When Sister Isaac Marie Breckler, OP, a native of Avilla, makes her final vows in the Community of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, at 10 a.m. July 25, her focus will be on future commitments. Those include daily eucharistic adoration and teaching high school science, in line with her order’s drive to serve the new evangelization and “to contemplate and give to others the fruits of our contemplation.”
Experiences of personal witness and prayer that she recalled in her family, in St. Mary of the Assumption Parish and its school in Avilla, at Bishop Dwenger High School and at the University of St. Francis combined to reveal a roadmap for discerning God’s call to a vocation in the religious life.
“I’m very grateful to the diocese,” Sister Isaac Marie said. “It’s a great place, because the faith is lived.”
She reflected on many steps that advanced her toward her 2009 entry into the growing Sisters of Mary in Ann Arbor, a religious order consecrated to Jesus through Mary, dedicated largely to Catholic K-12 education and credited with a national impact two decades after its founding.
Crucial steps were taken early as Sister Isaac Marie grew up on a small farm in Noble County, part of a family that prayed the rosary together every night. Her mother frequented daily Mass; her uncle, Father Glenn Kohrman, a longtime priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, provided inspiration, and she attended St. Mary Catholic School.
“I realize now what a rare privilege it was to have religious sisters still at the school,” she said. Two members of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart taught her in first grade and in middle school. “They were wonderful, joyful religious, so I had that witness throughout my formative years.”
Sister Theresa’s classes in middle school read biographies of saints, making the young student more interested in religious life and affirming that “holiness is attractive.”
Sister Isaac Marie and her classmates attended the all-school Masses celebrated annually by then-Bishop John D’Arcy. “At all of the Masses, he emphasized the universal call to holiness and the fact that God has a plan for each and every one of us,” she recalled. “He taught us a little prayer: ‘Lord, teach me, help me to know my vocation in life.’ He challenged us to pray that every day. I took him up on that. Really, that daily prayer and realizing God does want us to be saints opened me up to whatever God’s will was, whether it was to marriage or religious life.”
When she came to Bishop Dwenger in 2004, where “Saints” was the school nickname, she remembered that the chaplain echoed the advice. “He would tell us to pray, ‘Lord, make me a saint no matter what it takes.’” By this time, she was considering a religious calling more seriously. “It was a blessing to be in a Catholic school and to be able to stop in the chapel for a few minutes each day and pray, ‘Lord, is this really your will for me?’ It was an incredible time of grace.”
The high school student attended a few discernment retreats hosted by the Dominican Sisters of Mary and spoke with the vocation director, who was one of the order’s foundresses. Perhaps the best-known foundress is Mother M. Assumpta Long, OP, who has spoken widely and made appearances on the EWTN network.
Upon graduation from Dwenger, generous scholarships helped her to enroll in Fort Wayne’s University of St. Francis, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. Her plans for chemistry and secondary education studies were accompanied by regular eucharistic adoration and daily Mass on campus. At that time the invitation to religious life was becoming more urgent, and she decided, “if God’s calling, why wait?” Despite her scholarships and her developing career path, she left the school after her freshman year and entered the Ann Arbor Motherhouse as a postulant.
The next year immersed her in formation as a Dominican and as a member of the community. Two years as a novice followed, introducing her more closely to the teaching apostolate and preparing her for the profession of temporary vows. After that milestone, she returned to university life for a degree in education and certification as a science teacher.
Studying chemistry on the campus provided new experiences and opportunities, she recalled. “One time, a fellow student waited for me after class and asked, ’Hey, Sister, what are you doing here? I thought the church was against science.’ That was an opportunity to have a conversation.” She told the student, “faith and reason do not conflict.”
The false dichotomy separating science from faith in many people’s minds is a subject about which Sister Isaac Marie has strong opinions.
“I love science — looking at the beauty and order of creation,” she said. “As a farmer’s daughter, I learned to marvel at God, who is ‘far more excellent’ than his works’ (Wisdom 13:3).” Over the past two years, concluding her five years of temporary vows, she has been teaching chemistry and physics at Father Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Ann Arbor. She welcomes as teachable moments any questions about the apparent science-religion split. “It’s fun to have those conversations with students.”
Sister Isaac Marie is scheduled to continue her teaching duties at the Ann Arbor school following her permanent vows, but she is prepared to accept as God’s will any future changes in duties; assignments are given to members of the order on a year-by-year basis.
She is grateful that the Dominican charism of preaching is such a good fit with a love of teaching she developed early on; her older sister is a teacher, and she also attributes that love to her profound experiences growing up in schools in the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese.
Many things came together to bring peace and trust in God during her faith journey, with help from caring Catholic witnesses and structures to nurture excellence. But this faith-filled lover of science, making a lifelong commitment of self-donation and consecration on July 25, acknowledges the need to embrace mystery, not just connect dots or tally data.
“The call to religious life can’t be explained in that kind of scientifically measurable way,” said Sister Isaac Marie. “God makes His will known in ways you can’t really describe.”
Key steps in developing a sense of vocation — and a receptivity to it — can be traced in the path she has taken from Avilla to Ann Arbor. Ultimately, wherever one’s discernment might lead, “you have to make that leap of faith and trust.” She added, “God loves us more deeply than we can understand. Doing his will, even in moments when we don’t understand it, brings peace and joy that only he can give. “
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