by Mary Anne Skeba
came from Sicily and finally settled in
a quaint Italian district of St. Louis,
Missouri called “The Hill”
over 100 years ago. My brother,
sister and I lived in a two-story brick
building built by my grandfather to be
a place of business on the bottom floor
and a place of residence on the top.
remember waking in the morning to the
wonderful smell of Italian bread wafting
up from the bakery downstairs and hearing
the gossiping sounds of people in the
deli next door to it. I also remember
not having very much money; but there
was always lots of food and lots of company,
lots of laughter and everyone talking
louder than everybody else.
place that I lived was the center of my
mother’s whole family for two reasons:
first, my grandmother lived with us, and
second, we lived right across the street
from the Roman Catholic Church we attended.
We were a very religious family and our
lives were completely wrapped up in whatever
feastday, celebration, or excitement was
happening there. Tradition! Tradition!
probably went to church every day of the
school year, and on Saturdays and Sundays,
too. I remember sitting in Sister Concepta’s
6th grade class and listening to her talk
about the wonderful stories of Jesus.
It so impacted my life that He died for
me…she made it all so real. I found
myself pondering the story and praying
a lot more that I did before. Sister Concepta
planted a seed in my heart.
I grew older I had wonderful dreams of
becoming a famous ballerina and musician.
I worked very hard at both these quests.
I also loved art and dabbled in painting
was very sensitive as a child. Sometimes
when a person is overly sensitive, life
becomes difficult. Everything is taken
to heart. Since I was the oldest daughter
and Mom was quite a strict mama, I was
held responsible for much of the problems
around the house. She didn’t know
it at the time, but she had what seemed
like an abusive way of speaking to me
in a scolding tone of voice, constantly
embarrassing me in front of family and
friends. I found myself becoming more
and more neurotic and filled with complexes.
“I guess I just can’t do anything
right in her eyes,” I would say
things started to change. In my senior
year of high school, I was so impressed
by the love and goodness that I saw in
the nuns who taught me. I wanted to emulate
them to the fullest. There was only one
way I could. I’ll never forget the
look of irritation on my mother’s
face when I told her I wanted to become
a nun. “You want to do what?”
she said. “I want to enter the convent,”
I told her, filled with intimidation as
I asserted myself for probably the first
time in my life. At first, she said, “No”
and so did my dad. But then, the day before
the signed permission was due to the convent,
she reluctantly penned her name and told
me, “You’ll probably be back
in six months anyway…you’ve
always failed in everything you’ve
tried to accomplish.” In spite of
what she said, I was overjoyed at the
prospect of becoming a nun!
joy at becoming a nun quickly turned sour
when reality set in. It seemed as though
I went from the frying pan into the fire!
Instead of having one mom like I had at
home, I had many moms, (Mother Provincial,
Mother Mistress, Mother Superior), who
tried to change me and mold me into becoming
the model nun! And what a schedule! There
was morning prayer at 5:30 am, then Mass,
then breakfast, then chores. Then class,
then prayer, then lunch and the list goes
of all, as postulants (new sisters), we
weren’t allowed to talk to anyone
except Mother Mistress if we had a need.
Neither could I call my family or friends
except on special days. We were free from
our vow of silence for one hour a day
which was our community time. There were
some wonderful times here when I could
take out my guitar and the nuns and I
would sing in 3 and 4-part harmony. But
for the most part, my training to be a
nun at the Mother House was very difficult
and lonely for me. There were times I
felt as if I would have a nervous breakdown.
I’m so glad to say that God’s
grace was there, even then, to show me
the way out of troubled times.
the midst of my training, I was sent out
from the Mother House to a convent in
Lower East Side, New York. There in Chinatown
I taught Chinese children who hardly knew
English. What a challenge! I used my artistic
capability to draw pictures for words
and, with the help of an interpreter,
found the children to be brilliant and
quite easy to teach.
there I was transferred to a private school
in Bronx, NY where I taught Music and
Art to elementary children. After three
years, I was transferred to Pittsburgh,
PA. I found myself at a non-graded school
with a wonderful group of sisters, all
very well-trained and professional. Coupled
with Monsignor Shanahan and the priests
in residence there, we made a great family.
There are so many things that happened
in Pittsburgh! But I’ll tell
you the one story that dramatically changed
remember standing in the kitchen of our
homey convent when I heard a voice coming
from our downstairs receptionist office.
A non-Catholic lady named Oleen Eagle
had come to visit one of the other sisters.
They were planning a very special Bible
Study and prayer meeting to be started
in the Fall. As I heard them laughing
and talking, I wished that I could be
a part of it - even though I didn’t
understand the full impact of what I was
very long afterwards, the sister working
with Oleen was transferred to another
city. So the plans changed. I found
myself in the “Padre’s”
office - Monsignor Shanahan, that is.
