Sister Eileen Spanier’s journey to the GNSH

Written on: June 24, 2009

I consider myself fortunate: I grew up in an area of the country where women religious were visible, plentiful and in great variety. With few exceptions, my experience with sisters was favorable. (I must admit that as a First Grader the “lady in black with a big white bowtie” was the cause of more than one sleepless night and the Sixth Grade Sister who made me cut my hair did not elicit “warm fuzzies” from Yours Truly).

I was fascinated by the sisters who taught in my grammar school and sought out opportunities to be in their presence, even if it meant cleaning blackboards, “clapping” erasers and counting mission money. Despite my attraction and fascination for sisters, I never seriously considered I could actually be one of them.

One day, my eighth grade teacher asked me to stay after school to help her correct spelling papers. I was surprised when she asked me whether I had ever thought about becoming a Sister and if I would be interested in attending her congregation’s high school program. My reaction was “shock and awe”! I fled from the room on the verge of tears. How could she even think I was “nun material?” I see now that my teacher’s questions nourished a seed that God planted within me at my baptism.

During high school I met and spent time with Sisters from at least 6 other Congregations. I volunteered at some of their ministries and even spent a weekend or two “Living-In” at Motherhouses. Getting to know so many different groups was enriching but it also added to my confusion. I was pretty sure that God was calling me to religious life but to which community?

The Path Is Illuminated

I lived the “single life,” for some years, ministering as a Catholic school educator and administrator in New York and California. After I received my Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership in California, I moved back to the East Coast.
I reconnected with a group of Sisters I had worked with in a school in Jackson Heights, New York. And that reconnection helped me to see where God was leading me.

I met a sister who asked the right questions and who evidently saw in me something that resonated with the charism of her community, The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, founded by St. Marguerite d’Youville. I accepted an invitation to spend a weekend at the Grey Nuns’ Motherhouse in Yardley, PA and as soon as I walked through the door I knew that I had found my “home”. I spent the weekend meeting Grey Nuns, praying for clarity and having long conversations with the Vocation Director. By Sunday afternoon I was ready to officially begin a discernment process with the Grey Nuns.

First Steps: Formation

I entered the formation program of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, moved to Philadelphia and spent my first year–the Affiliate Year–living in community with 6 sisters while I taught in an elementary school. Listening to them speak of their work with inner city students and their parents, with homeless men fighting their addictions, immigrant families struggling to learn a new language and individuals with physical issues, I began to see how the sisters lived out Marguerite’s charism of compassion in their day-to-day lives. I was convinced that I had indeed found the path God had chosen for me and I requested and received the invitation to continue my journey as a Grey Nun Novice.

During my novitiate year I studied the Directives and Constitutions of the Grey Nuns and delved deeper into personal prayer and relationship with my sisters in community. During this period, I joined the Intercommunity Formation Program sponsored by the Religious Communities in the Philadelphia Area. I met men and women in formation as we came together weekly for classes in Scripture, Church History, living the Vowed Commitment, etc. Not only were we able to grow in our faith knowledge and practice, we were able to develop friendships with others discerning a vocation to religious life.

Towards the end of the 2 year Novitiate Program, I engaged in a more intense discernment of the next phase of formation, the stage where I would actually profess the vows of Consecrated Celibacy, Poverty and Obedience. As with each phase of the formative process, the Community discerned along with me and I professed vow for three years.

During this period of temporary profession I ministered in Brooklyn, New York as an elementary school principal. During that time I experienced community with a large group of sisters and also living with just one other Grey Nun. These different facets of religious life challenged me and made me more certain of the path ahead.

At the end of three years of temporary profession I participated in a two week national program with more than 25 men and women preparing for final or perpetual profession. We spoke of the hunger within each of us, the desire to serve God’s people and our fierce love for our respective Congregations. We also expressed our fears and concerns about our own humanity and the humanity of our congregations. This powerful, prayerful experience helps me even today when I struggle to be the best I can be.

I returned home a much stronger woman religious and declared my request for perpetual profession. On August 24, 1996, The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart accepted my perpetual profession of the evangelical counsels of Consecrated Celibacy, Poverty and Obedience.

Helping Others to Hear God’s Call

The gifts and charism of St. Marguerite d’Youville drew me to the Grey Nun community and my continuing understanding and appreciation of her legacy sustains me on my journey as a woman religious. Marguerite always did the right thing; she was not swayed by public opinion. She overcame the scorn of society and established herself as a woman to be trusted and admired for her selfless compassion and trust in Divine Providence. She embraced the Cross, her eye always focused on its redemptive quality. Everyone received the best she had to offer and, most important, she never refused to serve.

I believe that young women today can identify with Marguerite’s love for the poor, the immigrant and the disenfranchised. In my role as Vocation Director, I connected me with scores of different people and the role gave me a multitude of opportunities to grow in faith and knowledge. I discovered how deeply passionate I am about the call to Religious Life and the opportunity to journey with those in discernment continually helps me to reaffirm my own personal “YES” to God.

Currently I am the Campus Minister at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Guilford and Greensboro Colleges. I cannot begin to express my love for this ministry and my continued gratitude to God for giving me gifts to be effective. My students and the opportunity to share God’s love energize me daily and my mission with them is awesome.

If you have persevered reading to this point I hope I have been able to show you how my life has truly been enriched by my vocation to the Consecrated Life as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart. My vows have freed me to be of greater service to God’s people in the spirit of St. Marguerite who reminds all who are her spiritual daughters that “All must know that we never refuse to serve”.


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