Sister Anna Dela Paz makes her first profession of vows as a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia Aug. 10.
Sister Anna Dela Paz makes her first profession of vows as a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia Aug. 10.

The smile on Sister Maria Anna Dela Paz’s face and the joyful tone in her voice tells it all. She is beyond thrilled with her decision to pursue a vocation.

Adding to Sister Anna’s joy was the milestone she observed Aug. 10 when she made her first profession of vows as a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in the chapel of the community’s motherhouse in Aston, Pa.

Days after she arrived to her new assignment at the University of San Diego, where she will work as a program coordinator for the Center for Student Success, the 31- year-old Sister Anna reflected on how humbled she is that God called her “to say ‘yes’ to this way of life.”

“This is a beautiful life,” she said.

Firm Foundation

Sister Anna is the daughter of Stan and Maria Dela Paz, and was born in 1988 in Manila, capital of the Philippines. She was six when her family, which includes younger brother, Andre, now 26, immigrated to New Jersey, settling in Hightstown. The family joined the town’s St. Anthony of Padua Parish, where she and Andre received their First Holy Communion and were confirmed. Her education included attending Ethel McKnight Elementary School and Melvin H. Kreps Middle School, East Windsor, and Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, from where she graduated in 2006. She is a 2010 summa cum laude graduate of St. Peter’s University, Jersey City, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in history.

Sister Anna credits her vocation to the influence of much, including her upbringing in a devout Catholic home. She smiles when she recalls being a young child and how at bedtime her father would read her a story and then they would end with prayer. Her father, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, also instilled in her and her brother a passion for service. One of her earliest service opportunities was helping in a soup kitchen in Trenton, she said, adding that she “always points to this as one of the major learning moments because it instilled in me a life of service, regardless of what vocation I am called to.” In high school, she volunteered with the religious education program in St. Anthony of Padua Parish, helping as an aide and eventually teaching the fourth-grade class.

Her service experiences in college heightened her involvement with campus ministry, where she participated in service immersion trips, such as to Appalachia and Ecuador. By the time she was a junior, she knew she wanted to participate as a long-term volunteer. After college, she joined Jesuit Volunteer Corps. For two years, she was assigned to Xavier High School, a Jesuit school on the island of Chuuk, Micronesia, where she taught freshmen, sophomores and juniors, served as campus minister and created the school’s drama club.  While there, she appreciated learning what it was like to live in an intentional community, share her faith with her peers, live simply on a $60 monthly stipend and work toward social justice.

“This was my first real taste of what religious life could be like,” she said. “This passion to work toward social justice, combined with my desire to live in an intentional faith community, brought me to discern religious life.”

Heeding The Call

After JVC, Sister Anna, focused on her career, serving as a campus minister in the Newman Center at Alfred State University and Alfred State College, Alfred, N.Y., before getting a job as a senior honors adviser for the American Honors Program at Pierce College, Lakewood, Wash.

“I had a great job that paid the bills, my own apartment and car. I was set,” she said. However a few months later, she realized she missed living in an intentional community and sharing her faith with others. Her subsequent meetings with a spiritual director, a vocation director and attending retreats furthered her desire for a vocation in religious life.

“I went nun shopping,” she said, visiting different congregations, “and the more I visited, the more I wanted a community that had a common prayer life that worked in diverse ministries. I kept coming back to the Franciscans. Most of all I loved the way the sisters treated each other and anyone they met – with love, respect and accepting of all. They also have a great sense of humor!”

After six months of discernment, Sister Anna entered the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. During a first year of candidacy in Tacoma, Wash., she lived with the sisters while keeping her full-time job. The following year she entered the novitiate, a two-year-process and the time when she gave up her car and moved to the motherhouse in Aston, Pa. “Novitiate is a time of deep discernment, to focus on my relationship with God to see whether or not I am called to this way of life,” she said. “The challenge of novitiate was to dig deeper and to discover who I really am at the core and to know that God loves me for who I am despite my imperfections.”

Enlightening Experience

As she anticipated professing her first vows, Sister Anna said she used to view the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as “limiting – I can’t do this, I can’t do that.

“Now, after learning about the vows, I see how the vows are an opportunity. Through the vow of chastity, I can be God’s love for others, to the people I minister to, to my community, family and friends. Through mutual obedience, my sisters and I are accountable to each other, we discern decisions together. Through poverty, I empty myself so that God can fill me. I live a life of simplicity to be a steward of resources so that all have access to basic needs and not just a few,” she said.

In her position at the University of San Diego, Sister Anna works as program coordinator for the Center for Student Success, where she supervises the peer mentor program.

“Whenever I think of my vocation story, I think of the phrase ‘God writes straight in crooked lines,’” Sister Anna said. Now that she’s newly professed, she happily joins her fellow sisters in focusing “on who we are, not what we do. Our priority is community to each other – to be ‘Sister’ to everyone we meet.”