A story of a late vocation: Sister Rita Marie Sofka, USA
In 1991, my father asked me to see a video of Medjugorje, after I had dinner at my parent’s house. I always loved Our Blessed Mother. It was fascinating to hear that she was appearing in this country, and I said to my father, how can this be? Ten years, and I have never heard a priest speak about it in a church! My father told me that it was a protestant man who made the tape. That evening, there was a bad storm, and I could not drive back to my home, so I spent the night at my parent’s house. During the night, I really felt Our Lady’s presence in the room. Never anything like that happened to me. At one hand, I was excited, at the other nervous, but I felt peace. Something happened that night. She touched me. It was always in the back of my mind. When I would hear the word Medjugorje, it fascinated me.
In 1993, after working 26 years, I got laid of from the company. They gave me a year of, a year’s salary I should say. I went to Mass that Sunday and the priest needed help. I said, I am going to volunteer. I had a year of. The next morning, the priest said, come to daily Mass. I never did it before. I would just go on Sunday. So, I went to Mass. Then he said to me, come and visit the sick with me. We will go to the nursing homes... He made me a Eucharistic minister. I found a lot of joy going a couple of times a week with him to visit. Some of the elderly would call me “sister” because some time I would have a navy blue jacket on… I felt a lot of joy in. I was thinking: I made a good salary; as a single person I had a three bedroom house, a lot of cloths, always new cars, always traveling, twice engaged to get married, I have a lot of joy inside and I am making no money! The next thing the priest asked me to do is to teach Sunday school – Confirmation class. So, I did that. The next thing was to be a coordinator for Adoration. I signed up for my hour, but then, as I kept going, I stayed two hours, three hours, four hours… My friends thought: What is she doing in there? The Lord was really drawing me into it.
Then, beginning of 1994, a friend of mine asked me to go on a pilgrimage to Betania, in Venezuela, where Our Lady was appearing, and I had all kinds of extraordinary things happen to me there. Then, I joined two Rosary Cenacles: one was a Medjugorje prayer group, and the second was Fr. Gobbi, but we also did the messages of Our Lady from Medjugorje on the 25th of the month. So, I always had this desire to go to Medjugorje. During that year, many spiritual things happened to me. However, I started working for an insurance company, but the desire to go up in the corporate ladder did not matter to me any more. I was going to spiritual conferences, healing Masses, Cenacles, my reading was changing, my whole life was changing. The only thing I kept doing that the world was doing was go out dancing with my friends because I loved to dance. We did not have the desire to be dating, we would talk to the men about Jesus and Mary, we rather evangelized!
In January 1997, I had 12 spiritual friends come over for dinner. We started watching movies about saint Francis of Assisi, and movies about Our Lady’s apparitions. When they all left, I was doing the dishes and I thought, if I would to die tomorrow, how am I going to account for my life? What is God really calling me to do? From January to August, I had so many signs about religious vocation that I was very angry at first: I was too old to be a religious, I was 49, going to be 50! Most religious communities cut of at 30 or 35. But the signs were so strong that I said: there has to be a place! On my 50th birthday, I went to adoration, it was three o’clock, and I said to Jesus, OK, you have been haunting me all year about religious life; I still think I am too old, but if that is what you want, I am going to do it, but give me one more sign about it. That night, my friends were taking me out for a night dinner for my 50th, and one of my friends who I did not see in the year did not know all this that was going on. She gave me a gift, a magazine “New Woman”, a secular magazine. There was an article on mature women going in the convent, three stories about women in their forties and one fifty going in a convent. She had no idea… it was nine o’clock. That night, I said to Jesus, you did not waste time! I did ask him at 3 o’clock for another sign…
Two weeks later after I had said yes to Jesus, my friends called me and said, “We bought a ticket for a priest from India to go to Medjugorje, but he has some difficulties with a visa. He was afraid he couldn’t come back to the US. We know that you want to go, can you go?” I said, that means that I have to ask for 2 weeks of! My company is so strict; they will never give me two weeks of! I had a protestant boss; I went and told her the story. She said OK. I had 9 days of left. I was an account manager, I had 450 accounts, and she said, you have to find somebody to cover your work. I knew that everybody was overworked, no way… but I asked five people. They all said yes! I couldn’t believe it!
