By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — After five years as secretary of Education and Evangelization for the Diocese of Charleston, Gay Rowzie, Ph.D., will be leaving her position at the end of September to pursue another career path.
For the lifelong educator, who spent 16 years in various positions at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, another job in the teaching field would seem a logical next step. However, this mother of two and grandmother of one is branching out into a new vocation as a religious sister.
Rowzie is grateful for her educational formation. The time she spent at USC helped her grow as a presenter.
“I knew that one day it would be used for the purpose of the church,” she said. “I was able to take my love for education and for the church and blend those passions.”
Rowzie’s graduate work at USC was in educational research and measurement. “I did research-based writing for entities needing to know if something is working,” she said, adding that she worked with local, state, and national organizations in designing ways to collect information.
As a consultant, Rowzie told people how to fix problems and empower people to solve their own problems.
Later, she would use these talents in the context of the church to build teams and foment collaboration, saying, “That was an incredible gift.”
When Rowzie came to the diocese in 1995, the new Office of Christian Formation had been in place about 18 months. She described the department at that time as “a patchwork quilt, not blended.”
“Collaboration is based on gifts,” Rowzie explained. “You identify the gifts people have no matter their role and bring them forth for the common good. We have done that here.”
She said her staff shares their sorrows, life, prayer, and vision, while also challenging each other. “Collaboration is messy,” Rowzie stressed.
It seems that the career educator has always been in leadership roles, working as a catechist even while studying for her undergraduate degree in college in Louisiana. It was later though, as a parishioner at Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia, while participating in a Scripture study group that Rowzie said she became hungry and thirsty for the Word.
While serving as chairperson of the Christian Formation Commission for the Synod of the Diocese of Charleston from 1993-95, Rowzie felt called to a deeper religious commitment.
So, six years ago she spent time at The Oratory in Rock Hill to discern her vocation. “After a year, the answer was, ‘no, not now,'” Rowzie said.
Two weeks after she had made that decision, a call came from the diocese not for religious life but as secretary of Education and Evangelization.
But, Rowzie said, her religious call came back two years ago, and this time it came back stronger.
Margaret Adams, Ph.D., principal of St. John Neumann School in Columbia, suggested that Rowzie seek a commitment with the Sisters of Humility.
It is the order of Sister Susan Schorsten, assistant to the vicar general and also a good friend. “I knew many women in the order’s leadership and members of the community,” Rowzie said.
At this time, she needed to clear another hurdle, beginning the annulment process from her previous marriage.
Msgr. Thomas X. Hofmann, judicial vicar for the diocese, sought advice from Rome. The Sisters of Humility also petitioned to remove the impediment before Rowzie’s vows were taken in order to establish a valid novitiate. An answer came back from the Vatican in five weeks in the form of a papal dispensation written in Latin.
Then Rowzie began the formal process for candidacy. At the end of next month she will leave her diocesan post to live in community to test her call to communal life and know the charisms and members of the Sisters of Humility.
Last fall, on Oct. 16, a welcome ceremony was held for her and two other women at the order’s motherhouse in Villa Maria, Pa.
Religious life is currently undergoing enormous changes and challenges. However, said Rowzie, “In the chaos of today is the creativity of the church. If everything were cast in stone, I would not be attracted to them (Sisters of Humility), but I can fit into the chaos and flux and play into what emerges.”
She said that members of the order are extremely talented, diverse, and committed to God’s people.
This Oct. 22, Rowzie will take part in yet another ceremony at the Sisters of Humility motherhouse.
It is there that she will embark in a two-year time period of testing her vocation. Rowzie has chosen to make the first year a canonical year.
“It is a year of prayer, reflection, studying vows and becoming deeply entrenched in the charism of the community,” she said. “It’s a deepening journey toward God. It is a still year, a year of solitude.”
Rowzie’s second year in Pennsylvania involves exploring ministries and moving out into light ministerial opportunities. She will work in ministries in which the community is already involved.
After this period there will be another time of discernment, then temporary vows will be taken.
The career educator is preparing for changes at many different levels at this time in her life. First, there will be a cultural change to deal with; going to a German, Irish culture at the motherhouse in the North after being born and raised under a strong French influence in Louisiana.
Next, there is the cessation of activity.
“The grace is that it’s where I’m being called,” she said, explaining how she recently spent a week at a hermitage in West Virginia, where she felt she received a sign of validation about her life-changing decision.
Rowzie described the view from the front porch of her mountain cabin at night, watching as lightning bugs starting flashing about 18 inches off the ground, then later a few feet, and eventually in the canopy of the trees.
It was a symbol of hospitality and God’s light, she said. “The light of God is like a spent lightning bug. No matter how old, young, spent, or wounded, God’s light can still shine through us. I got affirmation. I’m called to a life that must at times have solitude to hear God’s voice in the ‘din’ of the world.”
And, at a principals’ conference not long after her retreat, she was asked by a participant, “What is the one thing you absolutely know about God?” She answered, “I know that God speaks to Gay Rowzie,” adding, “If still, in a whisper, lightning bug, child’s smile, or elderly tears, God speaks to all of us if we just listen.”
Now, as Rowzie prepares to travel north to live in her order’s motherhouse for the next two years, she is joyfully anticipating the experience.
“I’ve raised a family, been in the work world, and at times had to scrounge for time to attend a retreat. Those were rare treats. To be given two years to grow into the image God has for me is an incredible gift,” she said.
However, she won’t be going alone. Rowzie emphasized that she is being held up by others her diocesan family: Bishops David B. Thompson and Robert J. Baker, Vicar General Msgr. James Carter, and staff. “They are journeying with me.”
Gary Gelo, current director of Catholic Schools for the diocese, will assume the title of superintendent of Catholic schools upon Rowzie’s departure.