NANCY Webb is used to waking up to a full household of 14 people but she’s about to find out if she can handle life with a spiritual family nearly ten times the size.
The young Catholic from Toowoomba is joining the Sisters of Life, a contemplative and active religious community of women founded in New York in 1991 to protect and proclaim the dignity of human life.
In September she will say goodbye to her parents, Sacred Heart Parish, Toowoomba, parishioners Fiona and Paul Webb, and her 11 siblings to be a Sister to more than 100 women who have heard the call to religious life.
“It’s going to be very different having so many women around seeing as I’ve grown up with nine brothers,” Miss Webb said.
As well as preparing to be a Sister to a large group of nuns in New York, the community also calls women to be a Sister to some of north America’s most vulnerable group of women – those facing unexpected pregnancies.
Pregnant women are welcomed as guests into any of the Sisters’ eight convents across the US and Canada, and the Sisters also offer practical and spiritual support for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies as well as those who have had abortions.
Miss Webb said she has always liked making people happy, but the Sisters of Life gave people the news of ultimate joy.
“When I was little I wanted to be a stand up comedian – I wanted people to leave me happier and feeling better about themselves,” Miss Webb said.
“When I heard about the Sisters of Life, they were doing this but on a much deeper level, making people know they are good, unique, and worthy of eternal love.”
Miss Webb first read about the Sisters of Life when she was an 11 year old at the 2008 Sydney World Youth Day.
During the week-long event she received a pamphlet for the Sisters of Life that showed some of their young nuns and the words, ‘To lay down one’s life that others may live’.
“It must have been a Holy Spirit moment because it really struck me and had a bigger impact on than anything else I had seen,” Miss Webb said.
“I wrote to them pretty much straight away when I was 11 years old, and said I was interested in joining.”
A few things kept the enthusiastic discerner from boarding a plane to New York straight away.
“They said I needed to go to high school first, and get a bit older,” Miss Webb said.
“Old enough and mature enough to make such a big decision.”
In obedience to the Sisters, Miss Webb completed high school, earned a Black belt in karate, made a name for herself as an accomplished violinist and pianist, topped her journalism degree, and carved out a career working as a newsreader for ABC Southern Queensland for the past year.
“Everything I did, going to high school, university, getting a job, was all just killing time until I could enter the convent,” Miss Webb said.
“God’s blessed all those efforts – I got a job, the dream job straight out of uni in the industry working for the ABC.
“There was still that pull in my heart, that this was all until I can enter the convent.”
In 2016 having “done all my discernment watching YouTube videos” Miss Webb made the 15,000km journey to New York to meet the Sisters for the first time.
“It turned my vocation journey upside down, in that it made me have no idea if I was called to be a Sister of Life,” Miss Webb said.
“I saw how hard the life was and I knew I wanted that, but it had to be a vocation, I couldn’t choose that as a career.
“I could only survive if it was a call from God.”
The 21-year-old described the next year as “a waiting period” of “not knowing”.
That waiting game ended at a vocations retreat in Brisbane last year.
“The Lord prompted my heart, and told me there was no more waiting,” Miss Webb said.
“I received that prompting to go directly to Sisters of life.”
Miss Webb made a second visit to the Sisters last year before applying to join the order.
She will make her “entrance day” into the convent as a novice on September 8, the feast of the Nativity of Mary.
In the meantime, she will need to find 12 pairs of socks, sort out her visa to America, and watch her older brother, Liam, become the first of 12 children get married in August.
Emotionally, she is preparing her heart for the hardest farewell to her friends, whom she might never see again, and a large, loving family she’ll be lucky to see again in one year.
“The other week we had a musical, and I was seeing my brother on stage and realising it’s the last time I will see him perform,” Miss Webb said.
“So that’s a lot to process, for it to all sink in.
“There is a lot in preparing my heart to let go of all that.”
Fortunately the next eight years of religious discernment won’t be in solitude – her younger brother, Nathan Webb, is in his third year at Holy Spirit Seminary, Queensland studying to be a priest.
“For Nathan and I to have that shared vocation journey so far has been really great,” Miss Webb said.
“We get to compare notes, and I’ve been able talk to him about his experience of community life after living in a big close family and moving to a different family.”
Miss Webb will be the third Australian woman in the Sisters of Life community, which has houses in New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Denver, and Toronto.
One Australian professed her first vows last year while another will profess vows this month.
Postulant director for the Sisters of Life, Sr Mariae Agnus Dei, said it was “grace and mystery” that God was calling women from the other side of the world to be consecrated to their particular community.
“In truth, I can only wonder and stand in awe at God’s initiative to stir up grace in the hearts of women on the other side of the world to discern a vocation with the Sisters of Life,” Sr Agnus Dei said.
“All I can say is that the Holy Spirit is up to something and wants Australia to be part of it in the courageous faith of these beautiful women daring to let the Lord lead them to discern this radical call of love.”