Consecrated life can satisfy yearning, says Sr. Vinton

‘It’s a call from God if young women are open to the call,’ says Oshkosh sister

OSHKOSH — Sr. Maria Vinton, a member of the congregation of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, has felt the calling of her vocation since she was in second grade in Eau Claire.

Sr. Maria Vinton, a member of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, is pictured in her office where she offers sandplay therapy, a creative counseling method that allows clients to express themselves by placing miniature figurines in a small sand tray. (Natalie Nelson | Special To The Compass)

The teachers there were members of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother order and she said they encouraged her all through grade school to follow her vocational conviction. After eighth grade, she entered a boarding house school to prepare to become a sister, but the turmoil of Vatican II interrupted.

“I never doubted I had a vocation, but the sisters were very confused at that time and I was dissatisfied with them. ‘I’m going to go home until the nuns grow up,’ I thought. They were struggling so much,” she said.

Sr. Maria finished her senior year of high school at Regis High School in Eau Claire.

“I re-entered (the religious community) a year later after I finished high school. I actually entered the convent during that time of turmoil, and many sisters had left the convent,” she said. “I realized it was God’s call for me because otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed.”

She earned an undergraduate degree in art education from Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, teaching children in grades 1-8 for 10 years at Mother of Perpetual Help in Milwaukee and doing community work for a year.

“Then I was called to go to Rome as general councilor to minister the congregation around the world,” she said. “The general superior is the top authority and I was on the general council to help her. For five years, I lived in Rome.”

When she returned to the United States, she wanted to build on her art skills and use art in a different way. She received a master’s degree in art therapy. “Art therapy helps people psychologically using art, so I am really an art psychotherapist,” she said. “I went into clinical work.”

She worked at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander, Sacred Heart Hospital in Tomahawk and St. Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point, working in in-patient behavioral health and with people in treatment for drug and alcohol issues.

Sr. Maria began using sand play therapy, where patients would select items from a tray of miniatures, rocks and driftwood to create a personal landscape that reflected their lives as they saw them. “They made a picture in sand that would help them look at their life,” Sr. Maria said. “What they put into the sand reflects what their issues are. Often, I had people for only one session, but I would process the tray with them. They would tell me why they put things in and what the meanings of them were. We talked about solutions so they could possibly move forward in their life.”

Sr. Maria said this type of therapy is very effective. “Everything is emotionally charged,” she noted. “Sometimes, they need an outlet of expressing things going on their lives. It’s an opportunity for them to visualize those and put them out there. From some deeper place within, they learn how to address their issues. There’s no right or wrong to it. It’s whatever they need to express at the moment.”

Ninth in a year-long series on men and women religious.

When Sr. Maria was appointed assistant provincial of the U.S./Caribbean province of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, she gave up full-time therapy work but continues as a part-time art therapist at Mercy Medical Center.

The sense of community she has found in the religious life is especially appealing to her.

“As women religious, we do value community,” she said. “Community is one of the reasons I chose the religious life. We have smaller numbers now but shared concerns, and we have the security of an organization and a congregation. Our congregation is fortunate that we are OK financially. Our needs are met, so we are able to concentrate more on our mission in the world and bringing fuller life to others.”

She said many young women today are yearning for a sense of community and could find that in the consecrated life. “The religious life brings you together to eat and pray. You make decisions together about the direction the congregation will go. It’s a call from God if young women are open to the call of being a sister.”

A discernment process is important, said Sr. Maria.

“They discern if they want to get married and also discern if the religious life or single life is a vocation for them from God,” she said. “How do you say ‘no’ to God if you realize it really is a vocation? It really is a call to focus on being that person who has Jesus as a priority in their life.”

Serving God and the church is never-ending, Sr. Maria said. At 65, she has no plans to slow down.

“If you’re capable of giving service to others, your life can be full,” she said. “We often redefine ourselves at each age. We always say we never retire. We may retire from ministry, but we never retire from the mission. As women religious, we serve the church. That’s where we find our niche and our home. It has to be within the ministry of the church.”