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Happiness from within: Janesville woman joins St. Elizabeth sisters

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 19, 2011
— In high school, Gabriela Moldonado spent $500 on her prom dress.

On Aug. 7, Sister Gabriela Moldonado, 25, made her final profession as a member of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church.


With that profession, she received a ring and the full-length black habit she will wear for the rest of her life. She also took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and commitment to works of charity.


She couldn’t be happier.


Moldonado, a 2004 Craig graduate, will be part of the order that runs St. Elizabeth Nursing Home, Janesville, and St. Elizabeth Manor, Footville. The order also runs schools and ministries in Connecticut and Minnesota.


For most of her life, Moldonado wasn’t serious about her faith.


“It was, ‘OK, it’s Sunday, go to church, that’s God, that’s it,’” Moldonado said.


In the summer of 2003, Moldonado’s mother, Marie Eugenia Arndt, invited her to attend daily mass at St. Elizabeth Nursing Home.


“I was like, ‘That’s great, Ma, but I don’t go to daily mass, that’s for old people’” Moldonado said. “But I thought, ‘I’ll just go because I don’t want to hurt her feelings, and it’s only for the summer.’”


It was the first time she had seen sisters in full habits. She was particularly struck by the sight of Sister Mary Grace Goddard kneeling in prayer.


“She was so young and so pretty, and she looked so happy,” Moldonado said. “I wanted to be like her, but it was like a dream. To me, sisters were stuck in a convent and never talked and always had their hands together and their heads down and they were old. That wasn’t for me.”


But that summer, daily mass became a habit. When she couldn’t go, she felt she had missed something.


Senior year came and went, and she made plans to go to UW-Rock County and then on to Beloit College.


In August, she was invited on short notice to visit the order’s motherhouse in Baltic, Conn.


Everything seemed to work together to make the trip possible. She was able to get days off from work; she found an affordable plane ticket.


She loved it.


“The love and joy that was there was amazing,” said Moldonado. “There were novitiate sisters there my age—I had never seen such prayfullness and quiet.”


As she was praying in the chapel that evening, she knew that this was the right place for her, and she was suffused with calm.


“The peace was just like, BOOM!” she said.


The deadline for entrance to the convent was Sept. 8, and it was “August 20something.”


The prom dress went into the garage sale. The makeup went into the trash, and she went back to Baltic to enter the convent as a postulant, the first of the five-steps toward final profession.


It wasn’t easy.


“I was so homesick the first year,” she said.


The support of the other sisters and her belief in her call kept her steady in her commitment.


Moldonado attended college and graduate school in Connecticut, studying education and sacred scripture.


After her final profession in front of the assembled sisters earlier this month, she returned to Janesville for a brief family visit.


Then she returned to Connecticut, where she’ll teach English and religion to middle school students.


Moldonado doesn’t expect her life to be easy. But when she talks about her future, she radiates the quiet joy that comes from being in exactly the right place personally, professionally and spiritually.


“You’re restless until you rest in him,” Moldonado said.



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