He was so animated and excited as he appointed
me to work with Oleen Eagle on the music
for the prayer meeting she was to lead.
But then he put me on a solemn mission.
“Angelina”, he said, (that’s
long for Sister Angela), “You’re
going to have to listen real hard to make
sure Oleen stays within the confines of
Catholic teaching and beliefs. So, while
you’re playing that guitar of yours,
pay very close attention to what she says
and come back and report to me.”
I felt like the Padre and I had entered
into a secret pact.
responsibility of listening to Oleen’s
Protestant theology felt pretty heavy
to me. First of all, I just didn’t
feel qualified, spiritually or physically.
I felt my mind and my heart drifting from
the most important things in my life.
The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience
had become a struggle. Where was God in
all this? Ritual,upon ritual, upon ritual.
It all felt dry and fruitless.
exhaustion of working so hard to prove
to everyone that I was a success was overwhelming!
I continually felt failure nipping at
my toes as if I was in a race with myself
to be the successful person my mom promised
I would never be. Outwardly I was the
perfect little nun, but inwardly I was
dying. There had to be more to life than
this, I thought. But I promised the Padre
that I would listen intently to Oleen’s
Bible teaching, and so I did.
the weeks progressed I could feel something
happening to me; something I had never
experienced to this magnitude before.
It seemed that I couldn’t wait for
Tuesday to roll around so that I could
hear what Oleen had to say about God’s
Word, the Bible. I had studied every precept
and principle of the church’s teaching
in my twelve years of schooling; but this
was a first for me. It’s hard to
explain the explosion of new life I was
beginning to experience! When Oleen would
read the words of Jesus and explain them
to our prayer group my heart started to
burn to know more. I couldn’t hold
back any longer!
I had a private moment with her I asked,
“Oleen, what do I have to do to
know the Bible like you do? It seems like
the more I hear, the more my heart burns
to know Jesus more.” She explained
to me that Jesus was drawing me to Himself.
But there was something I had to do. I
couldn’t imagine what that could
be, because I was working very hard to
be a good nun and a great teacher. She
talked to me about giving my life over
to Jesus Christ; putting Him in the driver’s
seat of my life and letting Him have total
was aghast! I said, “Oleen, I’ve
been a nun all these nine years. I’ve
been teaching His children, praying three
times a day, and making all kinds of sacrifices!
And you’re telling me I need to
give my life over to Him and be “born-again”?
What did that mean, anyway? Was this another
“religion”? Oleen explained
that it had nothing at all to do with
religion, church denominations, or traditions
of belief. This had to do with a very
special relationship with Jesus, the Son
of God, Who died for my sin and took all
the punishment for it by His death on
the cross. She told me that the Bible
said Jesus died for me personally, something
that just boggled my mind, and that He
wanted to save me from eternal punishment.
Now I was beginning to understand: my
salvation rested upon what Jesus did for
me, not the work I was trying to do to
all made sense! I took Oleen’s hand
and she led me in a prayer of repentance.
For the first time in my life, I put my
faith and trust in what Jesus Christ did
for me on the cross, and received Him
as my Lord and Savior. An inexplicable
thing happened to me that day. Suddenly,
I began to see Jesus' love for me. Immediately
I felt a peace like I had never experienced
somehow felt relieved of the burdens and
questions I had been carrying for so long.
I felt new all over and I had this wonderful
feeling that I wasn’t alone anymore.
The love of Jesus seemed to fill every
inch of my heart! Think of it! Jesus
was waiting my entire life for me to come
to the realization of this moment. And
I could have missed Him as I went about
my busy daily routines trying to find
Him by my own religious actions and merit!
I discovered that I didn't know God even
though I was trying to serve Him In the
this realization hit me it was like an
explosion took place in my mind and my
spirit! My walk with Jesus was now based
on a meaningful daily relationship rather
than on empty daily rituals. I started
to reach out to people in love and intense
care for their needs. The talents
that God gave me of music, art and the
dance blossomed into full expression.
I took on a men’s choir; wrote cantatas
for the children to sing and dance to;
produced stage productions and designed
all the scenery; painted pictures of Bible
stories for our church and on and on.
It wasn’t long after my born-again
experience that I received the Baptism
in the Holy Spirit. This opened the window
to even more of the Holy Spirit’s
power! My life would never be the same.
is the story of how I discovered God while
in the convent. The story continues with
my leaving the convent, reconciling with
my mother, and getting married.
relationship with Jesus is the greatest
treasure I have ever found!
you can't ever remember a time in
your life when you personally invited
Jesus to come into your heart, then
you probably never have. This could
be your day to personally meet him.
me and let me help you make this wonderful
discovery as I did!
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