Sister Regina Marie Gorman, OCD
She will tell you, with a smile and a gleam in her eye, that the first time she visited the Carmelite Sisters at their Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra to attend a junior high retreat was because she thought she was going to a slumber party.
And yet here it is, 40 years after professing her first vows, and Sister Regina Marie Gorman is not only the current Vicar General of her bustling religious order, and chair of the National Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious, but also a nationally-known and much-sought-after spiritual speaker and retreat leader.
Those who attend her talks and retreats are certainly delighted by her ready smile and quick sense of humor — and they are just as impressed by her wealth of knowledge, her deep Carmelite spirituality and, most of all, her love of the faith. It has served Sister Regina Marie (and the Carmelites) well as a teacher, administrator and nurturer of young women religious.
“We foster the spiritual life of all we work with and serve, whether in our care for the elderly, in a retreat setting or in a classroom,” she says. “We try to guide and shape young lives so that they are oriented to Christ’s call, that they become mature, holy, confident young adults.”
Sister Regina Marie, born in Detroit, moved as a young girl with her family to Louisiana and then Glendora where she attended St. Dorothy School and St. Lucy’s Priory High School. She graduated from Bishop Amat High School, La Puente, and briefly attended Citrus College.
By that time, however, her life was heading in a new direction — not the one she’d planned on by any means. It started with the aforementioned junior high retreat at Sacred Heart.
“Until then, my vocation was going to be as wife and mother,” she recalls. “Well, I was ambushed; I had an experience with God where he literally slapped me off my horse and let me know that He had other plans for me. And I tried to talk Him out of it — but God doesn’t negotiate well.”
What kept her on track? “I was so in love with the person of Jesus Christ,” Sister Regina Marie says, breaking into a smile.
Still, she kept this all to herself until she entered the convent on Oct. 1, 1972, professing her first vows in 1975. She continued her studies at Mount St. Mary’s College, and eventually earned her teaching credential at Cal Poly, Pomona (and later, a Master’s in Christian Theology and Ministry at Franciscan University).
She spent nine years teaching junior high at St. Philomena (Carson), Holy Innocents (Long Beach), Holy Family (Wilmington) and Sts. Felicitas and Perpetua (San Marino). Like her entry into religious life, teaching was not what she’d initially planned on.
“I didn’t see myself as a teacher,” she laughs. “I told my superior, ‘I think you’ll regret it,’ but apparently it’s a gift the good Lord has given me.”
From there she worked in administration, nine years as directress of novices. “I loved that experience in the novitiate,” she says. “I worked with beautiful, motivated people.” That was followed by vocations development and then twelve years as Superior General.
Some might see administrative work as a problem, but not Sister Regina Marie. “When God gave me the call,” she explains, “I felt such an overwhelming love for Jesus that I wanted my answer to be unlimited. And so all of my effort as an administrator has been devoted toward fostering the Carmelite spiritual life.”
Although the Carmelites do better than most at fostering vocations among young women, Sister Regina Marie says the key is to invite, rather than “recruit.”
“We have so many programs that they can explore,” she points out. “Again, it’s about fostering a spiritual life, about learning what it takes to follow Jesus. It is important to take time so that the decision is freely made out of love. To follow Jesus, you need both hands on the plow.”
That speaks to the importance of positive examples for young women in discernment. In Sister Regina Marie’s case, those influences include Mother Mary Ines, her first superior; Cardinal Timothy Manning, “who was very close to us;” and Msgr. Clem Connolly, of nearby Holy Family Church, “who has been a brother to us.”
Most of all, there is Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a.k.a. Mother Luisita, foundress of the order in Los Angeles on June 24, 1927, and a candidate for beatification.
“My life and my community can’t be separated from Mother Luisita,” Sister Regina Marie says quietly. “Her consistency and love is a tremendous source of consolation in times of challenge. And the welcome our sisters received when they came to Los Angeles is something for which we will always be thankful. When I travel, I am proud to say that I am from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. I love and owe Los Angeles a great deal for the person I am.”
There are many Catholics in Los Angeles and beyond who could say the same about Sister Regina Marie Gorman.