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Sr Pauline’s journey: When God says not yet (Pt I)

By Denise Scott

On Sunday, November 6, 2022, more than 31 years after making the decision to become a Holy Faith Sister, Pauline Trim took her final vows of Perpetual Profession as a Holy Faith Sister at St Theresa’s RC Church, Woodbrook.

‘How so long?’, ‘Why so long?’ were some of the questions that many have asked but the many twists and turns of life that made up Sr Pauline’s journey is one that can inspire us all and remind us that a delay is not a denial.

“I was afraid of nuns!” She shares an almost mischievous grin and says, “When I was about six years old, my mother and aunt used to tell me stories about nuns that terrified me, so I used to avoid them and be frightened when I saw them in church.”

One Sunday, however, some Dominican Sisters sat behind her in church at St Anthony’s, Pt Fortin. “I became so scared, I slid to the furthest end of the pew, and I remember one of the nuns gently rubbed my back and then she spoke to me sweetly and encouraged me to come closer. That was the best encounter I ever had with anyone. It never left me.”

Perhaps that gentleness and encouraging experience is responsible for those traits that have become hallmarks of Sr Pauline’s personality.

Her second real encounter with religious life came at Holy Faith Convent in Penal when she met the incomparable Sr Columba Byrne CHF, a woman for whom, to this day, she has enormous respect and admiration.

“The parish priest used to come once a month to celebrate Mass with us and someone told him that I was thinking about religious life, and he encouraged me to reach out to Sr Columba and tell her.”

“I eventually got the courage to tell Sr Columba of my desire”, she bursts out laughing and says “…by then I had left the school and was in teachers’ training college”.

It started as weekend retreats that were conducted by Sr Janice Tam CHF and Sr Mary Anthony CHF and during that time she fell absolutely in love with the

Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Faith and the works of their radical and creative foundress, Margaret Aylward.

On April 14, 1991, Pauline Trim officially joined the Congregation. “I joyfully made my first profession in January 1995, and I was supposed to make my final profession in 2000 but I chose not to.”

Why did this devout and wonderful Catholic girl change her mind mid-stream? No one could understand, least of all her parents. But Sr Pauline believed that the same God that made a way for her to join the Holy Faith Sisters is the same God that led her out at that time.

Her parents were confused because even though Sr Pauline had left the convent, she continued to operate as though she was still a Holy Faith Sister. Her father suggested she return to university, and she soon enrolled to begin her degree in Social Work.

But that was tough. It was a full-time course, so she had to take time off from teaching but was unable to get “no pay study leave”. Teaching at Pt Fortin RC and then heading to UWI in the evening was hectic so she then applied to the university for time off. Just as she received the time off from UWI, she discovered her mother was gravely ill.

For the Trim family, Sunday Mass was part of their culture. They never missed Sunday Mass but this day, her mother said she was not going to church. This was a huge red flag to Sr Pauline.

“I knew something was radically wrong.” Fr Trevor Nathasingh was new to their parish, and it was the first time that they would do the novena to the Holy Spirit.

She remembered her mother saying, “Imagine I am in my 60s and, for the first time I am hearing about Holy Spirit novena.” Her mother was excited about church because it was nine days leading up to Pentecost and Fr Nathasingh had the Point Fortin church on fire!

So, when her mother complained of “a little pain”, Sr Pauline grew more worried. She eventually went to Fr Nathasingh who suggested a specialist. It was there that they discovered that she had Stage 4 cancer and it had already spread to the liver.

Her mother, on learning of her illness, recalled that one of her friends had cancer and she used to be sick when she went to chemo until she went again and so, she decided against chemotherapy. The doctor asked her if she understood what she was saying but she said she preferred to have better memories instead.

Sr Columba on learning of Sr Pauline’s mother’s decision introduced her to a herbalist who helped her to build her immune system. As her mother got weaker, Sr Pauline assumed more responsibility at home.

Her mother survived for three more years. One day, she remembered her mother saying, “If you were not around, I would have been dead by now” and at that moment she understood why God told her to go back home.

In December 2000, Sr Theresa Vialva CHF would make her final profession. They had entered together. It was a bittersweet experience for Sr Pauline. In 2001, she was granted no pay leave to return to UWI but did not want to leave her mother.

When she told her mother that she was not going back to school, her mother said, “I am on my bed doing what I have to do, so you go to UWI and do what you have to do.”

Her parents were selfless. She decided to rent an apartment in UWI to study and to return home on weekends.

In February 2003, her mother passed on and she did not want to continue but again her father encouraged her to go forward with her studies. She giggles as she reminisces, “I eventually told him that I wanted to go back into teaching and not social work. And he said, ‘Thanks be to God.’”

That gave Sr Pauline the freedom to go back into teaching. She did not return home at that time, however. At this point the Holy Faith Sisters kept in touch with her, and they told her of this new form of membership that they were exploring.

Sr Theresa was exploring Faithline, and they were looking at enhancing the functioning of those who needed support. Her social work education came into play, and she was happy.