‘There’s nothing else I’d rather be than a Sister of St. Joseph’

Sister Lynn Caton makes her first vows in 2009.

North Merrick — Sister Lynn Caton will make her final profession as a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood Sept. 8, but her journey toward that day has been an interesting one.

Before she realized her call to religious life, Sister Lynn was married and had a son. “I’m absolutely called to be a mother,” she said. “And I’m absolutely called to be a Sister of St. Joseph, and it’s beyond my imagination that I have both.”

Sister Lynn, a native of West Islip who grew up as a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, entered the congregation six years ago when she was in her early 40s. Having been married and a mother, “when I started feeling something, I thought this was an impossibility. I had been divorced, I had a son. I thought this was just crazy and I really fought it. I started the discernment just hoping one of these vocations directors would say, ‘Get out of here.’ And they didn’t.”

Along the way, there were signs that this wouldn’t be an impossible journey, despite her background. “One of our foundresses had been widowed,” she noted. “The first vocations director I met with was a Sister of Charity and they were founded by Elizabeth Seton,” who had been a widow. “I remember saying to her, ‘I’ve been married. I can’t do this.’ And she kind of just laughed and pointed to a picture of (Elizabeth Ann Seton) and said, ‘Well, it’s happened. You’re not so unique.’”

She got an annulment while she was discerning religious life. “I dreaded it, but the freedom I felt when that went through was, now I can do this or I can do anything else,” she said. “Now I faced a choice. Now I can do anything, but I’m still drawn to this (religious life).”

“The discernment process was tough,” noted Sister Lynn. “As my son was getting older, I just felt a pull to do something more and I was looking for different things to do.” She started singing at Mass and served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to the homebound. “I kept hearing God saying, ‘That’s good. But there’s more there.’”

When she finally told her son, who was in college at the time, what she was feeling called to do with her life, “I was very surprised by his reaction,” she said. “He took a minute and said, ‘That’s good. Then I don’t have to worry about where you’ll be when I get a job.’ I was so touched by that. Never in a million years did it cross my mind that he was thinking that he would worry about what would happen to me if he got a job far away. But it’s got to be weird. It’s not something that people say: ‘My mother is a nun.’ But he sees I’m happy.”

She looked at several local religious congregations throughout her discernment before coming to the Sisters of St. Joseph. While on a discernment retreat with them “I started hearing about the charism for the first time and when I first heard it — the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph is ‘love of God and neighbor without distinction’ — from that moment it went through me like it had always been a part of me.”

Once she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sister Lynn began the six-year formation process. During her novitiate, she discovered a love for prison ministry while working at a juvenile hall in California. “I absolutely fell in love with prison ministry. When I came back here, I got in touch with (Franciscan Brother) Jack Moylan and he found a place for me to continue it here. It’s an unbelievable ministry. Not everybody’s called to it, and everybody who’s in it says the same thing: ‘You’re in it for 20 minutes or 20 years.’ I could easily do it for the rest of my life.”

She also began serving at Sacred Heart Church here. “I’m a pastoral associate and I also run the parish social ministry which is the outreach, consolation ministry, bereavement. It’s a lot of work but it is unbelievable work. You get to meet people who are sometimes at the worst points of their lives, and I don’t mean that’s a happy thing, but they have this trust in me as sister and I get to be — and in the prison it’s the same thing — the only face of God many of these people see.”

Sister Lynn lives in the Sacred Heart convent with seven other sisters. “We have meals together, we pray together. For me, especially early in religious life, those things were important to me. I come from a big family. I’m used to having meals with people and talking about our days. And that’s one of the things about the Sisters of St. Joseph, our ‘kitchen table conversations’ — you go out into the world, you come back and talk about it.”

“I can’t believe how good my life is,” she said. “I have a son who is happily married, who is a good stable man, and I’m able to spend time with him, but this is the time I was meant to enter. If I had entered earlier, I wouldn’t have all of this.”

“Wherever it leads, this is where I’m meant to be,” she added. “I just got a card from a sister who has been in for a little more than 50 years and she said if she had to do it all over again, she’s sure there’s nothing else she’d rather be. I feel that way too, even just six years into it. There’s nothing else I’d rather be than a Sister of St. Joseph.”