Sister Isabelle: Student Prepares to Serve Community Through Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy
Sister Isabelle of Our Lady of Hope may look like a typical Carmelite nun in her full-length brown habit and black veil when she’s out helping with yard duty at the St. Philomena Catholic Church Elementary School in Carson, Calif.; however, she is a decidedly atypical image when she’s walking across the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills.
A graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, Sister Isabelle is currently working on her master’s degree in occupational therapy. She says that those with a religious vocation often pursue advanced degrees or professional certificates in order to better serve their communities.
“It’s a goal of our community to have our sisters prepared for whatever they have to do in the apostolate,” says the native of Rockville, Md. “One of my sisters is going for her LVN right now, another sister became a dietitian. Other sisters have gone for training in administration or master’s degrees in teaching and theology. I’ll be caring for the elderly and helping them to have a higher quality of life... serving them with love and compassion.”
Sister Isabelle originally entered college as a biology major with the intention of marrying and having a family. However, her first theology class awakened a deeper curiosity about the Catholic faith she had been raised in. She met members of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, who were also attending the university, and her curiosity was piqued further.
“I used to sit behind them in the chapel at Steubenville,” she says, “and I used to [wonder], ‘What are they all about?’ There was a mystery about them. It’s like my heart was attracted to them. So I got to know them a little bit. But I still wanted to be married.
“It was as I prayed more that I started to realize there was something deep in me that wanted to belong completely to God. He was calling me to be a sister, that’s what was happening. This one holy priest helped me to figure [it] out. He said, ‘If two people ask you to marry them, you can only say yes to one.’ And so, God was asking me to give my whole self to him.”
Sister Isabelle arrived in California in 2002, to visit the Carmelite motherhouse in Alhambra and began her vocation. She spent one year as a candidate, one year of postulancy and two years as a novitiate before taking her first set of vows as a member of a Carmelite community in Alhambra. She is currently in her third year of serving the six years of temporary vows before making them final.
Attending classes at a public and secular institution has not been without moments of culture shock for Sister Isabelle. She says that she is “learning more about the human condition” through classes in subjects such as abnormal psychology.
“As a [nun], I’ve definitely become more aware of different issues that I wasn’t aware of before,” she says. “I’ve learned that a lot of people are suffering.”
Having pledged herself to a life of serving humanity, Sister Isabelle is glad to see that students at CSU Dominguez Hills campus also possess “a sense of fellowship... [as they help each other out].”
“I’m really edified by my teachers and by the students in the occupational therapy program,” she says. “The ones I know the best, that I’m with everyday, [are] very charitable and kind. For example, one student found out that other students were in financial crisis, and tried to collect donations from other students to go toward gas cards [for them].”
Sister Isabelle says that she finds the CSU Dominguez Hills campus an inspirational place, from the natural beauty of the grounds to the diversity of the student population.
“I grew up right outside of Washington D.C. and I’m used to diverse cultures,” she says. “I think it’s beautiful, meeting people from different places and coming together as one family.”
- Joanie Harmon