A priest and religious sister recall how their love story led them to another vocation.
If you met them today, you’d never imagine there was a connection between a diocesan priest in Argentina and a religious sister in southern France. But years ago, Fr. Javier Olivera and Sister Marie de la Sagesse were actually engaged to be married. Watch this video to learn about their inspiring story and how their love for each other led them to their true vocations.
Fr. Javier and Sr. Marie (whose baptismal name is Trinidad María Guiomar) grew up in Catholic families in the same social circle, so they were friends as children. By the time they went off to university, however, they had not seen each other in several years—and their lives had taken very different directions. While Trinidad was devoutly practicing her faith, Javier had fallen away from his faith completely.
Fr. Javier recalled in this article how he had just returned from a backpacking trip when he began a discussion with his childhood friend about Church teachings he considered archaic and arbitrary, specifically the prohibition on premarital sex. To his surprise, Trinidad did not agree with him but instead explained her beliefs so well that he was impressed.
“I met a woman who knew how to defend what she believed,” he said, “and who was also intelligent.” Before long, he had fallen in love with Trinidad—and not just with her but with the Church itself, thanks to her influence.
From the beginning, an unusual intellectual depth and dedication to seeking truth characterized their relationship.
“We tried to take advantage of cultural life through music, literature, and philosophy,” Fr. Javier said. “We read books together, we went out for coffee. We had a group of friends with whom we attended the conferences of Argentine Catholic authors.”
Meanwhile God worked through Trinidad and the love she and Javier shared to bring him closer to the Church.
“I started to practice the faith, to pray, to go to Mass on Sundays. All in large part thanks to her—to God mainly—but to her as an instrument,” said Fr. Javier. He recalled how they cultivated a life of piety, finding time to pray the Rosary together and frequently receiving the Eucharist.
Javier and Trinidad were engaged to be married when both were 21. They decided to get married after their graduation, which was two and a half years away, and began making plans for their future life together.
Their lives changed abruptly, however, when Trinidad’s older brother announced his decision to enter the seminary. Despite their own serious faith, the news came as a shock to Javier and Trinidad. They drove her brother to the seminary, and on the way home, they had an important conversation.
“When we came back, we talked about how crazy this was, that her brother left everything behind—the possibility of having a family, a very important career. We began to ask ourselves, ‘What would happen if God called us to religious life?’” Fr. Javier said. “The first thing we said was ‘no’ and that it was crazy, because we were in a beautiful relationship and we were already buying things to get married.”
Once the idea of entering religious life took hold of them, however, both Javier and Trinidad found they could not shake it. Before long, they confided in each other that they were each separately considering the possibility. They spent the next two years discerning, with the help of a wise spiritual adviser, where God was calling them, or as Fr. Javier said, “how to know if the best way for me to get to heaven is the priestly life or married life? Where can I do the greatest good?”
At last the call to religious life became undeniable for both of them. Fr. Javier became a priest of the Diocese of San Rafael and eventually a university professor. Today he maintains a blog called Que no te la cuenten and has written a book about vocational discernment. Sr. Marie, meanwhile, belongs to the congregation of the Sisters of the Merciful Jesus in the south of France, and carries out her apostolate in the parish of Saint Laurent, in the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon.
Sr. Marie said, “I consider it a special grace that we were both called almost at the same time—a delicacy of Divine Providence, who does not miss any detail. I also value very much the unbroken continuity in friendship, not only between the two of us, but also between our families.”
“Now we have a beautiful friendship,” said Fr. Javier. “She is my best friend.”
Christian history is replete with stories of spiritual friendship between holy men and women, who encouraged each other onward toward Christ. Surely the story of Fr. Javier and Sr. Marie is a fitting modern-day addition to these annals. Victor Hugo once wrote that “To love another person is to see the face of God,” and their story is a valuable witness that “seeing the face of God” in another person can and should lead each person to a closer relationship with Him.