Carol Selak, SNJM

I can hardly believe it’s been 50 years since I made first promises to commit my life to God as a Sister in a religious community!

As I consider my life’s call to this way of life, I ask myself when did this 50-year commitment really begin? And why was I called, out of the seven children that my parents’ love brought into the world? My mom told me that for some reason on the day of my First Communion, she prayed specifically asking God to give me a vocation to the Sisterhood and that this was not a prayer that came to mind for my other six siblings. Is that where my vocation began? A mother’s prayer?

I grew up, the middle of seven children, in the then-rural town of Alamo, in northern California. My parents had emigrated from Ontario, Canada, and my dad’s work as a nuclear engineer brought us to California when I was four years old. My childhood was rich in outdoor adventure, family vacations and holiday celebrations. My dad was one of those Catholics who would have to be dying to miss Sunday Mass, so I don’t believe I ever missed Sunday Mass a single time throughout my childhood.

I attended public schools and catechism classes on Saturdays. My first experience of a Catholic Sister was my catechism teacher, Sr. Maureen, who prepared me to make my Confirmation at the age of 15. I remember her as a rather stern and demanding individual. It was during my Confirmation Mass when I first asked God to show how I was to give of my life, as Sr. Maureen walked down the aisle with a grumpy look, whispering for all of us to sing out. It was at that moment that I first experienced God calling me to be a “Sister.” I felt an overwhelming assuredness and peace at this moment and, though I found it strange and bewildering, I knew that “God knows best.” This ultimately gave me the impetus I needed to pursue this call in the years to come.

In my final years of high school, I visited several religious communities. Though I knew that religious life was God’s plan for me, I felt no inclination to join any of them until I met a group of Sisters who came as missionaries from Belgium. They were the Sisters of Providence. They were, at that time (1968), a lot more progressive than the American communities I had met.

I joined the Sisters of Providence soon after high school and I experienced eight deeply enriching years of wonderful community life rooted in prayer. During these years, the simple yet profound message of Micah 6:8 became my “theme song” – “to live a life rooted in justice, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with God.” 

During these years with the Sisters of Providence I was also given the gift of attending and graduating from my first Catholic school, Holy Names College in Oakland, CA, where I received my B.A. degree and life teaching credential. It was during my eighth year with the Sisters of Providence that I was informed that, due to a lack of new members, the Congregation was withdrawing from the U.S. As a result, it was necessary for me to find an American community to transfer to. This was a most painful and difficult time for me, as I deeply loved my community. I had to trust that since this call to religious life was from God, God would continue to direct me accordingly.

My choice of a second community was made a lot easier from the wonderful experience I had getting to know and love many of the Sisters of the Holy Names who had taught me at the college in Oakland. So I joined the SNJM Congregation in August 1976. The following month, I was teaching 6th grade at St. Bede’s School in Hayward. After my 3rd year teaching at St. Bede’s, I made final vows as a Sister of the Holy Names. Following final vows I travelled to Southern California, where I taught four years at St. Stephen’s in Monterey Park. I then returned to Oakland to teach seven years at Sacred Heart School.

My 14 years of teaching were rewarding in so many ways. I especially loved the challenge of trying to instill in my students the knowledge of their giftedness and an understanding that these gifts are to be used to better the world around them. These years were also enriching because of the deep, wonderful friendships made!

After I left teaching, I returned to school for a master’s degree in social work. For the past 27 years I have followed my passion by working at Regional Center of the East Bay with adults who live with mental and/or physical challenges. I try daily to carry out my “theme song” of loving them tenderly and bringing them the fair justice of services they so deserve.

This 50th anniversary brings me to a humbling gratitude for God’s call to intimacy with Her through religious life as a Sister of Providence and Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary! The gratitude I feel for the family I came from and all the Sisters and Associates who have so deeply touched my life over the years cannot be expressed adequately in words! I’m hoping that all who read this short biography can feel my love and gratitude.