The following story appeared in the May 28 Idaho Catholic Register.
Editor’s note: On June 8, Jena Renfro of Boise begins her postulancy with the Franciscan Sisters of John the Baptist in Peoria, Ill.
by Jena Renfro
In December of 2019, I went home for winter break and my mother told me a story from when I was 5. During Mass, or really anytime I was in our home parish of Sacred Heart in Boise, I would run to the statue of Mary. When my mom asked what I was doing, I would look up and say, “Talking to Mary.”
Now 20 years old and discerning whether or not to ask for acceptance into the Franciscan Sisters of John the Baptist (FSJB), I went back to that same little corner of Sacred Heart. I asked Mary two questions: “What on earth did we spend so much time talking about in my childhood?” and then a silent question regarding my doubts about becoming a Religious Sister.
Mary’s answer: “You used to ask to be just like me.”
It took a week for these words to sink in. Of course, I asked to be just like Mary. I have always looked up to her beauty, kindness and loving spirit. Little did I know as a 5-year-old that I could be like her in one of the most intimate ways imaginable: becoming espoused to the Bridegroom as she is espoused to the Holy Spirit.
Ever since childhood, Mary was at the center of my discernment; a constant and hidden guide even when I had no desire to become a Religious Sister and lost sight of my childlike wonder and love of God. She was always there as a little voice to tell me what way to go.
When I attended the Idaho Catholic Youth Conference my sophomore year of high school, I felt drawn to eat lunch with the Sisters, but was too afraid to do so. The next year at ICYC the same desire came, and once again, I was nervous of what others would think about me if I went. Finally, during my senior year I accepted the invitation to eat lunch with the Sisters.
The question of what it would be like to be a Sister often came to me when I would watch movies and shows in which the main characters were Religious Sisters. However, I would always push the question away, not willing to let my heart move in that direction. Talking with Sisters from different religious communities during lunch at ICYC prompted me to start pondering deeply the call to religious life.
In November of 2017, during my freshman year at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, I was watching the BBC drama, “Call the Midwife,” and the “what if” question returned.
This time I did not push it away. Fifteen minutes later, I was nearly screaming into the phone to my mom, “I think I’m supposed to be a nun!”
The thought was terrifying. Me, a Sister? By this time in my life, all childhood conversations with Mary had been long forgotten, and I was holding onto my faith by a thread. I would say, “I am not holy enough, I don’t pray enough, I am not good enough.” I tried my hardest to kill any thought of joining a religious order. However, nothing I did could force the idea out of my head. The more I ran, the faster He chased me down until one day in September 2018, I stopped and whispered, “OK, Lord, what do you want?” For the next six months, I was torn between two worlds of sensing the call to the religious life or holding on to my desire to become a wife and mother.
It was during a midnight Adoration session at All Saints Church in Lewiston when I stopped analyzing and truly invited not only Jesus, but His mother as well, into my discernment. I asked Mary to guide my steps and show me how to truly follow the example of her fiat; her “yes” to Jesus. When I was leaving the Adoration chapel, I caught sight of Mary’s statue directing her gaze lovingly toward the reflection of the Monstrance in a window. At that moment time froze and the question, “Will you be mine?” entered my heart.
There was no rationalizing or time to think before I answered. “Yes” was the only choice. After that, God worked fast. Within a month, I had found the website for the Franciscan Sisters of John the Baptist. The order’s charism of “Trusting God with Pro-found Humility and Joy” drew me in. That was my forgotten childhood prayer to Mary – to be “just like her” is to trust Him with pure humility and joy.
I went on my first of three visits that summer to the Franciscan Sisters of John the Baptist in Peoria, Ill., which completed the change in my heart. The moment I walked through the convent doors I felt whole. This feeling of being home grew over time. While praying in front of a statue of St. Therese of Lisieux, the patron of vocations to whom I had entrusted my own discernment, the Lord graced my heart with an answer I had been unknowingly seeking for so long, “This is where you belong.”
When I returned to Idaho. I left my heart in Peoria. Now it was time to pray for patience. I still had two years of college left before I could enter the order with my degree in teaching, a degree that will be put to good use after my initial time in formation as a postulant and novice.
Not a day has passed these two years when I do not think of the Sisters in Peoria. My time of impatient waiting is ending, as on June 8, the prayer and promise to “be just like Mary” will begin its fulfillment.
If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.