I became a freshman in high school… then a sophomore… a junior… a senior. I did not want anyone to talk to me about vocation. I walked four blocks out of the way to miss meeting a certain priest who would look straight at me and say, “You have a vocation!” One of my favorite nuns cornered me one day and said the same thing. I didn’t eat or sleep for a week. Yes, I would be a nun, but not a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth.
Where did God want me to go?
Two of my closest friends, from St. Thomas Parish in Armourdale [Kansas], were also thinking of becoming religious. In our senior year we had a long week and with free days on the feasts of Saint Patrick and Saint Joseph. My two friends, Helen and Margaret, jubilantly invited me to accompany them to the profession ceremony of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Wichita, and my parents gave their permission.
We were treated royally. Though I was singularly unimpressed by the bridal outfits, I sensed the great peace and happiness that came from the total offering to God made by each little Sister. Shortly after dinner we were all three present at an interview with the Mother General. She was gracious and amiable; one felt quite at home with her.
I had two burning questions: How did one go about being a Sister? How did one know where God wanted one to be? She answered the first quite directly. Looking intently at me, she said: “I will merely wire your parents that you have decided to stay here. We will see that you have everything needed.”
I gasped. She worked fast. I had visions of my father and mother receiving that wire! I did not ask the second question. She gave me a beautiful medal of the Little Flower, and as she did so, I said: “Put your hands behind your back. If I choose the hand containing the medal, it is the will of God that I stay here.”
I chose. It was the hand containing the medal! And then quick as a flash, I knew. I knew as I had never so clearly known anything before. I looked right at her and said: “God does not want me here.”
She must have sensed that inner illumination. And with the same finality she said, “No, He does not.”
But I still did not want to be a Sister of Charity.
Graduation day came. As I walked across the stage and was awarded a scholarship for two years at Saint Mary College, no one guessed what I was thinking. I would go up there and find out why I did not want to be a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth.
At Saint Mary there was an atmosphere of peace and charity such as I had never known before. One sensed the presence of God. What stunned me most was the spirit of prayer. During the college retreat in February, I would like to have talked with the retreat master, tall and forbidding as he was, but the line of girls was long and the opportunity passed.
On the last day of retreat, sitting on the steps in front of the chapel, I pulled out a pamphlet on St. Therese of Lisieux, but I did not get very far in my reading. I was hearing a voice… a voice very clear that said: “Enter here. Don’t put it off any longer.”
On September 8, 1927 at 8:00 PM, I was ushered into the Novitiate. Pulling off my felt hat, I did something that startled the Novice Mistress: I kicked my hat to the ceiling. I was through with hats. I was finally home.
Sister Mary Vincentine earned a PhD in French and served on the faculty of Saint Mary College for 38 years. She continued to teach at the college after her formal retirement. She balanced her distinguished academic career with her love of the poor, making time to visit with Leavenworth’s poor and collecting aluminum cans for recycling on their behalf.
[i] Autobiographical Essay, undated. Mary Vincentine Gripkey Papers, 1927-1983. SCLMS012. Box 1 / Folder 1. Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Archives. Leavenworth, Kansas.