Sister Maria Gemma Salyer, OSF, has worked with women’s vocations in Campus Ministry since 2014. She is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and serves as Assistant Director of Vocations for her community, in addition to her role in Campus Ministry. The Irish Rover had the chance to sit down with Sister Gemma and talk with her about her vocation.
Irish Rover: How would you define vocation in a general sense?
Sister Maria Gemma: A vocation is a call from God to a particular path in life. Above all, a vocation is a gift from God. It is the Lord Himself who has created each one of us, and it is He who calls us each by name. We were created out of love and are made for love. By following the vocation God has created us for, we will find true happiness in this life.
What is your personal vocation story?
The Lord is indeed very gracious and merciful! He was close to me my whole life, but I did not know Him. It was in high school that I first realized the Lord’s love for me. I began making visits to the Perpetual Adoration chapel which was located at my home parish. As I continued to learn how to pray, I realized that I could not live a life for God if I did not give Him my entire life. I thought a good way to do that would be to study Theology in college. It was actually one of my Theology professors my freshman year of college who asked me if I had ever thought of Religious Life. At that point, I had never even considered Religious Life, nor did I see it as a possibility. Nevertheless, that question stuck with me throughout the next few years of college. As I would find myself drifting from the Lord, that question would arise. Even at a low point when I can say that I had totally separated myself from the Lord, this question still came to my mind. It was my junior year of college, when I was home for Christmas break that the Lord spoke to my heart in a way which changed my life forever. One evening, as I was trying to fall asleep, I was disturbed by two deep questions: Who are you, and who do you want to be? At this point I realized that I was not living a life in accord with what I knew to be true. I was conflicted. I knew that I had to make some serious changes in my life if I ever wanted to find true happiness. So, I returned to college and, despite the difficulty, I made the changes in my life that I needed to make. I returned to the Lord through the Sacrament of Confession and immediately the question from freshman year returned: “Have you ever thought about being a religious Sister?” This time I knew that I had to look into this question if I was ever going to have peace in my life! It was frightening at first because I didn’t know any Sisters, nor was I familiar at all with their lives. I began asking some priests I knew if they had any advice. They suggested that I go on a discernment retreat and actually visit the Sisters to get an idea of what the life would be like. I went on two discernment retreats with different communities. It was only after visiting the Sisters and meeting them that I was able to picture myself living that life. It was my senior year of college that I met our Sisters. I entered the convent September 2006, after graduating from college.
How did you choose the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in particular?
When I began to look at different religious communities, I was particularly attracted to the Franciscan charism. I had always loved Saint Francis of Assisi. He loved the Lord with every ounce of his being, and that really attracted me. I knew that if God was God, I, too, had to make a total gift of myself in response to the Lord’s total gift of Himself. Another aspect of my discernment was Perpetual Adoration. I loved praying in the presence of the Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament. I knew that not every community has the great gift of Perpetual Adoration and I knew that I couldn’t live without it! Once I visited the Sisters, I felt at home, like they were already my family.
Saint Gemma is my younger sister’s confirmation saint. How did you choose your new name as a sister?
I love St. Gemma!! When you first enter the convent you are a postulant and do not wear the habit or take a Sister name. At the end of the postulant year, as you are preparing to become a novice (a new Sister), you submit a letter to our Mother Superior along with three name choices and reasons why you would like each name. Then, Mother Superior prays about the name choices and chooses one, which you receive on the same day you receive the habit. I chose Sr. Maria Gemma because of my love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. I was also struck by St. Gemma’s deep devotion to the Eucharist.
You’ve been involved with Campus Ministry here at Notre Dame since 2014. What are some of the highlights?
I love the opportunity to walk with young women on their journey with the Lord! This is definitely the main highlight. I love getting to know all the wonderful students, and I love helping people understand the Lord’s actions in their lives and what this means for each one’s vocation. I also love the staff in Campus Ministry. Everyone has been a great support and a pure joy to work with!
What were some of your roles before coming to work in Campus Ministry at Notre Dame?
Before coming to work at Notre Dame, I taught high school Theology, which I loved!! Currently I serve our community as Assistant Director of Vocations in addition to my work at Notre Dame.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding parts of your vocation?
I absolutely love being a religious Sister! I could never have picked such a beautiful life for myself! I think this is what is challenging. In formation for religious life you get to know yourself really very well, almost too well! We are used to hiding from our true selves, and when you enter the convent, there is no more hiding. You see yourself as you truly are, with all your faults and weaknesses. This is a definite challenge. The good news is that it doesn’t end there! As you grow in your vocation you also get the great gift to see yourself more and more as God sees you, as Beloved. Realizing and accepting the Lord’s love in your life is always a challenge. But the Lord’s love for each of us is intense and passionate and He will never stop trying to draw us into that love, which is His very life!
What advice would you give to college students discerning their vocation? What is the best way to hear God’s call in the midst of the day to day noise and craziness of classes and other commitments?
The best way to truly discern any vocation is to listen. Life can be crazy and loud and doesn’t allow much time for listening. You can’t just assume that if you love God you will find time for Him or somehow automatically know what He is calling you to. It is so important to take time out every single day to sit with Him, in the silence, and talk to Him. Faithfulness to daily prayer is the most important and helpful thing you can do for yourself as a college student.
Mackenzie Kraker is a freshman studying chemical engineering and theology and living in McGlinn Hall. She is overjoyed at the arrival of the Easter season and the thought of eating fro-yo at South Dining Hall after a difficult Lenten sabbatical. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.