By TIM BULLARD
FLORENCE — Linda Regina Tarte is on her way — not to some point on a map — but beginning a journey to become a Felician Franciscan.
The religious order operates a mission in Kingstree, the St. Ann’s Outreach Center, and that’s where Tarte met two Felician nuns, Sister Johnna Ciezobka and Sister Mary Susanne Dziedzic, who run the operation.
“I went down and had a meeting with them to talk about becoming a religious. Then one thing led to another, and I started going down and volunteering,” she said. “They have a wonderful outreach there.”
As for wanting to become a nun, Tarte explained, “I have thought about it off and on my whole life, right down to when I was in Catholic school as a child, but as a lot of us do, we push it out of our mind. It kept coming back off and on throughout my life, and I just kept putting it to the back. Then a few years ago it came forward again, and it wouldn’t go away. There was no pushing it back.”
Tarte’s career background is in automotive management. She worked as a parts manager at an import dealership for 25 years. Then, she took a job as general manager of a Western Auto store, where she was employed for five years.
“It was during that time that the realization hit me that this is not the life for me, that money and possessions and all is just not for me. This was not bringing me happiness, so I started looking,” said Tarte, a 49-year-old cradle Catholic. ” I knew I had reached that point in my life where this was right. This was the right journey to be on.”
Her father is Baptist and is very proud of her. “He is extremely supportive,” she said, as are Sisters Ciezobka and Dziedzic.
“We are absolutely delighted,” said Sister Dziedzic. “Linda offers a great balance in her life and a maturity. Other people her age should really consider this. It’s common today for people to go through three or four occupational changes in their lives. That’s usually done with a great deal of thought. Linda is a prayerful person. The vocational call has really been evident to her.”
She continued, “Nowadays people are coming with varied backgrounds. There is dialogue of using the talents of the person and supporting the ministries that the order is involved in. There is a lot more dialogue these days.”
Tarte has been accepted as a candidate by the Felicians, and she will enter the order in Coraopolis, Pa., as a member of the Pittsburgh Province. She is hoping to become a postulant in January, and afterwards she will become a novice. During that period, she will do some religious studies, examining the history of the order, Scripture, and becoming more acquainted with the different ministries of the congregation. It can take up to seven years to make a final profession.
Sister Dziedzic described her post-Vatican II formation in the order as a time of experimentation in religious life, blending tradition with post-Vatican II newness. “It was very exciting for me,” she said.
The nun became acquainted with the Felician sisters because she was taught by them in grade school and high school, and she thinks new members will come to the order through the same kind of personal contact. “Every religious community has a vocation director or directors who actually do recruitment, but I think the best tool is really just the role modeling from the existing religious,” said Sister Dziedzic.
Tarte has had that type of interaction since she has been volunteering at the outreach center on Thorn Avenue the last year-and-a-half.
“Their ministry down there, as with all the Felicians, is the preservation of human dignity, and the entire center operates around that. The beauty is to be down here in South Carolina, where 3 percent of the population is Catholic, and they have been able to pull the whole community together,” said Tarte. “Various denominations come and help and get involved. It is absolutely beautiful. The sisters are actually asked to go speak at other churches, like the Methodist churches, Presbyterian churches, and AME churches.”
The outreach offers after-school programs Monday through Friday. Children come there after classes, and they are helped with their homework by volunteer tutors. The students are given something to eat, and they can play games. Youngsters can also go on trips as a reward for good behavior. The sisters also assist the underprivileged with their eyeglasses and dental work as well as a clothing closet run by people from the neighborhood.
“Safe Place” was dedicated several years ago at the center. It’s a fenced-in area where youths can come play basketball and know that they are safe.
“Where they are located is extremely poor, and it is a rough area,” said Tarte. “The sisters wanted a place where the children would be able to come and play, and they would be safe. Their convent is right next door to the center.”
One of Tarte’s main volunteer activities in Kingstree has been a meal offered at the end of each month called the Blessed Angela free lunch. Not only does the would-be nun serve the food, but she brings other volunteers from Florence, too.
“She goes beyond,” Sister Dziedzic said. “She’s going to make a wonderful sister.”
Said Tarte, “This order is a contemplative, active one. I was looking for a deep prayer life and apostolic ministry combined.”