My Vocation StorySister Teresa O'Donovan OP
I entered the Congregation at Rosary Priory on 8 September 1965. I was sixteen years old. I had no idea what it would be like or what I would be doing. I did, however, know that God was calling me to be a Dominican Sister. How vividly I can remember the heavy rain that was falling: the sadness of my parents and sister as they left me at the Priory. But I was young and had the ideals and generosity of youth.
Over the years I have come to realise how very much more generous was the God who called me.
My call to religious life did not happen that day. I believe God was preparing me for it since I was a baby. I was born in Garston, Watford, Hertfordshire into an Irish Catholic family where I literally learnt to pray at my mother’s knee. The Mass and being an active member of our faith community were very important parts of our lives. When we first moved to Coats Way in Garston there were no Catholic schools in the area nor even a parish.
My first time going to Mass in Garston was in the back of the Three Horses Pub which is now a Restaurant. And my First Holy Communion was in a builders’ hut on the site of where St Michael’s Catholic High School was built by the Sisters. We had a saintly priest, Fr Davey, who loved children and I still remember the sweets and apples he used to give us. And I also remember how frightened I was by his massively large Irish wolfhound! The fact that we were a small ‘homeless’ group of Catholics drew us together and we worked with generosity and determination to build St Michael’s Church.
When I was eleven years old I failed my ’11plus’ exam which would determine what kind of secondary school I would attend. This was totally unexpected as I had been in ‘A’ classes throughout my years at Holy Rood School in Watford. Looking back now I can see that this was providential because for the next five years of my life I had the benefit of a Dominican education. My first reflections on what I would do when I left school were directed towards teaching but when I was fourteen or fifteen I began to feel called to religious life. I wrote to several vocations directors for literature about their way of life. There was no such thing as a world wide web in those days. Although interested in what I received I was always drawn back to the Dominicans. Why? Who knows exactly? The greatest influence would have been the Sisters themselves. I experienced them as very good teachers; strict but very down to earth. Out of the classroom they were fun to be with and not overly pious!
When I was in the fifth form at St Michael’s I became a prefect and one of my duties was to keep order on the corridor of the then new extension when the children came back into class after the lunch break. One particular day I was waiting for them to come in when I had a real sense of Christ’s presence there beside me: in what must have been a split second I offered Him my life. And then the children came in and I was once again trying to keep them quiet and in single file. That split second was very real and has stayed with me all my life. I can still point out the exact spot where I was standing when it happened. It has been pure gift to me. When I have my doubts and struggles, I have always been able to go back to that day and say, yes Christ was there and I did give myself wholeheartedly to him on that day.
After entering I was first a Postulant, then a Novice and then a Temporary Professed Sister. I was sent to our convent in Rome along with two of my companions, to study Theology for four years. After returning to England I did one year at teaching training college at Roehampton, London and taught for a number of years first at Rosary Priory School and also at St Cuthbert Mayne Catholic Junior School in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.
I was in my early thirties when we opened a new Mission in Liberia West Africa. I volunteered to go and was lucky enough to be chosen.
Sister Teresa learned to play the guitar enough to lead the children in song. She is pictured here with the children of St Dominic’s in Bomi Hills.
I spent a terrifically challenging six years there, teaching in St Dominic’s School, in Bomi Hills (also known as Tubmanburg) and eventually became Principal. After school we did catechetical work and basic evangelisation with the children. It was a very formative time in my life, and I look back on it with great fondness. On my return to England I started parish ministry in working in Stevenage, Hertfordshire; Storrington, West Sussex; Hemel Hempstead, Hertdforshire; and finally in Glasgow, Scotland.
As Dominicans, we each have the initials ‘OP’ after our names, for ‘Order of Preachers’. Ours is the ministry of preaching the Word of God. This is both exciting and humbling as one shares in the faith journey of so many people. I am so grateful to my family and Congregation for giving me the opportunity to be part of this great mission of the church.
Sister Teresa O’Donovan (left) and Sister Eileen, companions from the Novitiate until now, celebrate the Golden Jubilee (50 years) of their Religious Profession at Rosary Priory, September 2018.