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Family celebrates strong tradition of vocations

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Dominican Sister Mary John
Dominican Sister Mary John Slonkosky

There are times when vocations to religious life converge in celebration.

When Dominican Sister Mary John Slonkosky was honored July 10 at St. Augustine Parish in Minster for her 25 years of service to God and His church, the anniversary of her vocation was the focus.

But, the extended family gathering provided a glimpse of how loving God and living the faith rewards us with people willing to listen to God’s call.

Sister Mary John’s anniversary Mass was concelebrated by her two cousins who serve the Archdiocese of Cincinnati — Fathers Barry Stechschulte and Ned Brown. In attendance was her niece, Regina Slonkosky, who has followed in her aunt’s footsteps and entered the Dominican Sisters’ novitiate in Nashville, Tenn., in August 2015.

Also at the Minister gathering was sister Mary John’s nephew, David Slonkosky, who has entered seminary for the Congregation of the Holy Cross priests in Notre Dame, Ind., and her second cousin, Marty Arlinghaus, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, who is in formation for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West in Mount Washington.

Sister Mary John, 51, today principal at St. Mary – Star of the Sea  Catholic Elementary School in Hampton, Va., offered her reasoning for her family’s fertile ground for vocations.

“Some of it is the nature of our small town and how my relatives, on my mother’s side, brought us together a lot. My grandmother lived down the street and she had 13 children, so we have a lot of cousins. So, the size of my family and where we grew up play a role.

“Also, they started family reunions. The faith was a big part of that. We would have Mass if we could ask a priest to come that day. My grandmother was very faithful to the church. If you were around her you could tell she was a believer and she encouraged us to practice the faith. The big thing she did is  ask us to pray to know God’s will for us — to know why we are called to do what we do,” Sister Mary John said.

“From early on, I would hear her tell my sisters: ‘You pray now that if God wants you to be married you will meet the one who God wants you to marry. Be aware that God has a plan for you.’ That’s what I learned,” sister said “I’m not here for no reason. There is a reason, and I need to find it out and I need to pray to find it out. It was a pretty basic understanding of why we are here.

“Catholic philosophy permeates my family.

“Yes, the small town was predominantly Catholic. The church is so prominent in the town. I look at it as a Catholic culture that I do not see everywhere where I have served. It is a culture that faith is a part of your life and Sunday Mass is not forced. It’s what you do. I feel a lot of the fidelity of the faith is that people would always be at Mass, in the church, and taking care of the church. It became part of your life, a second home.  It wasn’t foreign to consider serving the church.”

The key turning point to answering her call from God occurred when she was studying at Miami of Ohio University in Oxford. She was dating at the time.

“It started with a diocesan priest I met  – the late) Father Norbert McCarthy. He was pastor of Queen of Peace Church in Millville. I started going to Mass there and I taught Sunday school religious education. That sparked my interest in teaching the faith,” said Sister Mary John, who holds a degree in speech pathology.

“For me, I started to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and his advice and counsel in that was a great help for me. I started to go to Friday adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He showed me a way of praying that I had not seen a lot. He prayed out loud in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was very personal in talking to the Lord. I was in the habit of daily personal prayer and had already written prayers but his kind of prayer opened me up.  Then I went to him for advice outside of the sacrament in a more personal way, he is the one who asked me if I had never really thought about becoming a sister.”

“I became a principal through God’s will. I was asked to teach and eventually got the licensure in teaching elementary school and, at the same time, earned a Masters Degree in education from middle Tennessee State University in Murphysboro.”

The celebration of sister Mary John’s vocation prompted comments from her sisters.

“Our family did pray for vocations to religious life and to marriage.  Sister Mary John, being the youngest, saw us (her siblings) pray for a future spouse. We knew we had to find ‘the one’ that God wanted for us and she wanted to do the same except she realized God was calling her to be His Bride of Christ,” said Margo Lewis.

“When reflecting on why our family has been open to the vocation of religious life, it was a collective force of faith-filled experiences coupled with the witnessing of ‘sacramental vocations in action’ — all  lavishly covered in our Lord’s good graces. Certainly our mother and father  were a strong influence on us mostly by their example of faithfulness and loyalty to each other and to their church.”

Polly Slonkosky Barga, another sister, said: “Family gatherings usually ended up with deep discussions about religion. Many evenings began or ended with a group rosary. Even with many of our cousins, we would delve into theology, doctrine and what we learned from Father BenWolf  in Pennsylvania who we knew from high school and college years.”

This story first appeared in the August 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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