Anne LoCoco grew up in a faithful Catholic home, where regular reception of confession and the sacraments was a normal occurrence.
A home where she sat beside her parents and seven brothers and sisters at Mass every Sunday morning at their parish, St. Mary’s Visitation.
A home where they returned Sunday night to recite the rosary.
No one, least of all her, thought that one day she’d become a nun.
Faith was strong in the LoCoco home, but it was lived out in quiet moments of sacrifice and love more than it was spoken of.
“My parents kept their prayer life pretty quiet,” Anne said. “But, because of that, I think it was so much easier for my brothers and sisters and my faith to become our own.”
Leading by quiet example, Anne says that she’s sure her parents prayed for one of their four boys to become a priest but doubts that they ever gave much thought to one of their daughters hearing the call to live a religious life.
While it was common 20 years ago to see religious sisters in schools and active in parish life, the vocation isn’t something that most people know much about anymore. Anne says that she didn’t really even realize that nuns existed until college. She’d heard her mother speak fondly of the nuns she’d known growing up in school but to Anne it felt like something that was in the past.
After graduating high school, Anne enrolled at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, where she spent her first two years in pre med.
“The theme of my life is that I’ve always tried to seek excellence,” she said. “I didn’t even really want to be a doctor. I just asked myself what was the highest and hardest goal I could strive for.”
As she began to feel restless with her goals, she changed her major to business administration with the thought that one day she could run a Catholic hospital. Her faith grew during her first few years in college and began to take over every part of her heart. She decided to minor in Catholic studies and she went through a long process of purification where she said she realized that instead of trying to seek excellence in what the world says is important, she needed to strive for God, a holy excellence that only concerns herself with what he wants her to be.
During her junior year in college, Anne studied at the Angelicum in Rome and said she was confronted with the truth that she’d been living two lives, keeping her faith in a box. She knew that to live truly she had to integrate Christ into every part of her being and allow him to take hold.
“When I first thought about becoming a sister, it was so random,” Anne said. “And that’s how you know it’s the Holy Spirit.”
A few times during her private prayer, the thought crept in and she pushed it away as ridiculous. Then, without knowing why, a few friends reached out and told her that she should discern a religious life.
Her brother, John, was in the seminary at the time, and would later be ordained as a priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 2018, but still, Anne didn’t see a religious life for herself.
“The truth is that I didn’t want it,” she said. But she knew that she was being asked to at the very least discern; so, quietly, she did.
She started by asking herself basic questions about the faith: Did Christ die on the cross? Is the Eucharist his body and his blood?
She also knew that to discern well she had to be in a state of grace as much as possible to pray well. She went to confession weekly, received the Eucharist daily at Mass, and sat in prayer during Holy Hour every day. If she was going to ask the question, she was determined to ask it well.
She found a spiritual director, a Dominican Friar that she trusted, to speak to the issue of women’s vocation and help her learn what it would mean to be a sister. As she began to peer into the heart of the vocation, her only response was pure love and the desire to love God fully.
She realized that so many little signs throughout her life had been pointing her in the direction of this vocation. Anne realized that the disconnect she’d always felt with people, even though she’d been social from the start and grown up with a booming group of friends, had been quietly calling her to give every ounce of her being to something greater.
“I realized through discernment how much I love the Church,” she said. “There’s nothing more that I would want to talk about or give my life to.”
Through those long months and years of prayer, Anne found out that she’s most herself when she’s discussing the beauty of the Church and Jesus. Still, the idea of giving up marriage and children was something that didn’t come easily to her. She wanted to know how the vocations were different, and because she couldn’t get marriage out of her mind, she decided to start dating someone and move toward marriage and see what it felt like.
She met someone who was discerning a religious life with the Dominicans and, as they began dating and sharing their hearts with one another, she said she felt restless. She didn’t want to take her eyes off Jesus to look at someone else.
She kept grappling with the image of waking up next to her spouse and asking, “How can I serve you today? How can I love you and give you my whole heart?”
She said that she knew in her mind she’d want to turn to the other side and ask Jesus those questions first.
“For people who are called to marriage, you don’t feel this dichotomy, you feel like you’re serving God through serving your children and husband and, for me, it felt so separate,” she said. “It felt like I had a divided heart.”
The restlessness in her grew. She believed that if she was truly called to a religious life, she was born with an undivided heart made just for Jesus, who she wanted to go to directly and love as a spouse.
The couple, feeling the same growing restlessness, arrived at the conclusion that they were both made for a religious life, not for each other.
Anne began to discern different orders the way most people look for jobs. She looked at each order’s charism and at their daily life. She visited several and didn’t have the peace she knew she needed.
She said, “All I know about the Lord is that he speaks in peace and joy, and I didn’t have that for any of those orders.”
She’d visited the convent of the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in Minnesota a year prior to her discernment and felt a tug to go back to them though she hadn’t thought of them much. She fell in love with their charism, to live in imitation of Mary and participate in diocesan life in their parishes acting as evangelizers of the faith.
“I graduated college last year and then I went back and visited the Handmaids and felt a sense of home,” Anne said.
She felt herself in the convent – she slept well, and ate well, and laughed well. Feeling herself come alive fully, she knew.
As she wrote out her spiritual biography as part of her application process, she had multiple psychological and mental tests, all required by convents before entering. Then she continued to pray and waited for her acceptance letter in the mail.
“I felt overwhelming peace when I held it in my hands,” she said. She marked the day she’d enter into the convent on her calendar, Aug. 29, 2020. “I know that Catholicism is the fullness of truth and I am so ready to be all in.”
In her first year, Anne won’t wear a habit or take on a new name. She’ll spend her time in prayer and continued discernment, stepping away from the world and asking herself the questions that she began with.
Near the end of the first year, she’ll decide if she wants to apply to be a novice for two years. The first year will be as a canonical novice, where she’ll stay mostly close to the convent and focus on growing in what it means to be with Jesus as his bride, detaching herself from the world. In the second year she’ll be an apostolic novice and learn the apostolate of her order, and she’ll receive her habit and a new name. She’ll do religious teaching and spend time with the families in the area. After the first three years of her formation, she’ll take her first vows.
“I’m at such peace going towards this life,” she said. “I feel that quiet joy that I’ve learned is God’s voice telling me I’m on the right track.”