By Emilie Ng
PROGRAMMING robots to walk and designing smart phone games, used to be some of Sr Maria Goretti Tran’s top inventions.
“I really loved inventing things,” Sr Maria Goretti, who holds a computer science degree, said. “In the subject at school, I made a small helicopter, and made the remote control to make it fly, fly, fly. I made a small cat to run, and at home, I liked to make something for my house, like a light where you can you clap your hand to turn it on and off.
“I really loved what I studied, I really loved life but I just found that I wanted to live for others rather than myself.”
Now the Vietnamese-born religious sister is doing just that, and making different human inventions as a first-year novice in Australia.
“My invention is not just to fly a helicopter, but my invention is to make people smile,” Sr Maria Goretti said.
The 28-year-old Sister of St Paul de Chartres, an international missionary congregation, came to Australia three years ago after working with poor Vietnamese living in rural villages “distracted” her computer science career.
“After I graduated as an engineer, I worked in a company making the games for mobile phones and iPods,” Sr Maria Goretti said. “I worked for nearly two years. I can program the chips in phones, make the programs and make the games for it.
“I really loved the work and I really loved the subject that I studied at school. I even wanted to study abroad in America, to study a Masters and study to become a scientist. But then, there was something else inside me and made me think a lot, especially when I did social work in the parish or rural areas.
“I often travelled a lot, and I found that there was a difference between the life of many people around me. Some lived a very comfortable life, happy life, like myself, and some were very unfortunate.”
Sr Maria Goretti felt drawn to work with the poor, and helped small children who could not afford an education to read and write, while also organising fundraisers to build better churches for the rural villagers.
“I loved the poor children and the poor people I met, and from time to time, when I was working, I also got distracted because I remembered all those faces that I met,” she said. “They are not rich, not educated at all, and some didn’t have work, and some are older and cannot do anything.
“All the faces just come up to my mind and made me think a lot. There must be something else in my life I haven’t looked at.”
Sr Maria Goretti said curiosity and pride motivated her to not just win robotic competitions, but to validate her self-worth.
“I always tried to affirm myself, to think that I am something really good, and maybe many boys will look at me,” Sr Maria Goretti said. “When I did this kind of social work, I just realised that life was more than what I’m trying to reach. Life is not just about working and study, but how about your relationship between people, and how to make people happy, and you yourself happy.
“I found myself thinking, the way I’m going is not really a straight way, or a way direct to God. I felt that my heart wanted to beat for something else.”
Sr Maria Goretti was not only letting go of her career, but also a working vocation to marriage.
“I had a boyfriend, but there was just some moments in my heart that want to live for others rather than myself,” she said.
“My boyfriend, he is a very good Catholic, and he also taught me how to pray, and do all the work that helps people. He was a youth leader and catechist. He also used to live in religious life. But then he stopped living religious life, and the next step, I was trying to get in.
“We intended to get married, but I am very decisive, I suppose, and very bossy. I said to him, it’s really hard but I think I want to live the life that you left behind. And then it was the first time in my life I saw someone cry. It really broke my heart.
“But once I decided, he loved me by respecting me. So I really had a holy boyfriend, the one who really knows what is happiness and what love is.”
While her boyfriend offered to help her investigate several orders, because of his knowledge of religious discernment, he also offered to wait for Sr Maria Goretti.
“I hope he did not,” Sr Maria Goretti said. “I really thank God for the good man that I met. He meant a lot to me, and he taught me how to love, not with a closed heart but an open one.”
After breaking up with her boyfriend, finding a congregation to match her personality came quickly, yet unexpectedly. A congregation in Germany referred the computer science engineer to the French-founded Sisters of St Paul de Chartres, a popular order in Vietnam, but not one that Sr Maria Goretti had considered joining.
“I remembered I had a friend going to Australia to join to Sisters of St Paul de Chartres, and I thought, maybe the Holy Spirit is leading me this way,” she said. “So I contacted my friend, but at that time she was supposed to fly to Australia that night. So, I thought, maybe I will join another convent in Vietnam because now she’s gone.
“Early in the morning I opened the computer and received an email from the friend who said she would go, but she didn’t, she couldn’t because the police said she was missing this paper, that paper, and to go home. We both came here later on.”
Learning how much the sisters dedicate themselves to the poor was the final inspiration Sr Maria Goretti needed.
“When I read the way they work and dedicate their life to God and others, I was really inspired and moved,” Sr Maria Goretti said. “I wanted to be like them.”
Sr Maria Goretti said living in Australia was fulfilling her dream to live for others.
“My life is for others,” she said. “If I can make a robot to walk or do something, it just really still can be a robot – it cannot be a human being. But if I can help a leper walk, or even the elderly here, just accompany them to Mass or help them walk, I’m helping something more than robot.”