CHARLESTON—When Fiona Kent enters a room, she brings the Holy Spirit with her.
Not the holy roller version, but a deeply spiritual presence that exudes an inner peace only found through God. It’s in her unhurried stillness, and the joy evident in her eyes — a palpable presence of Christ.
It is a remarkable quality in an 18-year-old woman barely out of high school.
Her mother, Dr. Terri Thomson, said it is a spirituality she felt even in the womb.
“I knew she was a child of God,” Dr. Thomson said.
Her intuition proved correct, and on June 16, Fiona will enter the monastery of Carmel of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Loretto, Pa.
It is the final stage of a discernment process that began when Fiona was only 2. At that time, she saw a group of nuns during Mass at Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island, and told her mom she was going to be a nun too, so she could live always in the church.
When she was 7, Fiona started praying the rosary every day at 3 p.m., with no conscious knowledge that it was a holy hour. Around the same time, she also became pen pal friends with Sister Maris Stella, a Bishop England graduate who is a Nashville Dominican, who became a source of guidance and support for the young Fiona.
Meanwhile, her family provided a constant background of support and encouragement. Her siblings, Abigail and Ian, now 23 and 21, respected her daily prayer time. And when it was time for Fiona to start school, her parents decided homeschooling was the best option. Dr. Thomson closed a busy pediatric practice to nurture her own children, saying she felt her calling at that time was to protect and preserve Fiona’s vocation.
“I feel many more are called but are distracted by the noise of the world,” she said.
Fiona agreed. “It is hard in this world to hear [God’s voice].”
Along the way, Fiona’s passion and talent for ballet and music opened the door to consider a career in the arts, “but it was always fleeting,” she said.
Ultimately, she always circled back to religious life. As she discerned which path to take, Fiona considered the Dominicans, the Poor Clares, and the Carmelites.
Listening to God’s voice, and asking for guidance, she received numerous signs that led to the Carmelites, including a love and connection with St. Thérèse.
But it was not a clear, straight path. There were complications that threw off her original decision to join the Carmelites in Philadelphia and left her feeling depressed and discouraged about where she was supposed to be. Confused, she asked God for guidance — specifically, for an intention in the form of a rose, representing St. Thérèse the Little Flower.
She received that intention when she visited the monastery in Loretto, and the nuns gave her a yellow rose.
Recently, she spent three months in the embrace of cloistered life, or “behind the grill” as the expression goes. It is a life many view as restrictive, even prison-like, Fiona said, explaining that once women take vows, they don’t leave the monastery, and can only see their family once a month, and even then, only from behind the grill.
It is purposeful, as the nuns constantly hone their Carmelite soul, focused on praying for the world.
Fiona said it is quite the opposite of restrictive.
“It’s so freeing,” she said, adding that when she’s within the fold, she feels free to express the true spiritual self she’s always wanted to be.
Her parents have worked hard to let her discover her true path, and said they find solace in the comfort God provides. Dr. Thomson said even when Fiona’s in the monastery, they can feel when she’s praying for them, just like a hug.
They also firmly believe the words of St. Mother Teresa: “Whenever you give your child up for the Church, Jesus takes [her] place in the home.”