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It was the spring of 2009. Cecilia Norris was eight years old and had just received Our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time in the sacrament of first holy Communion. A time of excitement and grace, her mom Therese took her to Mass for the following nine days, a novena of Masses. At one of those Masses, some sisters from the Chaldean Sisters, Daughters of Mary Immaculate were there, and Cecilia’s mom introduced her to them. “Young,” “in the habit,” and “glorious,” is how Cecilia remembers them. This interaction would ultimately be harkened back to years later and looked back on as the first “tug” from God. Now Sister Cecilia, she recalls, “Seeing the habit and the joyful sisters, I just remember that’s where the first instance of feeling like, ‘Hey maybe the Lord is asking this of you.’”

Sister Cecilia grew up in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The fifth out of six kids, she describes herself as outgoing, “pretty competitive” and someone who loves spending time with friends. Part of a vibrant, Midwestern family, the Norris kids loved their backyard swing set. Sports frequented the calendar and sibling bike rides were a favorite activity. Her family attended Our Lady of Sorrows Parish where she and her brothers altar served. And Sister Cecilia went to the adjoining school through eighth grade. She fondly remembers her time there, “That was really a beautiful time of the faith being passed down to me and seeing it lived out.”

Throughout her earlier years, Sister Cecilia lived the typical, active life many school-going girls do. She played basketball, field hockey and threw shotput and discus in high school for Farmington High. She had various career aspirations. She was into music. She planned out where she was going to go to college. All throughout, however, this thought of religious life kept coming back to her, especially that image of those “glorious” sisters. In sixth grade, Sister Cecilia asked her CCD director, “What do I do about this?” And in middle school, she casually mentioned to her mom, “You know I might be a sister.”

It was in college though when her vocation became less of a recurring thought and more of a pursuit. Sister Cecilia went to Michigan State University where she studied Accounting and had plans of becoming a Certified Public Accountant. Like most college freshmen, she reveled in her new and spirited college experience and could be found in the stands at all the basketball and football games. Located near MSU was the St. John Newman Center, and it was here where she found camaraderie and support in a solid group of friends who shared her belief in Jesus. By now, Sister Cecilia had developed a devout sacramental life, but her friends still had a powerful impact on her. “By their example, I was integrating more of what I believed into my daily life,” Sister Cecilia remembers. And they guided her along her vocation journey. After a friend who led the Bible study group shared he held a priestly discernment group in high school, a light bulb went off for Sister Cecilia, “I was like oh my gosh! He has discerned religious life and he didn’t become a priest. I can do the same thing. I can check out this call that I think I’m feeling to religious life and that doesn’t mean I’m going to be in the convent right away.” It took the pressure off discernment and gave her the encouragement she needed.

Not long into college, God’s plan for Sister Cecilia came into focus and these internal stirrings from the Holy Spirit became more frequent. Reflecting on that time, she now describes it as “the Holy Spirit preparing my heart.”

Suggested by a priest at the Newman Center, Sister Cecilia visited the Diocese of Lansing’s discernment house and heard about a retreat her future chosen order, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, were having at a nearby high school. “In adoration, the Lord made it abundantly clear that he was asking me to live this life with this community, but he wasn’t asking me to do it then.” She was in her sophomore year of college and wrestled with this clear invitation from the Lord. 

By that fall, Sister Cecilia had given herself a “deadline.” The Sisters of Mary were holding a discernment retreat with the entire community in November. She’d attend and either subsequently contact the community or begin to pursue other opportunities at college. November arrived and so did an invitation from her sisters to go see The Surfaces perform at The Royal Music Theater. She backed out of the retreat and went to the concert and loved it, but her heart sank. She knew there was something there for her in Ann Arbor that the Lord was inviting her to. The call was clearer than ever. “It was the God of the universe who’s asking me, who knew me so intimately to do this and he’s asking me to do this now. Say, ‘yes!’ with all the gusto you can,” Sister Cecilia says.

A junior in college, Sister Cecilia called the Dominican Sisters of Mary and together they began discerning. In February, she was able to attend the same discernment retreat that she missed four months prior, and from there the Holy Spirit aided in logistics coming together and a smooth transition. Sister Cecilia realized she could graduate a year early by completing online classes throughout the summer at her parents’ house; so she did. In June at the start of summer, Sister Cecilia headed for Ann Arbor to spend a week with the Dominican Sisters of Mary for pre-postulancy week. “I felt so incredibly alive. It was like it was tailor-made for me. I don’t think I stopped smiling. I felt the joy and freedom of the life. The Lord covered me in tremendous consolation. I felt more fully myself, like the life was flowing from me and revealing more of my authentic self. I had so much joy and adventure. It seemed natural.” To Sister Cecilia’s utmost delight, she learned she was accepted into the order on the last day of her stay with the sisters. “Knowing that I’d begin to live this life and receive all the graces it has to offer was exciting. Learning that the community had discerned and come to the same conclusion: that I should enter, be formed by the life and discern the vows gave me deep peace.”

Sister Cecilia spent that summer with her family and prepared to enter. In what she says felt similar to a bridal shower, her mom got some friends together and they worked to sew the aprons Sister Cecilia would need to enter the convent. In August, she graduated from college and on the twenty-second of that month, the feast of the Queenship of Mary, 22-year-old Cecilia became “Sister Cecilia” and formally entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary as a postulant.

Sister Cecilia is coming up on completing her year of postulancy, her first full year as a sister. In July, “God-willing” as she says, she will receive the habit complete with a white veil and enter the next phase of her vocational discernment as a novice.

Sister Cecilia’s near-lifelong discernment was anything but linear. Even with occasional reassurance from the Holy Spirit, it at times left her questioning if she had what it took to follow the Lord’s calling. What grounded her and kept her moving forward was unceasingly praying, “Jesus, I trust in you.” And now looking back on her story, Sister Cecilia says to anyone who may be discerning to see discernment as an adventure: “There’s always going to be something new that’s going to challenge you and that’s going to stretch you and it’s going to poke you, but that’s a part of the adventure so lean into that and trust in the Lord as a good father.”