PROVIDENCE — When Sister Mary Karolyn, who made her perpetual profession of vows in the order of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George on August 14, was a child growing up in Pawtucket, she and her siblings used to play Mass. Her parents, noticing how their children admired the Catholic faith, predicted a vocation within the Church might lie in store.
“There were certain things that she would do that would lead you to believe that she had the calling,” said Sister Mary Karolyn’s father, Alberto Nunes, about his oldest daughter. “She was always interested in the faith through her childhood.”
Sister M. Karolyn was not the only one in the family to experience a calling to the religious life. She and her sister regularly attended CYO and daily Mass together as teenagers and entered convents during the same week in September 2005. The younger Nunes sister made her perpetual profession of vows in the order of the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, two years ago as Sister Maria Fatima. With their brother Alan married in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul a week after Sister Mary Karolyn’s final profession of vows, all three of the Nunes children have fulfilled their vocations.
“I’m so grateful – all three of my kids are technically married,” said Gail Nunes, Sister Mary Karolyn’s mother. “All their anniversaries are within three weeks of each other.”
Sister Mary Karolyn, the more recently professed of the sisters, was born Alyssa Nunes. She grew up in Pawtucket, where her parents remain active members of St. John Paul II Parish, and graduated from Tolman High School in 1999. While still in high school, she took a career aptitude test that revealed she was well-suited for work in the religious sector, education or theater, two of which she currently serves in. “I always knew I was going to work for the Church,” she said.
She expressed the possibility of a vocation to the religious life to her parents around the time of her graduation, but, not wanting their daughter to make a hasty decision, they encouraged her to spend some time gaining life experience in college before joining an order. That life experience turned out to be instrumental in her discernment process, as it was at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio that Sister Mary Karolyn discovered the Sisters of St. Francis.
“People there were really serious about discerning their vocations,” she said. “The sisters lived on campus at Steubenville. They were so joyful and normal, I thought, ‘Maybe there is something in that for me.’ ”
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George seek to unite themselves with the Sacred Heart of Jesus before the Blessed Sacrament and live a simple life in service to the Lord. Their charism as an order is to serve wherever they are needed in the Church; their apostolates include health care, child care, elderly care and education.
“I knew that if I was called to religious life it was to some brand of Franciscan,” said Sister Mary Karolyn. “They are very incarnational. They’re not about studying all the time. They’re about encountering the person of Christ.”
After graduating from Franciscan University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in theology and a concentration in religious education, Sister Mary Karolyn worked as a youth minister and a director of religious education. After two years, she found herself spending a great deal of time gazing at the crucifix and realized her burning for a religious vocation was still as strong as ever.
“I finally stopped running, I guess,” she said. “I wrote my parents a 10-page letter, saying I’ve been to college, traveled Europe, had a job, paid the bills. I’ve done all these things, now it’s time to go. They’ve been supportive of me since.”
After entering the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George at Alton, Ill., Sister Mary Karolyn began a lengthy vocational journey that included time spent as a postulant, novice and junior professed before being invited to make her final profession of vows in August. During this time, she continued to minister to youth, serving as a religion teacher at high schools in New Jersey and Kansas City.
“She’s very passionate and has a deep love for youth,” said Sister Mary Margaretta, Junior Director of Vocations at St. Francis Convent in Alton, who spent time praying and reflecting with Sister Mary Karolyn prior to her perpetual profession of vows. “She’s also very creative. She has a gift there.”
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Ill., presided at the August 14 perpetual profession, which included some of the same liturgical elements as a Mass of ordination. Two other sisters joined Sister Mary Karolyn in making their perpetual profession of vows. Sister Mary Karolyn chose her new name after the birth name of Saint John Paul II, whom she regards as her patron saint.
A large group of supporters attended her profession of vows, including her parents, siblings and friends from Franciscan University. “All the different cross sections of my life came together,” said Sister Mary Karolyn. “All these people I love from different parts of my life meeting.”
Gail Nunes said she is proud of her daughter and glad that all her children have followed their callings in life. “There’s nothing like the feeling a parent can have when their children have found their niche and made the commitment to it,” she said. Any fears she may have once held of the religious life not being a fit for her daughter’s youthful energy have disappeared. As Sister Mary Margaretta noted, Sister M. Karolyn brings her passion to everything she does.
“We went to visit and she’s playing her guitar,” said Nunes. “She’s just living her life for the Lord. The only thing that’s changed about her is the clothing she wears.”
Sister Mary Karolyn will continue to live at St. John Paul II Convent, where she teaches at a Catholic high school in Kansas City.