Erin Mone’s faith journey is full of vibrant life, with winding twists and forking paths that eventually lead her to East Texas today where she works as the youth minister for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. She is a Californian-born, Illinois grown daughter to loving parents who instilled and nurtured in their eight children a love for Jesus and the Church. She constantly dives into the life of the Church, which even led her to spend eight years as a religious sister, but her search for the truth started on a jungle gym in her most formative years.
“Because there were not many Catholics down in Southern Illinois, all of my friends were Protestants. As we’d spin around for the entirety of recess, they were all trying to save me. They didn’t want me to go to hell but I was because I was Catholic. They would ask me questions to prove that I was wrong, but I would go home and ask dad. We had a whole wall of library books, so we would sit there and go through the books to find the correct answer to bring it back to school the next day,” Erin said.
“I think that because they loved me and I loved them, they were concerned. It ended with mutual respect. I remember dad once said something like, ‘You might not have the answer but know that the Catholic Church always has an answer, and it’s the answer that is always beautiful and always makes sense.’ I discovered the Catholic Church’s beauty in my searching. I think that’s how Christ wooed me,” Erin said.
It instilled a deep sense of confidence in the Church in her heart as she dove into apologetics. Her aspirations as a little kid were to be a Catholic apologetic and a waitress, she recalled with a laugh.
Early on, she discovered that beautiful things could come from difficult moments. When they moved to Utica, Illinois, the Mone kids were all homeschooled, but that brought on some fears that she would never make friends.
“I still had my friends from southern Illinois, but good old sanguine me thought, I can’t make any friends because I’m homeschooled! I don’t know anyone! So, my parents sent us to a Catholic homeschooling group in Peoria, Illinois, where I met a girl named Amber Baillie who knew the Community of St. John, a Catholic Religious Congregation. She invited me to attend World Youth Day 2002 with them in Toronto, Canada. I had just turned 16, so I still can’t believe my parents sent me to Canada with a community we didn’t even know. For such a long time, I felt like one of the only Catholics. Here I was with young people from all around the world who all believed in the same thing,” Erin said.
Being around the Community of St. John taught her about the Liturgy of the Hours and more about the Church.
“One of the brothers, Fr. Nathan, invited some of us who went to World Youth Day to go to the first summer camp he was going to start, called Eagle Eye, in 2002. I fell in love with the philosophy and theology classes. All aspects of my spiritual, human, and community life that wanted authentic prayer and friendship were being fed,” Erin said.
She was a participant for two summers, graduated high school in 2004, and when she started college, went back to help and was able to keep growing through the classes.
“That is where my passion is,” Erin realized, “in understanding the Church’s teaching and helping others to see that beauty as well, which is why I decided to go to Franciscan University at Steubenville. I double-majored with a bachelor’s degree in theology and catechetics with a concentration in youth ministry.”
Being plunged into the very Catholic atmosphere that is Franciscan helped Erin grow by leaps and bounds. For the first time in her life, she was going to Mass on her initiative. Even the friendships she formed were firmly planted in Christ.
“I remember being upset about something; I don’t even remember what it was. I had a friend who listened to me for a second, put me into her car, and dropped me off at the perpetual adoration chapel and said, ‘You gotta see it up with him. Don’t come back until you’re done.’ It actually made me upset, but I needed friendships like that to help me grow in my faith,” Erin chuckled.
Shortly after graduating, Erin interviewed for youth ministry positions. She had all the education but needed more experience in parish life.
“I remember being frustrated. How was I going to get any experience if I couldn’t get a job?” Erin said.
At the last minute, she signed up for the Eagle Eye Institute, another program by the Brothers of St. John, since all the youth ministry positions were filled for the next school year.
“I lived with the community for ten months, taking classes with all the brothers and living their life. We would help run a lot of retreats for the brothers, which would add to my experience. I grew a lot in my prayer life and knew that I wanted to follow Christ more closely. That is the year I decided to join the sisters,” Erin said.
Religious life was on her mind for a while when she brought it up to Fr. Nathan. He suggested she speak to the sisters to see if it would be a good fit. It started with a Come and See visit.
Erin went home on her birthday weekend to share her plans with her parents, who were not surprised at all. After taking one year to figure out some financial questions, Erin was ready to spend the next eight years of her life known as Sister Maria Kolbe.
“Since I spent time with the community in Illinois, they sent me straight to Semur-en-Brionnais, in central France. I was there for three years for spiritual formation and to study French and philosophy. I then made my first vows and was sent on mission to Le Puy-en-Velay, which is north of Southern France, for two years at a Marian Shrine. Kings and saints would all go on pilgrimage there to Our Lady of Le Puy. We were at the service of the Cathedral and the pilgrims of St. James walking the path to Compostela. Le Puy is one of the starting points of the walk, so we’d see hundreds of people every day. I taught a high school religion class, as well.”
