SALT LAKE CITY — Like many Catholic children, as a small child Sr. Bertha Owusuaa from Sunyani, Ghana wanted to join a religious order when she grew up. Also, like others, as she grew that feeling left her, but as a teenager in high school it returned. This time she knew it was more than childhood admiration for the sisters.
She told her friends of her feelings, and shortly after, a friend returning from a conference brought her a brochure from the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. She tucked it in a textbook and promptly forgot about it. Later Sr. Bertha made friends with a Holy Cross brother and shared with him her feelings that she was being called to religious life. He gave her a brochure that looked familiar. When Bertha returned home, she pulled out the one her friend had given her and found they were identical. To her, it was a sign that God was calling her to minister with the Holy Cross sisters. So she then made a seven-hour journey and visited the Holy Cross sisters in Kasoa, Ghana.
“What I felt was that this was where I belonged,” she said. However, the sisters urged her to consider all orders, not just theirs. “They were willing to journey with me whatever decision I made,” she said. “That alone made me want to be part of the Holy Cross sisters.”
While some of her family members were supportive, two brothers were not. In their matriarchal society, they felt that by choosing a life where she would not have children, their sister was turning her back on the legacy of their mother, who died when Sr. Bertha was 14. They also wanted her to attend university first, but Sr. Bertha felt a strong pull to begin her religious life.
“I wanted to go with what was calling me first,” she said. “I was afraid I might lose the feeling.”
Eventually, as the family learned more and began to understand how committed she was, they came around and they all gave their blessing. After she graduated from high school, Sr. Bertha began a three-month discernment process. At the conclusion, she became a candidate/postulant and began a two-year process of living in community, studying and working alongside the sisters as a novice in the order’s motherhouse in Indiana.
Along the formation journey, each candidate spends a great deal of time in self-evaluation to make sure the religious life is right for her, Sr. Bertha said.
At one point, some of the Holy Cross sisters visited Sr. Bertha’s family to help ease the transition. “They told me it’s like getting married and bringing two families together,” she said.
At first, Sr. Bertha regretted her decision to postpone university, because all the sisters and even her band mate (another novice going through formation with her) had received higher education, but she realized it did not matter to the sisters. In June 2017, she became a novice elect in a special ceremony where she received the wooden cross she wears around her neck.
In mid-September, Sr. Bertha came to Salt Lake City for a three-month mission. Because she has an interest in finances, she is working in the diocese’s financial office, at the Skaggs Catholic Center financial office and at Comunidades Unidas and staying with the sisters of the Holy Cross in Draper. Sr. Bertha has enjoyed here time here so far. She is learning a lot about finances from the women in those departments but also about building relationships with those around her, she said.
Next summer she will petition the Holy Cross community for permission to profess temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Then she will spend five years living those vows before she professes perpetual vows. She then hopes to return to the Holy Cross community in Ghana and to complete a university education.
Sr. Bertha advises those who feel they may be discerning a calling to religious life to be prayerful and to look for ways God may be speaking to them through prayer. She also suggests they may receive answers through studying the Bible.
“Believe in God’s intervention,” she said. “Even after your decision, still pray. You never know when the answers to the questions you ask will come out.”