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Archives Crown Point native is a Carmelite Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles
Final vows for Sr. Shawn Pauline

By Kristina Dean
Staff Writer

In a matter of moments, one can hear the joy, sense of purpose and true happiness in Sister Shawn Pauline’s voice. As she speaks, discusses her life and decisions she’s made that have led her to the Lord, one can see that here is a woman who has truly found her vocation as a Bride of Christ.

The 31-year-old woman who previously lived in Crown Point, lives in Duarte, California and in 2006 made her first vows to the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. On July 15, Sister Shawn Pauline, whose birth name is Janet Burke, will make her final vows to totally devote herself to God. “I am really looking forward to it because I long to say I want to be His forever, to say it officially. I want the whole world to know that I am the spouse of Jesus Christ together forever for all of eternity,” she said.

Through her amazing journey, many road signs have guided her to the right path, from Catholic elementary school, gifted priests, family members who have joined religious life, a special novel by a Carmelite nun, to a Catholic camp for youth.

Heard God’s call at early age
Sister Shawn Pauline’s calling to the religious life was rooted in her from a young age – her initial inclinations began as a student at St. Mary’s School in Ticonderoga. Sisters there, including St. Joseph Sister Sharon Dalton, taught the students that faith resides in intellect. Watching the “beautiful” sisters teach about vocations, Sister Shawn Pauline said she was given the tools to comprehend and understand her faith.

As early as second grade she began to think God was calling her. One place that strengthened her foundation in the Catholic faith was the time she spent at Camp Guggenheim, on Lower Saranac Lake. The Camp is sponsored and operated by the Diocese of Ogdensburg Youth Ministry. Sister Shawn Pauline spent her teen years attending camp during weekends that bookended the summer, during Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Sustained by Guggenheim
The camp sustained her and helped her sift through the conflicting messages of the world. It’s why she survived high school, she said. “I was a normal teenage kid, going to dances and parties and watching MTV,” she said. “Because of Guggenheim, I knew there was something more.

I am indebted to Gayle Frank and Michele Watkins,” she said. “I know now what sacrifices they went through to make sure that the young adults had a place to go to be themselves. They drove the message home that God is greater.”

Sister Shawn Pauline did struggle during her high school years with the idea that she might be called to God.
She describes herself as fighting against it and trying to change God’s will. However, later in college, she told a roommate that she thought God was calling her to be a nun. She began to slowly open the door, she said.
While a junior at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, Sister Shawn Pauline received another “road sign” which she said stemmed from reading scripture and praying a holy hour each day.

A divine and jealous suitor
During her college time, she’d begun dating a young man briefly. Sister Shawn Pauline said that this didn’t sit well with her, and that she “wasn’t comfortable within her heart.” One day she brought him to Mass, and after receiving Communion, she received a message. “I heard this: ‘I am jealous of you spending time with this man.’ I heard this in my heart,” she said. Later during that same day as she prayed and read scripture, she opened to 2 Corinthians Chap 11 vs 2 which says, “I feel a divine jealousy for you for I have betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband.” “I was stupefied,” Sister Shawn Pauline said. “At that moment, I realized I needed to never doubt His love for me and to go full steam ahead to pursue the religious life that I was seeking.”.

Another special experience she described was reading “Story of a Soul” by St. Terese of Lisieux. Known as the Little Flower of Jesus, the saint lived in the late 1800s and became a Carmelite nun.

Inspired by the Little Flower of Jesus
Describing the saint as a special soul, Sister Shawn Pauline said reading the book gave her the first look into the beauty of community life. “There was something so profound in that reading, such beauty in religious life,” she said. “It struck a chord in my heart.

“She (St. Terese) was able to articulate things in the human heart that everyone has, that people desire. She spoke to beautifully of Carmel,” Sister Shan Pauline said.

The young woman joined a group at Steubenville called the “Little Flowers” after the saint and became devoted to her. Eventually, this would springboard into her real vocation.

Influential priests and sisters
Later during a semester spent abroad in Austria, Sister Shawn Pauline met a priest who was chaplain to the young adults. Father Sam Tiesi’s calming advice was to be at peace and not be afraid. He convinced her that thinking about the religious life was not threatening. Eventually, Father Tiesi became ill and returned to the college at Steubenville where he became her spiritual director.

Another person who greatly impacted her was a Sister Regina Marie who gave a talk one night at Sister Shawn Pauline’s dorm. “She was very joyful, radiating Christ,” she said. “It drew me to her. After that night, of watching her speak, I found someone I could identify with. “Sister Regina Marie spoke so beautifully about community life and prayer. It rocked me to the core. I couldn’t run away anymore,” she said.

The nun, who became Mother during Sister Shawn Pauline’s junior year, showed a book of all the sisters who had passed away. “She was turning pages, telling me about each sister, of how beautiful they were and how they affected community.” Sister Shawn Pauline said. “She just was oozing spirituality. She is a very holy woman.

“I was captivated and petrified,” she said.

Local priests instrumental in discernment
Sister Shawn Pauline mentioned several other priests who were instrumental in her discernment, including  Father Tim Cannon and her cousin, Father Bryan Stitt.

One priest shared his vocation story with her during a long bus ride down to Washington D.C. On a trip to the annual March for Life, she asked Father Mark Reilly, a former helicopter pilot and Marine, about his calling to religious life.

“Father Mark had a huge influence on my life,” she said. “He introduced me to the mysteries of the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours. He inspired me. “The conversation we had planted a tremendous seed in my heart,” she said.

Sacrifices and hardships
Her journey has not been without sacrifice and hardship. Becoming a Carmelite sister requires obedience to the group’s requirements. Sister Shawn Pauline calls home only once a month and flies back to Northern New York to Ticonderoga where her parents live for a visit every three years. She says she knows this is difficult on her family, especially her mother. “I have seen them be like Abraham and sacrifice me to God,” she said. “It has not been easy for them. There is both pain and joy there. “My parents have been very loving and supportive through this journey,” she said.

Advice for young people
Sister Shawn Pauline shared her worries about young people living in today’s world as well as her advice. She said there are so many evils in today’s world that are at their fingertips. She advised them to begin a prayer life and to read scripture, as well as not being afraid if they feel a calling.

“There is something beautiful that God may be calling you to do,” she aid. “And if you feel it in your heart, pursue it, find out more about it. You will not regret seeking that path. It might even be marriage. It’s something that will help you develop tremendously as a person.

There is no greater joy you can receive on this earth,” she said. “It is His holy and perfect will for you that will make you the most happy.”

A journey begun in 2002
Sister Shawn Pauline began her journey with the Carmelites as a candidate in 2002, a process that can take between one to two years. During this time, she learned about the Carmelite “charism” and continued to discern her vocation.

In September of 2003, she became a postulant which typically takes about nine months and is devoted to prayer, doctrinal study and learning about communal living.

In July of 2004, she became a novitiate, deepening and centering her studies on poverty, chastity and obedience. These three essentials became vows she professed in 2006 in front of family with her cousin Father Stitt, director of vocations for the Diocese of Ogdensburg, as the celebrant.

For the next five years, Sr. Shawn Pauline made temporary vows each year that reinforced her commitment.
According to the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Los Angeles website, these years are designed to strengthen a life of union with God, a sense of belonging to the Institute and gradually introduce the sisters to the works of the apostolate.

The sixth year, the final profession of vows is given, where she will give herself to God forever in the service of others.

Sr. Shawn Pauline

Sister Shawn Pauline Burke, right, a native of Crown Point, will make her final vows as a Carmelite Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles July 15. She is shown above with Angela York, current postulant with the Carmelite Sisters.  

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