You would find it difficult to read in her manner any trace of the fear and loneliness that led to and followed her immigration to the United States, nor would you pick up on the wounds of rejection that met her here when she found herself pregnant, with no place to live and no possibility of support. Veronica's story finds itself within the heart and mission of Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent (SHJ), where she was a guest for sixteen months. "Being here (at SHJ) changed me, it made me a whole person again." She pauses, then nods her head and says with quiet certainty, "It was all the work of the Lord."
When John Cardinal O'Connor founded the Sisters of Life twelve years ago, one of his hopes was that the sisters would one day be able to invite mothers in need like Veronica, to live in their convents with them, to find within their walls a true sanctuary of peace, "a holy respite." The sisters provide mothers with practical necessities enabling them to give life to their unborn children, but as women consecrated to the love and life of Jesus Christ, they offer something far beyond those necessities. Their joy comes in sharing the love of God with their guests, the love that first brought them into existence, the love that continues to love through sin and fear, regardless of failure or success, the love that loves not for what a person does, not for what they are perceived as, but loves each person deeply, for who they are as an irreplaceable child of God.
Veronica, now twenty-seven, was told that if she were to choose life for her unborn child she could not remain where she had been living before her pregnancy. Understandably anxious, it was not until the Sisters of Life called to tell her a room was available at Sacred Heart that she felt some peace. She says of that phone call, "I was going to keep this baby. That was the main thing. It wasn't. I have a place to live, it was " I'm going to be able to have this baby." After her move into the convent she found that, "Suddenly I was in the middle of love." Her response? "I thought this is too much love for me, I can't handle all this love! Because it's not one person loving you, it's not just two. It's all of them giving you the same love. It's not even like one person giving you twenty percent, one person ten or five percent. Everyone is giving you one hundred percent of the love you need."
She tells of her relationship with the sisters: "They were always willing to share your sadness, your happiness, to be by your side. That was what I've always been looking for, someone close to me. I came from one situation in Liberia, fell into another situation when I got here. This was a big break for me, having someone to listen to me, knowing someone is praying for me." Now, even having moved out of the convent, Veronica is able to say "I can wake up in the morning and know I'm not alone."
On Sunday, March 12, 2000, Veronica woke up knowing that, as she puts it, "today was the day I was going to see my baby's face." She kept the fact that she was in labor to herself, preferring instead to prepare for the arrival of her new baby by attending Mass remaining standing at one point because of a contraction!) and taking pains to look her best. She laughs as she says with dramatic relish: "I wanted my baby to see what a cute mama he has!" She waited until the last possible moment to inform the sisters of her child's impending birth and then dashed out to the hospital with Sister Marie Regina and Sister Mary Sara where thirty minutes later Dayton, a beautiful baby boy, was presented to his "cute mama."
On the Feast of Corpus Christi of the Jubilee Year 2000, Veronica and Dayton both received the Sacrament of Baptism and were born into the Church. That same day Veronica received her first Holy Communion and Confirmation. It was, for Veronica, a huge day, I will always remember it.
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