Clarisa Cutaia was no ordinary teenager.
“Most of my friends weren’t practicing Catholics,” Clarisa said. “So it wasn’t cool for me to suggest, ‘Hey, let’s go to church,’ when we were looking for something to do on a Saturday night.”
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Clarisa and her family moved to the United States when she was just 3 years old. They settled in Metairie, La., a large suburb of New Orleans.
She attended a Catholic school until the third grade but became more curious about her faith when she became a teen. So she went to a Catholic religion education class.
“I was so eager to learn more, but the class only met once a week,” Clarisa said.
So she began reading about the Bible and the Bible itself. “I was doing lectio (spiritual reading) before I even knew what it was,” she laughed.
The years went by and Clarisa graduated from high school. She decided to take a year off from school to contemplate what the future had in store for her. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to college because I love to learn,” she said. “I spent a lot of time in prayer asking what I should do with the rest of my life, not just the next three or four years.”
While working at a daycare, she decided to attend a local community college to earn a degree in early childhood education then study theology. At least that was the plan.
“I danced with the idea of religious life for a while and felt a marvelous sense of peace with the idea,” she said. Her spiritual adviser gave her a directory of religious communities. She put out feelers to those that caught her eye.
She found an e-mail message from Sister Ruth Elaine Starman, OSB, vocation director for the Benedictine Sisters, to be interesting.
“She mentioned that the community was a semi-cloistered one. So I looked at their website and immediately fell in love with it,” Clarisa said.
She attended the Summer Monastic Program, a weeklong residential program for young women discerning a call to religious life. “It was all very new to me,” she said, “but it felt like home.”
She returned that fall for a two-week visit then began the process to apply for entrance, a procedure that was unfamiliar for her since no one in her family had ever entered religious life. Her application was accepted and Clarisa entered the postulancy of the Benedictine Sisters.
She made her first monastic profession in 2011, taking the name Sister Maria Victoria in honor of the Virgin Mary and her grandmother who introduced her to Catholicism. She made her final profession in 2014.
“Between Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and my grandmother I became to know God’s abundant love,” Sister Maria Victoria said.
Today she serves as vocation director of the Tucson, Arizona, monastery. She also leads Tucson's correspondence department, assisting in answering prayer requests and social media.