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‘TOTALLY, RADICALLY FREE’

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

Boise woman chooses counter-cultural way of life

The following story appeared in the September 10 Idaho Catholic Register.

Sister Maria Juan Anderson receives her profession ring from Mother Mary McGreevy, Superior General of the Religious Sisters of Mercy. Her ring motto, engraved on her ring, is “The One Who Showed Mercy (Lk 10:37).


By Emily Woodham

Staff Writer


ALMA, MICH. – People, including strangers, often ask Sister Maria Juan Anderson, RSM, why she chose the religious life. Her answer is simple: It was not her idea.


When the Boise native, known before her consecration as Amanda Anderson, was discerning religious life, she felt like all the lights in the church went out except the one over her head whenever the intercessory prayer was said during a Mass for vocations. “It’s sort of a funny story now, but I believe the Lord was stirring my heart. He is gentle and if we are attentive, we can see and know how he is communicating with us through prayer and the liturgy,” Sister Maria Juan said.


Her faith journey began in Boise where she was born and raised, the daughter of Wayne and Linda Anderson of Boise. From her Baptism as an infant to her Confirmation, she received all her sacraments at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.


Although her family was not devout, she said, her parents were faithful in making sure she and her brother received all the sacraments and went to Mass each Sunday. “This speaks to the power of sacramental grace,” she said.



Sister Maria Juan kneels with four other Sisters also making their perpetual vows.


It was not until she was 15 and did research to find a Confirmation saint that she was aware of the possibility of religious life. “As I read the stories of the saints’ lives, it was the first time I learned that there were men and women who loved our Lord so much, that they gave up everything to devote their lives to following Him,” she said.


When she received the Sacrament of Confirmation in 2001, her life changed forever, she said. From that point on, through the grace of the sacrament and the power of the Holy Spirit, a fire was lit in her soul and her faith grew.


An important mentor in her faith journey was her youth minister at the Cathedral, Lorissa Horn. She said Horn “lived her faith with intensity and joy.”


“Lorissa taught me to pray and to know Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist,” Sister Maria Juan said. “She taught me how to pray the rosary and how to have a friendship with Our Lady.”



 


About the Religious Sisters of Mercy


The Religious Sisters of Mercy has its roots in Ireland with Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley.


Born near Dublin in 1778, Catherine went to live with relatives after the death of both her parents. The relatives embodied the strong anti-Catholic atmosphere of the times. This was a difficult trial for Catherine, but through it she developed a spirituality based on God’s mercy. She found “peace in the Cross, joy in suffering, prayer in action and action in prayer,” according to a biography written about her. She sought to provide solace to sick and needy families, to train young girls for employment and to instruct poor children.


When Catherine was 25, a retired Quaker couple invited her to live with them. Catherine proved to be a loving companion and holy example to them. On their death beds, they converted to Catholicism, and bequeathed their estate to her. With this inheritance, Catherine built a house on Baggot Street in Dublin as a home for poor girls. This first Home of Mercy opened on September 24, 1827, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. Her work with the poor and destitute led Catherine to desire a life of total consecration to Our Lord. Encouraged by the Archbishop, Catherine and two other women professed vows on December 12, 1831, and began the Religious Institute of the Sisters of Mercy. Often seen walking the streets to serve the sick and the poor, the “walking nuns” inspired many women to dedicate themselves to Christ and to the service of the Church, causing the Institute to spread rapidly.


In the United States, the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma was formed in Alma, Mich. In 1973. Today, the order has communities and apostolates in 12 U.S. locations and four international communities. For more information, go to rsmofalma.org.


 

Learning how to live out the truth and beauty of the Church’s teachings and the freedom they bring helped her navigate her high school years into adult-hood, she said.


After graduating from public high school, she went to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, to study music. It was there that she began to discern her vocation. “I began to sense in my heart in my prayer at Mass an invitation from Jesus to give him everything as a Sister. Did I hear a voice? No. It might have made my discernment and choice easier if I had,” she said.


Instead, God spoke to her through moments in Mass through different scripture readings or prayers. “The scriptures are written for us, and I was starting to hear them in a whole new way. At first I was nervous because I didn’t know what this meant, but slowly through prayer and speaking with a spiritual director, it became clear to me that I really needed to look at religious life,” she said.


Growing up, she assumed she would get married, have children and raise a family. “As I grew in my relationship with Jesus and awareness of His invitation to give Him all, I wrestled with giving up the beauty of marriage and family. But in my moments of prayer and honesty with Jesus, there was a deep peace in his call for my life to be a Sister,” she said.


Trusting in Jesus’ love, and with the help of a spiritual director, she looked at different religious communities. Nothing became apparent at first. She graduated from college in 2007 and served as a FOCUS missionary for three years at North Dakota State University in Fargo. In 2010, she moved back to Idaho, serving as a youth minister at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mountain Home for one year. Then, she moved to Cincinnati to work in development and donor relations for the Dynamic Catholic Institute, the apostolate founded by well-known Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly.


Through all her different experiences, she still could not find the right fit for a religious congregation. Her spiritual director recommended she try the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich. She went for a weekend visit in February of 2012 and found herself where she belonged. (See other story this issue about the Religious Sisters of Mercy.)


One of the Sisters on the retreat explained to Sister Maria Juan the significance of the mercy cross that each Sister wears as part of her habit. The black outline of the cross represents the misery of humanity while the white cross in the center represents the mercy of God. “We often experience God’s mercy most in the midst of great misery, like light in the darkness,” she said. “Each Sister is called to stand with Christ at the place where those two realities meet; to be with those in great misery and unite them to God’s mercy.”


As the Sister continued speaking during the retreat, Sister Maria Juan knew she wanted to her live her life with the Sisters of Mercy. She wanted to strive to conform her life to Jesus, spurred on by the Sisters in prayer and friendship and in service to those who long to encounter the mercy of God, she said.


She entered the convent in August of 2012 and made her perpetual vows – the final step of consecration – on Aug. 16 at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw, Mich.


“My parents and my brother are extremely proud and supportive of my vocation,” she said. Every vocation affects an entire family whether that means getting along with in-laws or moving away to a different city for work. The same is true in the religious life, she said. “My call is particularly for me, but also for my family,” she said. Thus, as a part of her perpetual vows, the family is asked to participate spiritually in giving their daughter and sister to the Church.


The perpetual vows for the Sisters of Mercy of Alma include the public vows instated by the evangelical counsels of the Church: poverty, chastity and obedience. Religious institutes may add a fourth vow, according to their charism. For the Sisters of Mercy, their fourth vow is service to the poor, sick, and uneducated.


The vows she has taken are counter-cultural, she said, given how current culture values money and power, sexual freedom and is trying to redefine human sexuality. “The culture says that freedom is being able to do whatever you want, so the three vows I just professed to God that I will live for the rest of my life look crazy and restrictive. The truth is, I am totally and radically more free than anyone living those worldly values,” she said.


She sees her vows as a means of grace to live simply through poverty, to love all people with the love of Jesus through chastity and to be of service to the Church and the world through obedience.


She is currently based in Knoxville, Tenn. where the Religious Sisters of Mercy has a community. There, she works for the bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville while she continues to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of America.


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.

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