(Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)
Laryn Kovalik, second from right, and women of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity sing together Oct. 28 at the community’s house in San Francisco.
Young woman trades one vocation for another of a higher order
November 5th, 2014
By Christina Gray
Laryn Kovalik, a skilled medical artist who spends her weekdays designing ocular prosthetics for the blind or partially blind, saw her own life through new eyes after a chance encounter brought her to the doors of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity residence in San Francisco where she hopes to one day live as a consecrated woman.
Verbum Dei is a Catholic missionary community founded in 1963 and approved as an Institute of Consecrated Life by Pope John Paul II in 2000. It consists of nearly 1,000 sisters, priests, brothers and married couples worldwide.
In San Francisco, the community’s first U.S. location, consecrated women live out the Verbum Dei charism of contemplative prayer, witness of life and apostolic ministry through prayer groups, weekend retreats and scriptural study.
Giving up a promising career and the possibility of marriage and family to live a celibate, communal life of prayer and poverty was an unexpected choice, Kovalik, 29, said in an interview with Catholic San Francisco at the community’s Mission District house.
She talked about the mystery of her vocation.
“Well, it wasn’t my doing, I can assure you that,” she said from a comfortable downstairs corner of the house where the songs of a nighttime prayer group could be heard. “It wasn’t me who chose this, God chose me,” she said.
Fresh-faced and dressed simply in a skirt, T-shirt and sandals, Kovalik was virtually indistinguishable from the order’s professed sisters who gathered to greet her, except for the band on their left hands symbolizing a lifetime vow.
Kovalik moved to the Bay Area in early 2013, intent on a career as a medical artist after years of specialized training. She had only been here a week when after a Sunday Mass in Oakland a young woman in the congregation bicycled up to her and invited her to a prayer group at a “house” in San Francisco.
Eager to make new friends, she said yes, but was confused when she rang the bell at what looked more like a church than a home. A young woman greeted the bewildered guest, introduced herself as a Verbum Dei sister and welcomed her to join the community’s prayer group. Kovalik’s apprehension fell away during lectio divina, a meditative form of prayer she had learned with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after college.
“During prayer that night I felt like I had come home,” she said. It was after that evening, she said, that the “seeds that my parents planted were watered and began to germinate.”
Raised in a loving Catholic family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kovalik said she had approached her faith like a “sacramental punch card,” checking off each step from baptism to confirmation without really encountering God. When invited by a high school friend to a Kairos weekend, a three-day Christian retreat, the application asked her, “How do you talk about God?,” and she answered: “I don’t.”
She returned to pray with the community on weekends and on Good Friday, she said an unexpected desire swept across her heart. “I want to be their sister,” she heard herself say. She dismissed the thought but in prayer the next day she said, “my heart burned with it.”
Her friends, even some Catholic friends, questioned why she would want to leave a profession that offered many of the rewards of ministry.
“What I do is to restore wholeness in physical form. But now I desire to bring people a deeper wholeness by inviting them to rest in God’s loving gaze,” she said.
During a pilgrimage to El Salvador with the community, she said she “placed my life on the altar before God” and upon her return she began “living the question” – working weekdays and spending weekends at the discernment house.
Though she has been accepted by the Verbum Dei community, Kovalik must resolve outstanding student loans before she can begin formation. The dilemma is not uncommon.
Working with the Laboure Society, an organization that helps aspirants to religious life pay off outstanding obligations, Kovalik has faith that she’ll be able to begin formation soon.
“God interrupted all my plans and my life,” she said, adding it was now her time to offer herself to “God and to God’s people.”
From November 7, 2014 issue of Catholic San Francisco.