Growing up, Christendom alumni siblings Dcn. John Paul Heisler (’17) and Sr. M. Grace Augustine Heisler (’15) would play “house,” just like many young children. In their case, being part of a large Catholic family, playing house also included dressing up for Masses, where Dcn. Heisler would be St. John Bosco and Sr. Grace Augustine would be St. Therese of Lisieux. Years later, they have both joined the religious life, with Dcn. Heisler now a transitional deacon and Sr. M. Grace Augustine a Carmelite sister — a testament to their faith and their love of Christ.
Dcn. Heisler shared their story in a recent article for the Arlington Catholic Herald, relating beautifully the full circle journey he and his sister went on, from dressing up as saints as children to joining the religious life as adults.
“Her joy and fulfillment spurred my own decision to enter the seminary two years after she’d left home, and this joy was very present again during the Mass of her final profession,” recalls Dcn. Heisler. “I watched her lie prostrate in prayer, signifying the laying down of one’s life in surrender to God. The choir sang the same litany of saints as when I lay prostrate at my diaconate ordination just three weeks prior. Once again, the joy of watching someone I love enjoy such happiness filled my heart and molded a beaming smile on my face.”
When Sr. M. Grace Augustine arrived at Christendom in 2011, she followed in the footsteps of her parents, Paul (’90) and Lisa (’93), along with four uncles, including Fr. John Heisler (’95). While studying as a freshman, she discerned her vocation to the religious life and left the college one year later, moving to St. Louis, Missouri, to join the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. Dcn. Heisler visited her as she moved from postulant to novice, and was taken aback at the happiness she radiated.
When Dcn. Heisler enrolled at Christendom in 2013, her happiness stuck with him, and he joined St. Charles Borromeo Seminary soon after to begin studying for the priesthood within his home Diocese of Arlington. After spending so much time pretending to be members of the religious life as children, now their lives had come full circle.
“The beauty of religious life contained in a child’s imagination is not mere childish fantasy. As I watched my sister make her way to the sanctuary last week, more beautiful than I had ever seen her, like a bride on an eternal wedding day, I was in awe of the sight before me: my sister giving her life totally to Jesus,” said Dcn. Heisler.
Next year, Dcn. Heisler is set to be one of three alumni ordained to the priesthood within the Diocese of Arlington — the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first alumni priests of the Diocese respectively. At that time, his vocational journey to the priesthood will be complete, and he will join his sister as a full member of the religious life.
“As kids playing house, we were not wearing costumes of a generic priest and nun; we were honoring saints that we knew. Now, when my sister or I go somewhere, we are not playing dress-up; we wear the black and brown as an expression of the relationship we enjoy with Jesus. Please pray for us as we strive for sanctity ourselves, walking in the footsteps of those saints we’d imitated long ago,” concluded Dcn. Heisler.