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Sisters Serving UD: Sister Mary Gabriel: 'From Happy Hours to Holy Hours'

By Madeleine LiMandri, BA '21

This month’s segments of Sisters Serving UD will feature two alumnae who said “yes” to God’s call to religious life. The February segments featured UD’s two current Nashville Dominican professors, Affiliate Assistant Professor of Theology Sister Mary Angelica Neenan, O.P., and Affiliate Assistant Professor of Philosophy Sister Elinor Gardner, O.P. Last month featured two alumna Dominican sisters, Sister Mary Edith Humphries, BA ’95, and Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, BA ’94.

The month of April features the discernment stories of UD alumnae Sister Mary Gabriel Devlin, S.V., BA ’96, of the Sisters of Life, and Sister Michelle Geiger, BA ’88, of the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco. Thank you to all of the sisters who have bountifully blessed our UD community! 

Sister Mary Gabriel: 'From Happy Hours to Holy Hours'

During her early undergraduate years at UD, Sister Mary Gabriel Devlin’s goals were being met in terms of her social and academic life, but her spiritual life was lacking in confidence and peace. 

Sister Mary Gabriel recalls hesitation first creeping into her faith life during a school Mass in seventh grade. She was belting the words to the Church hymn “Let Us Build the City of God,” only to be mocked for it later by her two best friends. The feeling of shame was enough to shake her adolescent faith: “In that moment, I decided that following God deeply was just too costly, and not worth losing my social life,” she explained. 

Sister Mary Gabriel grew up in a Catholic home in Long Island, New York, where she “knew the rules,” but did not know the Lord intimately. Her faith continued like this through high school and even for some time in college. But by sophomore year at UD, Sister Mary Gabriel realized that even though the “superficial goals” she set for herself were being met, she “still had a sort of restlessness and sadness” within her. On a walk home from UD’s library, she felt drawn to the chapel and upon walking in, got a strong sense of God’s presence and realized that she had never given Him a “sincere chance” in her heart. That visit opened up into genuine prayer, and she knew that God was real and that He loved her. Sister Mary Gabriel recalls leaving the chapel dazed, thinking, “Wow, it’s all true,” but almost simultaneously thinking “Oh no. I have a lot of things in my life that I need to get in order.” 

To begin that change, Sister Mary Gabriel set out on a quest in the library to learn all that she did not know about the Church and its teachings. When there was something about the Catholic faith that she did not understand, she would lay it before the Lord, and “time after time, He would grant me the gift of understanding and the joy I had been missing.”

After graduating from UD with a degree in history, Sister Mary Gabriel moved to New York City to be a nanny for a professional athlete’s children, and it was there that she discovered her vocation. As she grew in her love for the children she was caring for, she came to realize she wouldn’t hesitate to give her life for them, or for any children. At the same time, she began volunteering in the South Bronx and would pray the rosary with “the little old ladies” after daily Mass. Sister Mary Gabriel found herself thinking, “This is  weird — I’ve traded my happy hours for holy hours!” But during Eucharistic Adoration, Sister Mary Gabriel came to see that she was just “falling in love with the Lord.”

While volunteering in the South Bronx, she was invited to pray outside of an abortion clinic, and though she agreed, her seventh-grade fear of “soft persecution” crept back into her heart. However, when she went, she felt “courage grow within.” Other tangible moments of “stepping out” like this by publicly revealing her faith helped Sister Mary Gabriel to accept her call to religious life and trust in Jesus despite her weaknesses.

Through Dr. Janet Smith, her former professor at UD, Sister Mary Gabriel found the Sisters for Life. While visiting New York City for a Catholic medical association, Smith was given a tour of the city by Sister Mary Gabriel. On the tour, Smith requested to see the Sisters for Life convent, and when they entered, Sister Mary Gabriel had a “sense of being home” both in the community and in their charism to protect vulnerable human life.

Sister Mary Gabriel thought religious life might be boring, but in reality, “nothing could be further from the truth.” She finds that “Jesus is wonderfully unpredictable,” and the main piece of advice she has for those discerning is to be grateful. 

“Receive your own life as a gift,” Sister Mary Gabriel advised, urging those discerning to let go of the anxiety and fear of the future so that “you can become the best person you can possibly be and give the gift of yourself.” 

Sister Mary Gabriel also urges UD students to take advantage of all that UD has to offer, especially the professors. “UD professors taught me that when there’s a vision in line with truth, the gift of themselves never stops giving,” she said. “Things they said or the ideals they set still inspire me to this day.”

Today Sister Mary Gabriel is studying at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. with the JPII Institute, and has been part of the Sisters of Life for the past 20 years.

Read the series introduction in either the Sisters Serving UD segment on Sister Mary Angelica Neenan or the second installment on Sister Elinor Gardner.

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