tell her she wanted to become a
She said what drew her to a religious vocation was the sense of peace and
freedom she found embodied in Sister Agnes.
At the time Kim was not Catholic. She had grown up in a nominally Protestant
family, but had rejected religion and any notion of God after her sister
died in 1987.
"It was a crazy idea at first" to want to be a nun, she told The Catholic
Spirit, St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocesan newspaper, but when she made that
phone call, she said, "I knew."
Over the years that followed Sister Teresa struggled to learn English,
learned about Catholicism, was baptized, became a lay associate of the
sisters, and in 2000 took her first vows as a Sister of St. Joseph.
On April 22 she took her final vows at the sisters' chapel in St. Paul. "She
is an Asian woman joining a province that has no other Asian women as vowed
members," Sister Agnes told those gathered for the event. "We have seen
Teresa both grow and bloom over the years -- into her faith and into her
ministry. Remarkably, she has been able to bridge two cultures, and we need
Sister Teresa said she has found what she thinks many people are seeking and
have not yet found. "In that sense, I am so blessed," she said.
Father Jay Toborowsky is a priest of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. Born
Jonathan Samuel in 1967 in Perth Amboy, N.J. -- nicknamed "Jay" by his
parents -- he was raised in a Jewish household until his parents divorced
when he was 5. He and his mother moved into the home of his grandmother, a
He told the Metuchen diocesan newspaper -- also named The Catholic Spirit --
that while his mother worked, his grandmother baby-sat him, and if she went
to Mass, he would accompany her. But he attended a Jewish elementary school
through fifth grade and learned Hebrew as a child -- something that would
come in handy years later in seminary studies.
He said he made Catholic friends when he started attending public schools
and he felt deeply affected by Pope John Paul II's 1979 visit to New York.
After high school he said he went into an "unfocused" phase of life,
starting and quitting college a couple of times. He got involved in Joseph
DeMarino's mayoral campaign in Woodbridge. When DeMarino won, he hired the
young man as an aide, 1988-91, and DeMarino insisted that he work toward a
Father Toborowsky said that was the time he started thinking more seriously
about life's big questions and felt himself drawn toward Catholicism. He was
baptized in 1990 and became increasingly active in volunteer roles at St.
Anthony Parish in Port Reading, N.J.
In 1992 the Metuchen Diocese accepted him into the seminary and in 1998 he
was ordained. While he was in the seminary, he said, his father began seeing
a priest for spiritual direction and also converted to Catholicism.
Father Toborowsky, now an associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in Alpha,
N.J., and moderator of the weekly diocesan radio program, "Proclaim the Good
News," said he did not feel certain of his call to the priesthood until "the
day I was ordained a deacon."
He said he advises young men who are considering the priesthood not to let
doubts or fears deter them. "Think you can't do it? So did I," he said.
"Think you're not good or holy enough? Been there, done that."
Carol Derynioski grew up Catholic in Connecticut, the oldest of five
children, and entered the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception as
But her father died during her third year in religious life and "I left the
community the next year to help my family," she told The Catholic Observer,
diocesan newspaper of Springfield, Mass.
"I got a college degree and I taught for 26 years," she said.
"I had enough rings for every finger and loads of jewelry," she said. "I had
a shiny new red car with the big sound system. ... I got a house with an
in-ground pool but in order to afford it I had to work two jobs."
But she felt a restlessness. She returned to her former order and for six
years taught school as Sister Mary Carol, most recently in Ware, Mass.
It was not enough, she said. "I felt that although I was living in an active
community I was drawn to the contemplative life."
After learning on the Web about the Monastery of the Mother of God in West
Springfield, a community of contemplative Dominicans, she contacted them.
Last August she entered the monastery and in February she took the white
veil of a novice and the name Sister Maria Gianna of the Divine Mercy.
"Basically, I'm starting over here," she said. She said back in her teens
she probably would not have been mature enough to understand contemplative
life or persevere in it. She believes God used her experiences to bring her
to this point.
With a laugh she said she made her three sisters very happy when she gave up
all her jewelry. "I have found the pearl of great price," she said. "And
whatever it took, I was willing to do."
Having a connection with nuns and priests and learning about the path many
take to an ecclesial vocation is one of the aims of an apostolate at Holy
Trinity School in Greenfield, Mass. The youngsters have adopted and been
adopted -- spiritually -- by religious orders.
That started when Marcie Zimmerman, a mother of two of the students, started
thinking about the fact that few children today have the opportunity to know
members of religious congregations.
With support and input from the principal, she wrote to about 25 communities
of men and women religious, inviting them to connect with the students and
adopt a class that they would pray for. The students in turn post pictures
in class of "their" communities of priests, brothers or sisters, correspond
with them and pray for them.
The groups range from religious communities in Massachusetts to the Canons
Regular of Jesus the Lord in Vladivostok, Russia.
Zimmerman said many of the communities were delighted with the spiritual
adoption idea and said they had never been approached that way before. The
program has led to visits to the school by several members of the religious
Who knows which student there might some day, years from now, feel a
restless tug toward priesthood or religious life?
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Contributing to this story were Emilie Lemmons in St. Paul, Regina Kelly in
Metuchen and Peggy Weber and Cori Fugere Urban in the Springfield Diocese.