The Call - S. Diana Durling
“Anytime I’ve had a problem in my life, there’s been the most wonderful people of understanding, and love,” says S. Diana Durling, who is an equally wonderful, understanding, and loving mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
Among those who are dear to her in life is God, who S. Diana describes as a masterful Potter—the clay of her life is continually shaped by that powerful force, which eventually led her to pursue a religious vocation.
“In 1970, circumstances with [my] marriage moved me into the realm of a single parent with family.” The separation marked a difficult time in her life, and, wrestling with “confusion, fear and hurt,” Sister sought the help of a priest. Prior to their initial meeting, she knelt before the brass-and-gold tabernacle of Shrine of the Little Flower Church in tears and appealed to God for guidance. “Moments later I clearly heard the words, ‘Don’t worry, all will be well.’” The feeling of peace that washed over S. Diana then was palpable as she was assured that God was there: “The gentle, loving hands of the Potter held me close.”
For the first decade of her life, S. Diana lived on Huron Island, located on Lake Superior off of the Michigan coast; her father had been stationed there when she was only 6 months old. During those years, she remembers being particularly close to her grandmother, who liked to talk with her about Catholicism: “[My grandmother] would come every summer for a month with us, and while she was there … she would often talk about religion with me, and I would go to Mass with her now and then.” S. Diana’s family was not Catholic, as her mother did not approve of the religion; this was the first she heard about its traditions and rites.
Sister’s exposure to the faith did not stop there, however. In 1944, her family moved onto the Michigan mainland, to tiny Mackinaw City. Here, she had diverse religious encounters, experiencing Methodist and Presbyterian services through the invitations of her friends. But many of the inhabitants of Mackinaw City were Catholic, so she also was invited several times to Mass. These early religious experiences—with her grandmother and with her friends—were essential early steps along the path to religious life; S. Diana believes that this was when the vocational seed was planted. It was the experiences she had with Sisters, however, that cultivated this seed for growth.
During the summer, Dominican Sisters would come down from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to teach Catechism and religion at the church. “…I was so impressed with the Sisters,” recalls S. Diana. “I was impressed with their friendliness, their kindness, their whole demeanor.” This led her to announce to her mother as a seventh grader that she wanted to be a Sister. Her mother reacted quite strongly to this, saying, “Get that idea out of your head, because you’re not even Catholic.”
Years later, after S. Diana was married with children, her daughter Kathy posed a strikingly similar question to her father: “Daddy, how can I become a nun if I’m not Catholic?” The 5-year-old had gotten to know and love the Sisters who ministered at a hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan—here, she went with her family to visit the ailing relatives of their devoutly Catholic next-door neighbors. At that time, S. Diana and her husband had been searching for a church, and their daughter’s innocent inquiry had an important effect. Three weeks after it was posed to them, they made an appointment with a priest to learn more, and decided to enter into the Church soon after.
By the time she went to meet with the priest after experiencing the peace before the tabernacle, S. Diana had gotten to know well the Church which had called to her since she was a child. She had transitioned from teaching in a public school to a Catholic one, and was working with women religious, including S. Katharine Pinto. “[S. Katharine] taught kindergarten … and I was teaching fourth grade,” S. Diana says. “We became very good friends, we shared a lot of prayer, we shared a lot of time together …. Well, that thought way back in the seventh grade came back!” S. Diana began to consider a religious vocation once more.
In 1979, Sister began to reach out to many Congregations, responding to ads in the Catholic Digest. Initially, she kept her interest in religious life to herself, but eventually decided to share it with S. Katharine and others, who encouraged her efforts. Her search finally came to an end when she wrote to S. Rose Margaret Schilling in Colorado about her deliberations, with whom she had become close. It wasn’t long before S. Rose Margaret wrote back, and asked, “Well why not the Charities?”
Strongly identifying with Elizabeth Ann Seton as a “wife, mother, and convert,” S. Diana took S. Rose Margaret’s advice to heart, and began the process of entering into religious life. She was able to secure the annulment she had been advised to get with the help of S. Katharine and other friends after she talked to S. Marcel DeJonckheere (then formation director), and interviewed with S. Helen Flaherty and S. Mark Neumann, then president and vice president, respectively.
On Aug. 15, 1981, the Potter shaped S. Diana into a Sister of Charity, fulfilling the prophetic wish she had expressed to her mother years before. She experienced fully the grace of love and understanding then, which has always filled her days. “I am blest to be called to religious life,” Sister expresses. “I am extremely grateful to God for His blessing upon my life!”
Interviewed by Josh Zeller, Communications intern