Ask any religious about how they came to their vocation and you will hear a love story. Like any love story, it will take twists and turns, going from excitement to doubt, searching to fulfillment. Such is the case for two sisters of St. Joseph who made their final professions within the last two years, after nearly a decade of study and even more years of discernment.
Sister Thuy Tran and Sister Linda Buck were both born in Orange County but their journey to the veil (which incidentally these modern sisters don’t wear) is markedly different.
In July of 1975, Sister Thuy Tran’s parents and siblings were among the many refugees escaping Vietnam shortly after the fall of Saigon. The sisters of St. Joseph received the family and housed them at their motherhouse in Orange until the family could settle into their new life. Soon Mrs. Tran discovered she was pregnant. Within a few months little Thuy was born at St. Joseph’s hospital.
Thuy’s family members were strong Catholics and members of St. Callistus in Garden Grove (the parish is now Christ Cathedral Parish). She had a big family, active social life at Bolsa Grande High School and had planned to go into healthcare. She also had a strong faith and close connection to God. “I think God chose me for the Sisters from the time I was born.” said Sr. Thuy. “However, formation is the work of the soul, body, mind and spirit.”
Despite her firm foundation in the faith, the path to sisterhood was long and thoughtful. “I was looking for someone to make me happy,” said Sister Thuy, “But once I allowed myself to be formed by God, I no longer thought of myself. God’s love is so intense it transforms your heart.” Knowing with certainty one truly has the call to religious life requires a long process of discernment. One important step she took was to go on a silent retreat every year, like a vacation with God. “During the retreats, I was very open to God’s grace in the moment, when you feel God’s grace you know everything is okay. He speaks to me and softens my heart each time.”
Today Sr. Thuy is the coordinator of Mission Services at Mission Hospital where she combines both her interest in healthcare with her spiritual gifts. “Since making my final vows my heart feels more settled. It’s like being married; there is an inner joy in me. Once people allow themselves to encounter the experience with God, they are changed.”
Meanwhile Linda Buck was growing up in Brea in, as she puts it, “A normal, but not overly-Catholic family.” She attended public school and had all the normal experiences of growing up in Orange County during the 1980s. In retrospect, the only hint that she might have a vocation came while attending Mass at St. Angela Merici, where she always insisted on sitting up front where she could be close to the altar.
It wasn’t until high school that she started to be drawn to the spiritual. From adolescence through her years at evangelical Westmont College she explored many religious and spiritual practices from Judaism to Buddhism. Then, in her senior year, as she was walking to her dorm, Linda felt the unmistakable call to be a nun. Her immediate response was: “I don’t think so.”
While Linda was searching for grace in all kinds of places, God had her in his sights. As the call became stronger, she attended an event and felt an immediate affinity for the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She identified with their mission of reconciliation to bring all people to God, through the corporal works of mercy. She eventually met with the director of vocations. She earned a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine, and a master’s in Theology from Loyola Marymount.
When Linda announced to her family that she was entering the novitiate, they were shocked. “My father was upset because he thought my natural creativity and exuberance would be repressed.” Her family all came around when they saw that, rather than being stifled, Linda blossomed. Far from the nuns of old, Sr. Linda expresses her vocation with a modern, engaged energy – she even sports jewelry and colors her hair (just a bit).
While going through a 10-year process toward final vows, Sr. Linda and three of her colleagues founded the Open Door Center for Integrative Healing in Santa Ana. “I have always known there is a strong connection between mental health and spirituality. While the center is based on the spiritual foundation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the center spiritual perspective is very broad, not just Catholic.” Perhaps this harkens back to Sr. Linda’s early attraction to a wide range of spiritual practices.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have had a love affair with Orange County since arriving in Orange in 1920. They have established hospitals, and served the people countless ways. Sr. Thuy and Sr. Linda, two of the many strong and compassionate women who have professed final vows, continue this love story as witnesses God’s unconditional love and fidelity and in the process, have made Orange County a gentler more blessed place.