HAMDEN—Kelsey Shaver still remembers visiting her grandmother as a little girl and rubbing her back and shoulders to alleviate her chronic pain. It brought her relief, and on one occasion she held Kelsey’s hands and said, “God kissed these hands.” It was a childhood memory that shaped her life.
In junior high, Kelsey volunteered at the hospital in Rolla, Missouri, and as she watched the physical therapists teaching a young girl in a wheelchair to walk again, she was reminded of Jesus healing the lame man.
“I thought to myself, ‘I want to be like that. I want to be like Jesus walking beside the person who is learning to walk again.” She realizes now the Holy Spirit was leading her to a career in physical therapy … and to the Catholic faith.
Today, Sister Kelsey Ann Shaver is a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a physical therapist, serving the retired sisters at Sacred Heart Manor in Hamden.
Her journey of faith began in rural Missouri, where she attended services at a Southern Baptist church on Easter and Christmas. Despite the lack of regular religious instruction, she and her sister Emily grew up in a family where their parents David and Pamela showed them unconditional love. By the time she was in middle school, she began attending services more often because she was inspired by her piano teacher, who had an ardent faith and was always performing spiritual hymns.
“I was drawn in,” she recalls. “I felt the Holy Spirit overflowing in her home.”
After graduating high school, Kelsey went to St. Louis University, where her Catholic friends would invite her to Eucharistic Adoration and student Mass.
“Sometimes I would still go to the Baptist church, but I was becoming more and more curious about the Catholic Church,” she says.
She had a lifelong dream of seeing Rome, so she applied to study abroad at the John Felice Rome Center. Her first day there, she and a friend went to buy gelato and began walking down the city streets, when suddenly they found themselves at St. Peter’s Square, which was bathed in golden rays of the setting sun. “It was such a prayerful time,” she recalls.
A priest at the Pontifical North American College would regularly visit her school to celebrate Mass and invite students to Adoration, and Kelsey would join her Catholic friends. “It was nice,” she said, “although I didn’t really believe it was Jesus up there—to me it was just a piece of bread.”
One evening, Father Ryan surprised her by asking if she ever considered the religious life, and she told him, “No. I’m not Catholic … and I have a boyfriend.”
“I have something for you,” he said. She expected him to hand her a brochure. Instead, he gave her a Miraculous Medal and said, “Mary is our Mother and she leads us to Jesus.” He also encouraged her to sit in front of the tabernacle and pray. She started wearing the medal and she took his advice.
“I would often go to the chapel by myself and kneel at the tabernacle and rest my head there as I prayed,” she recalled. “One day while I was thinking about the suffering in my life and the lives of other people, I wondered where God was…because if He wasn’t there in my times of greatest suffering, how could I trust him?”
She looked at the picture of the Blessed Mother on the wall, said a Hail Mary and asked for the grace to cry. “I was praying with my eyes closed and tears started rolling down my face, and when I opened them, the first thing I saw was the life-sized crucifix, and I realized God was with me in my suffering.” It was a pivotal moment in her spiritual growth.
On another occasion during Adoration, she looked at the monstrance and thought, “I know I will never understand it, but I know that is my God there on the altar, and I know I want to be wherever He is.” And in her prayer, she asked, “Lord, do you want me to become Catholic? You know I’m Baptist, right?”
At that moment, Father Ryan and Deacon Sam Kachuba, who was studying at the North American College, arrived, and Father prayed over her. She recalls feeling perfect peace and the understanding that she was being called to the Catholic faith.
Later that semester, Deacon Sam (now Father Sam Kachuba, pastor of St. Pius X Church in Fairfield) along with a sister from the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus gave a talk on vocations, and Kelsey was introduced to their order. She got a key chain that had images of the Sacred Heart and Mother Clelia, the congregation’s foundress, and she carried that key chain with her until it was worn smooth…and they gave her a new one.
She returned to St. Louis University and entered the RCIA program in the fall of 2008. On April 19, 2009 she received her First Communion and Confirmation and entered into full communion with the Catholic Church.
“When I first told my mom about becoming a Catholic, she said, ‘Fine…as long as you don’t become a nun,’ and I told her, ‘Well, I can’t make any promises.’”
Kelsey’s life was at a crossroads.
“I was looking at religious life or marriage,” she said. “I had been dating a young man since before I went to Rome. I could see the beauty of marriage, but when I went to chapel and prayed, I felt called to the religious life.”
Father Sam and Sister Colleen Smith, then vocation director, encouraged her to attend a discernment retreat in Hamden, where the U.S. Provincialate of the Apostles is located.
“When I walked into the main chapel, there was a statue of the Sacred Heart,” she recalls. “I felt like I was at a party and someone was calling my name but I couldn’t figure out where they were…and then I found Him. I had been searching for God and suddenly, there He was, and I thought, ‘This is the place I am supposed to lay down my life for God.’”
In August 2014, she entered the congregation as a pre-postulate. At first, her family had difficulty accepting her decision, but they have grown supportive after learning about the sisters and the work they do.
She received her clinical doctorate in physical therapy from St. Louis University, and in June 2016, she entered the novitiate, and last year Sister Kelsey Ann Shaver made her first vows.
As part of her mission, she does physical therapy with the older sisters, takes them to doctors’ appointments and conducts exercise classes. She shows a love for the elderly that is often missing in modern society.
“They are loved by God in a world that would dismiss them because they are no longer as productive as younger members of society,” she says. However, the retired sisters have a place of honor in the congregation and are known as “Apostle Adorers” because their prayers have an incalculable spiritual benefit.
Looking back on the path that led her to the Catholic faith, Sister Kelsey says, “I am really deeply blessed that I grew up knowing the love of God in my family and during college. Ultimately, God is my deepest desire.”
As a member of the congregation, her life is much like that of the first Apostles: “We want to be Apostles of love and Apostles of reparation and follow the example of a loving God and Blessed Mother Clelia.”