GREENVILLE — After two years of contemplating a religious vocation, Virginia Cotter thought she was finally ready to visit some orders for a closer look. When she arrived at the Sisters of Life convent in New York last year, she was in for a shock.
“Most women, and certainly girls, would be shocked at the joy that they will experience with a visit,” Cotter said. “I was on cloud nine for a week after I first visited. I could not believe the genuine joy there; all of these sisters just, like, beam.”
Even so, deciding to dedicate her life to God as a consecrated woman meant a major change in lifestyle for the 28-year-old. She will have to sell her house and other belongings, leave the company of her friends and family, learn a different way to work and dress, and a new way to pray.
“Not many lay persons pray for four or five hours a day, and that’s what the Sisters of Life do,” she said. “I’ll be going on an act of faith. But my parents raised me to do what God called me to do.”
Her parents, Mary and Tim Cotter of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, sent their daughter to Our Lady of the Rosary School for eight years. She graduated from Mauldin High and then from Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic school in Ohio that was recommended by her maternal grandparents, Elizabeth and Richard Wolcott.
Among her post-graduate experiences was a year in Los Angeles living in community with the Volunteers For Life and working in a maternity home for teens. She moved to Wyoming to work with troubled youth and then returned home to work at St. Joseph’s Catholic School.
She has been a college counselor at St. Joseph’s for three years, but Cotter will leave the post to enter the Sisters of Life convent on Sept. 5. Her application to the order was accepted on July 13.
Her first year in the Bronx motherhouse will be spent in further discernment and formation, followed by two more years of formation. She will be permitted two visits home during the first year, and none for the following two.
As a postulant and then a novitiate, Cotter will be integrated into the apostolates of the order, all of which have a strong pro-life flavor.
“We take four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience, and a vow to protect and enhance human life,” she said.
The Sisters of Life community was founded by the late Cardinal John O’Connor, of the Archdiocese of New York, in 1991, after a transformative visit to the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau. The order manages the archdiocesan Respect Life Office and offers help for pregnant women, especially in their Holy Respite homes. They operate missions, including one in Toronto, the Villa Maria Guadalupe Retreat Center in the Bronx and a library of human life issues. The order also gives retreats for women who have had abortions. They are 64 in number, and are young, active and growing fast, Cotter said. The sisters wear simple navy blue and white habits.
Cotter said her years at St. Joseph’s have been good for her, with the opportunity for daily Mass and what she called “a welcoming Catholic community.” She enjoyed working with teens and has advice for any young men or women who think they may be hearing the small voice of God calling them.
“I would say you need to be open to what God’s plan is for you. Consider your options, not just assuming automatically that he wants you to marry and have a family. The thing is, nothing bad comes from discernment,” she said.
Cotter recommends a visit to an order, calling it pain-free.
“They are not pushy in the least. They will never come to you, so any decision is absolutely yours. Even if you do not enter an order, you will come away having seen the beauty of religious communities and will have gained more clarity about what God wants for you,” she said.
She also suggested staying close to the sacraments and preparing to see overwhelming joy in a religious vocation.