Jessica Taylor, SP
Boundless energy and a 200-watt smile are the first things you notice about Sister Jessica Taylor, who was a 31-year-old who professed first vows in August 2003, about the time of this interview. Today, she is a counselor and care manager at Sojourner Place, which is part of Jubilee Women’s Center in Seattle.
Only one word could describe her in the weeks, days and hours leading up to her first vow ceremony: “EXCITED!” If she said it once, she said it one hundred times. “It is exciting, it is a leap of faith and it is somewhat scary because I have to trust that I am following what God wants,” she said then in one long rush of breath.
Born in Seattle, Jessica Taylor was a seventh-grader when she first thought about becoming a sister. By the end of high school, “God’s call began permeating my thoughts,” she says.
Religious orders she checked out told her she was too young to enter at 18, so she enrolled in college and earned degrees in psychology and special education. “But I still was yearning to follow God and seeking more than just a job.”
Then, at a religious vocation meeting she heard sisters talk about their daily lives. “Their lives were not much different than my own,” Sister Jessica explains, “but in community, what they did they did together. That is what really captivated me.”
“Spirituality, ministry and community — it is hard to find all three together without religious life.”
Wanted a growing order
How did she choose the Sisters of Providence? “I knew what I wanted to do and I looked at communities with those ministries. I wanted a community with sisters that liked each other and that was progressing, not dying out.”
The joy and spirit of the Sisters of Providence attracted like a magnet. She felt an instant connection. “They had all those things, plus there was a real family spirit and a community of women with love for each other. Their community days were hugs and happiness and non-stop talking with each other.”
Focusing on the new and the exciting
Next came breaking the news to family and friends. The reaction was decidedly mixed. Those who were not supportive asked why she would do something so ‘crazy’ and ‘counter-cultural.’ “I told them, ‘I’m not changing. I am still the same person.”
One area of doubt was the expected separation from her family. “They are used to me being available all of the time, but now I have my own life. It is like being married, which is a separation, too.”
Giving up something to embrace religious life is not an issue for Sister Jessica. “You do give up something – everybody in life gives up something. You give up things when you marry, but do you focus on that? You focus on what’s exciting, what’s new, where you’re going, and the way you live out your vocation and your call.”
Confidence triumphs over doubt
Asked if she has ever wavered or had doubts along this journey, Sister Jessica laughs aloud. “Oh, yes, you have to. It’s a process. You have to work through them.
She asks herself tough questions: “Why am I feeling that? Is this leading me toward or away from God? If you ignore the tough questions, they come back to haunt you,” she explains.
“This is not a running away from, it is a running to. As I go through each of the trials, my vocation and my call get stronger. That is how I know I am still being called. Becoming more sure and more aware is exciting.”
There’s that word again — “exciting” — and she says it with confidence.
“This is a very special time,” she says. “Everyone is praying for you and you know you are praying for everyone else. It is a joyous time. There is no doubt in my mind that God is continuing to call me to this step and that others are there to support me.”
Reflections on the vows
The process of preparing for first vows included lots of time dedicated to prayer and a retreat on the vows. “I looked at how the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity apply in my life, deepening my understanding of them,” Sister Jessica says. “By rediscovering their meaning, I am challenged by them again.”
The best advice she has received on her journey is “to truly follow the call and trust that I may not have all the answers. This is a time to really figure out if God is calling you and to learn about it.”
Religious life is just an option, she adds. “You are not giving your life over with the first phone call. That’s what I thought. The sisters are willing to work with you. Wherever God is calling you – religious life, single life or married life – they want you to be the best person you can be.”