In her early twenties Jessica Langrell from Sydney’s northern beaches had to make what for many young Australian women would have been a difficult choice. She had been presented with two amazing opportunities. She could train with the Australian Rugby Sevens squad for two years in a bid to make our first women’s rugby team to play at the Olympics, or she could spend a month with the Sisters of Life at a New York convent to discern whether she had a religious vocation.
Jessica knew in her heart what her calling was even though she wrestled with the decision, writing out pages and pages of ‘for and against’ reasons. “I could not believe the timing. It was hard not to think that God was teasing me. Honestly. I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’” she told The Catholic Weekly. “But God knew it was exactly what I needed. He wanted to show me, ‘This is your greatest desire in life, what you think will bring you most meaning, now let Me tell you about your heart and show you who you really are.’”
She told the Christian news outlet that In a moment at prayer she understood that God was only asking her to discover her own deepest hopes. “It sent this flood of freedom through me, as I realised not that God was calling me to be a Sister of Life as such, but God wanted to hear from me what I really wanted, which was to love Him and serve Him,” she said.
“His deepest desire for me was that my deepest desire come about, and He was not prepared to settle for the Olympic dream. He was going for everything. I had a tremendous upbringing in a very devout Catholic family that I’m so grateful for, which set me up for this. What I needed was a moment in my life to realise that it wasn’t just about what I did as a Catholic, it was who I was in relationship with and that God knew me, loved me, and was all about me living a full and alive life,” she explained to The Catholic Weekly.
This month Jessica who’s now known as Sister Mary Grace S.V. took her final vows at the age of 33 in the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the heart of New York. For 10 years she has been a member of the Sisters of Life, a Catholic community of women founded 32 years ago to follow the 1,600-year-old Augustinian rule to profess the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, plus a fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life. The abbreviation S.V. stands for Sorores Vitae, Latin for Sisters of Life.
Sister Mary Grace took her first vows in 2018 and then spent three years in Toronto, Canada, serving vulnerable pregnant women and women suffering after an abortion. She currently resides at the St. Frances de Chantal Convent in the Bronx, serving as director of the Evangelization Mission, which coordinates the sharing of spiritual gifts and fostering a culture of life throughout the United States and worldwide.
She is also the co-host of Let Love: a podcast with the Sisters of Life. And she is actively producing YouTube messages with titles such as 10 Tips on How to Actually Trust in God in Real Life; 7 Life-Changing Tips for Prayer; How to be Vulnerable; and You are Known. She’s always smiling, projecting a great joy during her presentations.
It’s a long way from when she graduated from the University of Notre Dame Australia with a degree in theology and later served as its chaplaincy convenor and youth events organiser for the Archdiocese of Sydney. She was one of the first organisers of Sydney’s popular event series for young adults, Theology on Tap, which her brother Patrick began in 2007.
Sister Mary Grace told The Catholic Weekly only God could have pulled her to a convent, 16,000 kilometres from the family she loves deeply. She never considered becoming a nun, saying: “that’s the mystery of God’s plan for each one of us.” After leaving school, the self-described sports-mad teenager was hoping for a career as a professional athlete, but also thinking of journalism, teaching or politics. She also dreamt of having a big family and coaching her own football team.
But that all changed after she met some Sisters of Life in 2008 at World Youth Day in Sydney. “These were women who were really alive and in love with God who was making a difference in their lives. That to me was such a beautiful thing to witness and I noticed when I first saw it that I was lacking that in my own heart.”
She told Our Sunday Visitor: “This was not my bright idea, and I never thought my life would look like this! But when I encountered sisters alive and in love with Jesus, it awoke the desire in me I never knew was there. I never felt more free in my life than in that moment and I took one small step after another towards His voice.”
She admitted: to The Catholic Weekly: “Growing up I never saw a nun. It was not even on my radar. If anything, it terrified me, something that was so distant. I honestly didn’t even think people were doing this anymore, at least not willingly or happily. I just really woke up to the fact that I had a heart and really great desires, and I think God wants them to come true.”
Sister Mary Grace still loves sport and will run on a treadmill, go for walks with fellow sisters and play basketball or pickleball in her free time, but she doesn’t regret what many would see as the huge sacrifices she has made. “One of the gifts of the religion vocation is that while I say ‘no’ to my own immediate family and the possibility of having my own children, that giving up is always for a great ‘yes.’ God asks some people, ‘Would you offer up the gift of having your own children so that you can look at every single human being as if you were that person’s mother, that child or woman before you, this elderly man you’re visiting in hospital or the person you’re walking by on the street? That is not possible on a human level, but God makes it possible and I’ve been amazed at the people I have loved as if they’re my own.”
God’s love continues to astound this ever smiling nun. “10 years since entering the convent, He continues to draw me deeper into His love and I feel more alive every day,” Sister Mary Grace S.V. rejoiced.