Life as a sister meant being immersed in a life of prayer. They read scripture multiple times a day, attended daily Mass, prayed Liturgy of the Hours, and listened to religious texts during meals.
“Because family and all of my old things that I identified myself with were taken away during the novitiate, not only did I have to get to know myself, but also who Christ is. Actually, that was my Lectio Divina subject for one year. Every time I read Scripture, my prayer was, Who are you? I discovered Jesus’s douceur, as you would say in French. It’s not so much his sweetness but almost his gentleness. I trust a lot more because as Jesus revealed more of his heart to me, all I saw there was goodness. He is going to take care of me, and he has,” Erin said.
She was sent to the house of formation in Rimont, in Central France, to study theology. During that time, she had a crisis of faith in the Church amidst the great scandals of clergy abuse.
“It was just dark. Since the Church’s beauty held such a strong role in me finding my faith, the fact that I saw the ugly in the Church threw me for a giant loop. These weren’t just little falls but pretty impressive big ones that were not easy to reconcile. My doubt was never in Christ, though, only the Church. It’s almost like my internal compass didn’t know which way was north anymore because the ground everything was built on when I was little was shaken. Coming out of it now, I feel like the Lord kept me in the sisters because He knew that I would have left the Church if I were on my own. I was in this Church structure of religious life, which was incredibly hard when all I saw was ugly. If I hadn’t renewed my vows, I probably would’ve been more tempted to leave the Church, which is crazy to admit, unless you’ve seen that dark part for yourself,” Erin recalled.
Time helped, but it was the Eucharist and Scripture that got Erin through it. She remembers praying multiple times to see Jesus’ face. And even in scripture, when she would see difficult things happen, she would pray, You can’t possibly understand this Lord. This is ugly! However, Christ in Scripture, who was very present, who saw human weakness and failings, and how he reacted, managed to renew her faith in the Church.
“Seeing the spectacle of human failing and seeing how he still loves us helped me understand myself and my compassion towards other people. It was a long road coming out of it,” Erin said with a sigh.
The mercy of others who guided her also helped.
“I had a superior who helped me work through and not get stuck on the little secondary things that I found hypocritical, and thanks to that, I was able to rediscover Christ in the heart of his Church,” she said. “It probably took me a year to get through it, but today my love for the Church is alive in me more than before because it’s mature love. I feel like I can love her, not despite all the shortcomings but because of them. I think that’s why he allowed it.”
The time to make the final profession of vows was inching closer, and a dormant prayer within her heart demanded attention. Was she called to continue on this path?
“I always felt very comfortable with the order, which is where a lot of confusion in the discernment process came from because I loved searching for the truth and growing in my prayer life. I loved the community aspect, but just because you love all of those things doesn’t mean you have a vocation. That’s when my discernment-out came in,” Erin said.
After years in France, she was sent to Princeville, Illinois, for a few months and helped with the girls’ camps and the soup kitchen. Her last assignment was to Orleans, France, for a year and a half. The community ran a guest house where she welcomed groups, hosted retreats, and led more girl’s camps.
“Eight years is a long time, but I know that he called me there. I gained time to listen, grow, and discover the Lord and myself. He showed me throughout those years how he concretely takes care of me, time and time again, and so I also grew in trust. The Lord takes care of me, down to the little details, and he wants to take care of you that way too. We just have to let him.” Erin said.
When she left religious life, she knew it was impossible to go backward. She was still moving towards truth and God’s plan. The Lord lined things up perfectly for her. She found work in the Diocese of Peoria as a Campus Minister for Bradley University’s Newman Club.
“A lot of it was getting to know the students and walking with them. That meant I drank a lot of coffee initially with the students and took lots of walks. I did discipleship with them where we intentionally talked about our walks with the Lord, whether it be the struggles of life and how to overcome them, working on virtues, or growing in prayer. One year, one of the girls wanted to know how to read the Bible, so I’d pick out a story, and we’d do Lectio Divina together once a week. I did the St. Joseph consecration with another, read an encyclical with another, and so many other things. We had retreats every semester and daily Mass, too. We’d go out on campus in twos and have conversations with people about Jesus. The student leaders did so much that a big part of my job was supporting the leaders,” Erin said.
When the pandemic hit, the university shut down, so she went home to visit her parents in Mineola. It showed her that she did not want to be far away from her family, who had all moved to Texas, save for one sibling. Albeit difficult to leave behind the Newman Center, she knew the Lord was leading her to Texas.
“Lately, Joshua 1:9 has been in my heart: ‘Be strong and steadfast. Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ I look forward to getting to know the families and be part of the community,” Erin said with a smile on her face welcoming the next chapter of her life.
To connect with the Immaculate Conception Youth (ICY) Flocknote, go to https://icy.floknote.com or text “ICY” to 84576. You could also email Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org. For schedule events, updates, and social media connections, visit http://www.cicyouth.org/.