CHICAGO—From the time she was in first grade, Jaime Mitchell thought she might have a religious vocation. It was always in the back of her head, but she tried to sidestep Jesus all along the way.
“I pretty much knew I had a vocation, but I was afraid of what it would look like,” she said. “Besides, I wanted to get married, have a holy family and raise my kids in the faith.”
So in her 20s, she made a deal with Jesus that went something like this: “OK, Lord, if you want me to go look at religious orders, I will,” she recalled. “But if it doesn’t work out, your end of the bargain is that you have to help me find my future spouse.”
Never one to renege on a promise, Jesus kept his end of the bargain. He found her the perfect spouse — Himself.
Today, there are no hesitations, anxieties or fears for Sister Jaime Mitchell. She placed her entire faith in Christ and followed Him into the breach. She recently professed her final vows as a member of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago, a newly established religious community, living and serving at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Her journey began in the first grade, where Sister Ladislas of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth taught her how to read and write and pray at St. Jude School in Monroe.
“I loved Sister,” she said. “I always had admiration for her. She was very holy, and I knew there was something special about her. She loved us kids, and I liked being around her because she exuded the love of God.”
A 1995 graduate of St. Joseph High School, Jaime attended Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island and earned a degree in hospitality management, which she says serves her well at the mission, caring and feeding the neighbors in West Humboldt Park.
“It’s a gift,” she says, “knowing how to talk to people and welcome them and make them feel comfortable.”
After graduating, she returned to Connecticut and took a job at Robustelli Travel, where she handled corporate accounts for five years. This was followed by a position as Study Abroad Coordinator at Fairfield University in which she oversaw a program for 400 students who studied in Florence each year.
Although her career was advancing, her spiritual life was stagnant. While she was in high school, she described herself as “boy crazy,” and college life presented new challenges.
“I was very far away from my faith and not practicing,” she recalls. “I went the opposite way, the way of the culture, and found myself hanging out with people who liked to go drinking and partying.”
She had a boyfriend, a good job and friends, but found herself asking: “Is this what life is all about?” She went on a retreat at My Father’s House in Moodus, Conn., where Father Bill McCarthy prayed over her, and she had what she calls “an encounter with the Risen Lord.” In that instant, she fully understood the truth that Jesus is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. She understood this person Jesus truly loved her and would lead her to the Truth.
“That retreat changed my life,” she says. “I came back and broke up with my boyfriend and started attending daily Mass, reading the Bible, praying the Rosary and trying to live a holy and virtuous life.”
She and her friends attended events for young Catholics, and five of them prayed novenas for their future spouses. One day Jaime asked whether anyone felt called to the religious life, and the unanimous response was no.
In 2009, she quit her job at Fairfield University because she believed Christ was calling her to serve in a maternity home called Maggie’s Place in Arizona.
“I randomly opened a magazine and saw it,” she says. “Maggie is my grandmother’s name, and I love her very much, and I love babies. Growing up, I loved St. Anthony of Padua because he held the Infant Jesus. He’s still my favorite saint, a very humble man, a great theologian and a Doctor of the Church who embraced poverty.” Also, a Franciscan.
In Arizona, she went to daily Mass, got a spiritual director, prayed the Divine Office and sat in front of the Blessed Sacrament, looking for answers. Two years later, she returned to Connecticut, still searching. She worked on a farm in Easton and at a liquor store. Her mother, Marilyn, who has always been her inspiration, told her, “I think you’re missing your vocation.”
So Jaime started going to Eucharistic Adoration at St. Theresa’s in Trumbull … and then it happened. She saw a video about the Franciscan sisters and was attracted to their way of life, their spirituality and their joy. In that moment, she had an epiphany and said to Jesus, “You want me here!”
She recalls: “I said to the Lord, ‘I’m 35 years old, and we’ve got to get this vocation thing settled. I’m not looking anywhere else, so if this doesn’t work out, sorry, I’m not going to be a religious. But if it’s meant for me, I really want to work with the poor and live with people who strive to be holy and want to do things for You.” She then proceeded to give Him a list of specifications. Jesus fulfilled them all, and much more, including a dog.
Jaime visited the community, which was only two years old, and immediately felt at home. In January 2013, she entered as a postulate and recently professed her final vows. Sister Jaime also received her master’s degree in pastoral studies from the University of St. Mary of the Lake and is involved in an engagement program for young adults.
The mission of Our Lady of the Angels is committed to assisting the poor and sharing the Catholic faith in West Humboldt Park, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. It provides food pantries, clothing distribution, emergency assistance, after school programs, senior programs and community dinners, along with retreats, street evangelization and preaching. (For more information, visit: https://www.missionola.com.)
“It’s everything I wanted and more,” she said. “God has been really good to me. He has shown me His love in so many ways and in the littlest details.”
Father John Connaughton, vocation director of the Diocese of Bridgeport, attended St. Joseph’s with Jaime and recently visited her.
“We talked about how we ended up as a priest and a religious sister,” he said. “Both of us wrestled with the restlessness in our hearts and found what God wanted for us. I was struck by her obvious contentment and the joy of the sisters in her community. Their lives aren’t easy, but they’re happy. They’ve given their hearts to Jesus and serve Him in the poor. It’s radical and it’s beautiful. And seeing their trust in the Lord challenges me to be a better disciple myself and to trust Him more with my life.”
One day, Sister was weeding in the garden and a young girl came to help. While they were working, she said, “I want to be a nun when I grow up.”
“Why?” Sister asked.
“Because you’re always so happy!”
Looking back on her path to the religious life, she says, “Jesus is very patient and knows what every one of us needs. He has planned out everything in detail. My path has been winding at times, but now I’m exactly where He wanted me to be, and He’s using me to bring His love to others. I’m just honored that He has asked this of me and honored that He asked me to be His bride and to love Him and serve Him all the days of my life.”
There’s one more thing: Inspired by her daughter’s example, Marilyn Mitchell has professed as a Third Order Franciscan.