So, I found myself on the plane with 30 people I did not know, coming to Medjugorje for 2 weeks. It was totally a gift from our heavenly Mother to let me pray about this vocation. I told her: lead me! I did not know what to do next. I know God was calling me, but how to do it? One day, I run into Fr. Slavko Barbarić. My friends told me to talk to him. I told him: “I think, God is truly calling me to religious life, but I am 50 years old.” He said: “Well, if you were dating three men and you wanted to decide which man to marry, what would you do?” I said: “I would spend time with each of them to see if we were compatible.” He said: “With religious life it is the same. There are three kinds of communities: totally apostolic, they work out in the world; totally contemplative, they pray all the time; and the combination of the two. So, where do you think you would go?” I said: “The last one. I love people, and I love the Lord.” He said: “Then you go back, you visit the communities that are contemplative and apostolic. As you visit them, you will see if you have something in common spiritually, if you have this charism. You will know it. When you go to the right one, peace will come over you.” I thanked him and I went. I thought, what he said was interesting. And the whole time I was here, wherever I went, a nun would sit next to me! It was packed, September, a lot of people, and always a nun would come and sit next to me! And then, there was this song: “Here I am, Lord”… I was praying and it felt right…
Back to the United States, a friend called me and said, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary are having a support group for women. I went. It was September 1998. Most of the women were younger. All the communities that we were going to visit seemed to be very little. Many sisters today are living in houses, they have a lot of nice clothes, and I knew that the Lord was asking me to get rid of all that. I knew that I wanted to be in a habit, pray the Rosary, Adoration, follow the Pope, and when I visited these sisters, I saw they were not that way. They were very New Age, wearing blue jeans; they did not have a community. I was very disappointed. Then, a priest in his fifties came to my parish. He had been married and had his marriage annulled. He had been vice president of a company and he started to give me spiritual direction. He told me: “Write down everything you want in the community. From the signs you told me, God is definitely working in your life. We just have to figure out where and how.” He went to New York for a retreat and he spoke about me to Fr. Benedict Rochelle who gave him a list of different communities in New York. Sisters of Life was one of them, but they had the cut of at the age of 35. In summer of 1998, I got the invitation of the sisters to come and visit them. It was just like Fr. Slavko said: the minute I entered the door I felt this peace come over me. I had a statue of Our Lady of Medjugorje when I came, I would travel with it, even when I was visiting the sisters. One night, I felt almost like the evil that was coming to try to discourage me, and I felt Our Lady’s mantle come over me. Later, the sisters invited me to Cardinal O’Connor’s discernment retreat, because the Cardinal is the founder of our community. He said: “You were looking for love, I think you found the right love!” My vocation is a gift. Our Blessed Mother planted the seed; she truly guided me to a right vocation. When I had broken up with my last boyfriend, I was feeling down. Another broken heart! I just picked up my rosary to get my mind rid of this person. To find peace. So I started to pray the rosary every day, so I know, it is totally Our Lady’s grace.
After I became a sister, I always prayed to come back to Medjugorje to thank Our Lady. Ten years ago, I came as a layperson praying about the vocation. Now, I am preparing for final vows. It is such a gift, such a freedom!
Sisters of Life take a fourth vow: to protect life from conception to natural death. Cardinal O’Connor really wanted this, especially today with abortion, euthanasia and cloning… We pray four and a half hours a day. By our fasting and our sacrifices, we can save babies. I always wanted to be a mother, to have children. In our community, we take care of pregnant mothers, so I have babies around me all the time! It is a spiritual motherhood! Everybody has his own vocation. Marriage is beautiful. But I found so much happiness as a religious!