Finding her vocation at UD
Dayton studies introduce Indiana woman to the Marianist Family
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
This story first appeared in our July, 2018 print edition
There was a time when career, marriage, and family were priorities for Marianist Sister Gabrielle (Gabby) Bibeau, but as is often the case, God had other plans.
One of five children, Sister Gabby grew up in Indianapolis, where her faith was nurtured at home. “No one ever asked, ‘Have you thought about becoming a sister?’ But my parents (Len and Mary Ellen) did encourage us to have a strong faith in God and to go where our gifts are. They wanted each of us to find our own vocation and to be happy.”
As a student at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, Sister Gabby became actively involved in campus ministry. While her focus was still very much on a “career and making money,” a series of profound experiences led her to begin questioning what, until that point, had seemed important. During her senior year, Sister Gabby led a Kairos retreat. She went on to participate in a three-day silent retreat at St. Meinrad and took part in an immersion trip to El Salvador, an opportunity to learn more about the life and ministry of Blessed Oscar Romero and the six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter, who were murdered on the campus of José Simeón Cañas Central American University in 1989.
“These experiences showed me that there was much more to my life than school and a career,” Sister Gabby recalled. “I started to feel within me a call to serve God more deeply, but I really wrestled with how that fit in with marriage and family.”
While God’s plans were unclear at the time, Sister Gabby was certain that she wanted to continue her education at a Catholic institution after high school graduation in 2007. “I applied to most Catholic colleges within a three-hour drive,” she said. “Having always gone to Catholic school, I wanted to go to a place where I could continue to explore and deepen my faith.”
Drawn by the Marianist’s emphasis on educating the whole person, as well as the images and statues of the Blessed Mother scattered throughout campus, Sister Gabby landed at the University of Dayton. A friend introduced her to the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (Marianist Sisters), who live just off campus. As she came to know the sisters, she was “impressed and intrigued” by their life in community, hospitality, and conversations about working with the poor. Sister Gabby also became acquainted with the Marianist priests and brothers at UD, and participated in a lay formation program for students.
“I fell in love with the Marianist charism — to bring Christ into the world like Mary did, through formation in faith at schools and campus ministry, and service to the poor and to women,” she said. “We talk about being missionaries of Mary, and community is a big part of what we do — forming and supporting communities of lay people.”
While the attraction to Marianist life was strong, Sister Gabby wondered if she would still feel the same if she wasn’t immersed in it. After graduation, she returned to Indianapolis and secured a position in youth ministry. Her work was rewarding, “but I felt like something was missing,” Sister Gabby said. “I felt myself yearning for community and a life of structured prayer. It was a feeling that wouldn’t go away, and that said something to me.”
In response, Sister Gabby returned to UD and the Marianist community. She entered in 2014, and took her first vows in 2017. “It was totally overwhelming and I had a very humbling sense of unworthiness to profess the vows, but also a deep gratitude for the gift of my vocation, for my faith, and love from God and all the people who have accompanied me over the years,” she said.
Sister Gabby is currently pursuing a master’s degree in theology and has a graduate assistantship position at the North American Center of Marianist Studies in Dayton. She said the Marianist Sisters were “overjoyed” when their foundress, Blessed Adèle de Batz de Trenquelléon, was beatified on June 10. They gathered for a regional watch party to mark the occasion, while two community members traveled to Agen, France, for the ceremony. “When a foundress is beatified, it really creates an opportunity for people to learn more about her, read her biography, and share her spirit. It’s very exciting for us,” Sister Gabby said.
She has the following advice for others discerning a call to religious life: “Pray, seek spiritual direction, visit a variety of communities, consider your gifts, and listen to what God is asking of you.”