As I woke up this morning, my first thought (other than, "Is it really morning already?") was, "If I had gotten the profession name I wanted, today would be my feast day." Then I recognized that the name I was given in my religious profession (Joan) turned out to have a meaning for me that I didn't even find until 25 years of vowed life later. Here's the story.
When we make our vows, we keep our baptismal name (religious profession builds on the baptismal consecration and expresses it in a more radical way), but we have the option of adding a new name. Used to be (and in some communities it still is that way), a religious would get an entirely new name, with overtones of the former person being "dead to the world", but with the loss of the baptismal connection. Anyway, when I was a novice, Mother Paula loved to choose the new names for the sisters. We were to submit, for her decision, our parents' names, plus one name of our choice, which had to come with a fairly decent explanation of just why that would be a good name for you to assume in making your vows. My parents names are James and Winifred. Well, James was out because another novice's father had been named James, and he had died, so she was going to get the name in his honor. I was told that Mother Paula, whose native dialect sounds almost French, just wrinkled her nose at Mom's name, commenting, "What a name!" (sorry, Mom). Well, my own preference was for the name Timothy. I would be "Sister Anne Timothy." (Has a certain ring to it, don't you think?) My explanation was that with "Anne" I had a connection to Our Lady, by being named for her mother. "Timothy" would be a connection with St. Paul, whose disciple he had been. "What?!" you might say, "A man saint?" The funny thing is, in religious life, your profession saint doesn't have to be of the same sex. (That's why there are so many men saints with "Mary" in their names, even if mostly they are from other cultures: Jean-Marie Vianney; Maximillian Maria Kolbe; Josemaria Escriva... )
Back to my story.
I hadn't realized that Mother Paula was hoping that some novices would ask for the names of
the two sisters who died that spring: Sister Joan Mary and Sister Miriam. Timothy was out; Joan was in. (Sister Susan got Miriam; her mom's name was Madge, and we already had a Sr. Susan John.) Since Sr. Joan Mary had always claimed "St. John the Beloved" as her patron, I followed her practice, and celebrated Dec. 27 as my feast day. (In Italian, which Sr. Joan Mary spoke at home, John and Joan are rendered "Giovanni" and "Giovanna"; it wasn't as much of a stretch as it sounds in English.) Then, around 25 years later, I had an insight about St. John the Baptist that gave me so much light, I had to switch allegiances and claim this John. Even so, I still have a tinge of longing for a name with a few more syllables...