By Angelica Casas
With a wide smile, Sister Joyce Detzel grabs two photographs that sit behind her desk and explains that in one is her small grandson and in the other is her son, her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter.
As any other mother, Detzel is proud to show off her son’s family. But unlike almost all but two sisters of the Congregation of Divine Providence, Detzel can say she was married and had a child before taking her vows into consecrated life.
“Some people say it’s the best of both worlds,” Detzel said. “Yes and no. It can also be the worst of both worlds.”
Detzel, a CDP and a vocations director for the Congregation, knew she wanted to be a nun since she saw one for the first time at age five. But she did not know then that Protestants, as her adopted German parents raised her, could not be nuns.
Still, the idea would flood her thoughts. “God, I’m not even Catholic,” she remembers thinking in her adolescence.
Detzel did not explore Catholicism until she was a freshman at Defiance College and later the University of Dayton. There, she majored in religious studies and later also received her master’s and law degrees.
But her conversion was not easy. Her parents disowned her and she was on her own discerning God’s call for her life.
“You don’t know that there is prejudice that exists until you step out of the norm,” Detzel said, adding that the norm in her small hometown of Sycamore, Ohio was to be protestant.
Detzel then pursued religious life, but severe health problems put her at a standstill. She felt abandoned by her parents and forsaken by God.
“My image of God changed at this point,” Detzel said. “This God that had always protected me then turned around. “‘Who is this God,’ I would think. I stopped going to church because it was painful.”
After she recuperated, she thought the consecrated life was no longer an option. She married and was the stepmother of five children. She then had her first child, Michael, at 24.
Her marriage soon ended when her son was only six months. She returned to school and dedicated her life and career to him.
When Michael was 16, she decided it was time for her to follow the calling that never left her subconscious.
Now a CDP in San Antonio, Detzel sees how God worked in her life to prepare her for the present.
“It’s never too late.”
Q: How were you able to become a nun after marriage?
A: The separation was very difficult. [Michael and I] moved into an apartment going into foreclosure. There was no heat and ice froze on my bedside. I had to send Michael back to his dad. I worked very hard to get us back into a better place. Someone suggested me going back to school. When he was five, he went to kinder and I went to law school. We moved into a very stable part of our life. I did date but decided not to. It’s easier to explore vocation than a marriage. I didn’t know it was possible to be a nun and have kids. But it’s not unusual. You need to be widowed or have an annulment. Someone who only divorced could not make vows. You should also have no financial responsibilities and be free of financial debt. I looked at groups that were close by because I wasn’t ready to leave. I joined a small women’s group but it was clear to me that it wasn’t the right fit. That moved me to San Antonio, where I met the sisters of the Congregation of Divine Providence.
Q: Was it easy to find where you belonged?
A: Our life takes these twists and turns and we hit obstacles at different times. I was with a dream and a God-given call that didn’t manifest itself clearly. Some people have it easy. At one point, God picked me up by the scruff of the neck and dropped me [in San Antonio]. A vocation is such a precious, precious thing. God always is with us women of Providence. That was a big part of discovering. I was already a woman of Providence before I became a sister of Providence. But I think a woman with a dual vocation has two separate vocations both with rules and responsibilities. That can’t happen in all groups, but it can happen here. Providence is about relationships. It doesn’t take a long leap to see how we honor and value the vocation of motherhood.
Q: What was your son’s reaction to you pursuing the consecrated life once he was older?
A: My son has always known that in my heart of hearts, it’s what I wanted to do. The way he put it: “Mom, I feel a call to marriage. It’s hard for me to imagine anything other than that. It’s the same for you. You’ve raised me to be a person to always love and support you.” The essence of Providence is that God is always going to provide. My fear as a mother was to not be able to provide to my child. Now I have a call to provide for all children.
Q: How do other sisters of the congregation react towards your motherhood?
A: I don’t have any sense of feeling different. Everything is a Providence story and my life is just another. All of the sisters filled in the blanks to my life and assumed different things. No matter the story they imagined, they all accepted me. It doesn’t matter what the past story was, what matters is the present reality and how that story is used to honor God and bring forth life to others.
Q: What would you say to someone considering the consecrated life?
A: Don’t be afraid to explore. Maybe that is enough. We explore everything else in life, why not explore the best? It’s amazing to me that people aren’t banging the doors to get in here. This is a good life.