After Christina Skelley graduated from Washington University, it seemed like her life had fallen into place. Years of searching led her to the Catholic Church … and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. She became active in campus ministry and then landed her dream job, working for the Chicago Symphony.
She got an apartment with her best friend in Chicago and was dating a young man. She loved city life and at lunch would walk to a nearby church for daily Mass. Jesus had indeed blessed her. Everything seemed perfect … but then something changed.
“I felt a nagging sense that I was living my second-best life,” she recalled. “When I came across the passage from Scripture that said, ‘I remember how you loved me as a bride’ in Jeremiah, I got the sense that Christ wanted more, he wanted me to marry him in religious life.”
She immediately pushed back and thought, “How could I, an only child, do this to my parents, who weren’t even Catholic?”
Thus began months of searching along a path she started on as a little girl, a little girl who was looking for something more … and that something more was Jesus.
The search for God
Christina grew up outside of Chicago, the only child of two high school teachers, James and Susan, who loved her dearly and gave her a strong sense of the importance of education, although they rarely talked about religion. “As a teenager, I became skeptical of any faith that went beyond scientific proof,” she recalls. “And yet I occasionally attended church with my paternal grandparents, Burton and Barbara, who were faithful Protestant Christians. I felt a longing for something deeper that I couldn’t push away.”
They gave her a children’s Bible, which she read, and her grandmother taught her to play the piano, which became a form of prayer for Christina.
“As a child, I had an openness to the faith even though I didn’t know a lot,” she said. “I knew the Christmas story, but didn’t know about the cross or much of anything else.”
Although the thought of becoming Christian was in the back of her mind, as a teenager she resisted the idea of joining a religion that would tell her what to do or “would say who would and would not go to heaven.”
However, her lifelong best friend Eleanore was a Catholic, and when Christina visited her family, she was exposed to grace before meals and prayers including the Hail Mary. “Even though I didn’t think I wanted to be Catholic,” she recalls, “there was something about the way they lived that was a strong power of example.”
In high school, she had considered pursuing a career in science; however, when she enrolled in Washington University in St. Louis, she entered the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities and minored in French and music.
A rational and logical thinker, she spent her teen years searching for proof of God’s existence, until finally conceding, “The answers are bigger than I can understand. I wanted rational proofs but the meaning of the universe was not going to fit into my little brain.”
“After my first year at Washington University, my beloved grandmother died suddenly, and my quest to figure out my beliefs became more urgent,” she recalled. “I longed to be a self-sufficient adult, yet I was beginning to realize that I desperately needed God and other people.”
She tried to understand the Resurrection from a rationalist perspective but eventually realized there was no rational explanation for Jesus’ rising from the dead because it went beyond science. By the end of her sophomore year, she began to explore different religions and attended services in her pursuit of God. Her parents accepted her decision and told her, “If that’s what makes you happy.”
When she returned to college in the fall, she started to going to Mass, partly because her mother had been raised a non-practicing Catholic. Soon, she was given a deep sense of the reality of the Eucharist and says, “I realized how much I wanted to be a part of that, of receiving his Body in the Eucharist.”
The call of the Catholic Church
“After searching and praying for guidance, I awoke one morning with a clear sense that God was directing me to the Catholic Church,” she said. “I got up the nerve to go to the Catholic Student Center and was introduced to the sister who was the RCIA director.”
In 2006, she received the sacraments at Washington University and became part of the community at the center, and at the end of her senior year, she was accepted for a post-graduate year of service in campus ministry.
During this time, she began to have an inkling that she might be called to the religious life; however, she accepted what she thought was her dream job in arts administration with the Chicago Symphony.
“I had been in Chicago for a year when I started to get a sense that I was living my second-best life,” she said. “I had everything I could want at this point, so why was I having this sense of looking for something else, for something more?”
She was attending daily Mass, she was active in her parish, and she was praying regularly. The thoughts about religious life persisted, but she tried to push them out of her mind for almost a year.
“God was getting through to me, and I knew I would not be at peace on another path, so I said, “OK, God, I’ll look into it.”
She reached out to several religious, including Sister Virginia Herbers, ASCJ, who had worked with her in campus ministry at the Student Center, and Sister asked her, “Is this search more about what you do or who you are?”
“Who I am,” Christina responded immediately.
She also met Sister Colleen Smith, then vocation director of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and currently Director of Mission Advancement. They got together for lunch at a Chipotle in Chicago and discussed her discernment.
A Bride of Christ
Christina still had hesitations but agreed to visit Clelian Heights School for students with special needs in Greenberg, Penn. After a few days, she concluded, “I could see myself here. The Apostles were deeply prayerful and down-to-earth joyful people, and their prayer and relationships with Christ flowed out into the rest of their lives.”
“My heart had been searching so long, and then I felt at home. It was like God was telling me, ‘This is it,’” she recalled. “Like God was proposing to me.” She accepted the proposal.
Christina entered the formation program in August 2012 and made her first vows in 2015 in Hamden. She eventually got a master’s degree in teaching from St. Louis University and went on to teach fifth grade and music at St. Joseph School in Imperial, Missouri.
On July 26, Sister Christina Skelley, ASCJ, is renewing her vows at Mount Sacred Heart in Hamden. For her parents, it required a period of adjustment. “This was hard for them,” Sister Christina said. “They never saw me doing anything like this. It meant moving away from my family and not having a family the way they had imagined, but the community has been extremely warm and welcoming to them.”
Looking back on the road that led to her conversion and entering the Apostles, Sister Christina says, “God can find anybody. My favorite Gospel is the one about the Good Shepherd, who has to go after the lost sheep. That is what God did with me. He did a lot of work to find me, and I can only respond with gratitude … and my life. Now, when I pray for people and see the struggles in their lives, I’m reminded to never give up on what God can do for someone.”