At the age of 9, Carlette Gentle, a young Belizean girl, told her mother she wanted to become a Sister. The youngest of five children, Carlette didn’t quite know how this wish would play out 17 years later in her life and neither did her mother, who thought this was just a childhood phase.
As time passed, Carlette felt her desire for religious life was more than child’s play. Through high school years, while she continued on her path like any teenager, dating and preparing for college, Carlette was open about her call. “The strongest part of my desire (to become a Sister) came when I was in high school,” Carlette explained. “I told everyone I was not ashamed to say it.”
The truthfulness earned her a famous nickname. Since her father was commonly referred to as Fresh, his girl was bound to be a little Miss Fresh. However, confessing to her interest in becoming a Sister made Carlette into “Sista Fresh,” a pseudonym she proudly took on through her discernment process.
At 26, Carlette became a Sister of Charity of Nazareth during a ceremony Aug. 2, 2007, in Belize. The theme of her vow mass was a butterfly, symbol of her growth through years of discernment and serious soul-searching. “From a caterpillar to a butterfly I grew in awareness of myself, the community and those around me,” Carlette says. “I had grown both inside and out.”
So how did Sista Fresh, a vivacious young woman from Belize, become SCN Carlette?
As she explains, her first encounter with the SCN Community happened through her “love of cooking.” Brenda Gonzales, SCN, who now serves as the Western vice provincial, used to coordinate immersion trips to Belize. One year she needed help providing food to volunteers in her group. That’s when Carlette came into the picture. “My godmother is an SCNA and she knew Sister Brenda and volunteered me. I took up the job. I was surely glad I did because I really enjoyed my time there.”
While cooking up her favorite dishes, Carlette observed the SCNs in the area. And the more she observed, the clearer it became that there was a strong connection with their charism. “I felt at home and I could be myself,” Carlette says. “They laughed and ran jokes and I admired them so much. They were also hospitable to me and treated me like they knew me for years. That is where the relationship first started to bloom.”
It didn’t take long for Carlette to begin exploring possibilities. Religious life was something that had always been on her mind, but it was now taking a tangible shape. Despite this felt clarity, the years leading up to her vow mass were full of questions and doubts as well as revelations of her faith. “To me discernment was a deeper look into myself first of all to see if I really wanted to pursue religious life and a deeper look at the community to see if I can live the life they are asking and feel comfortable shining my own light within the community,” Carlette said. Her desire to have children also came into play, but she realized by pursuing a ministry of reaching out to the young ones, she’ll have even more children she can care for.
She has now returned to Belize, where she runs a small preschool for children in Las Flores, teaches art classes on Saturdays, mentors a youth group and has taken up cooking classes for the women in the village.
When asked to reflect on what her commitment means to her, Carlette writes:
“Religious life for me is first of all community. The bond and care our sisters have for each other is priceless. Religious life also means reaching out to my neighbor, not just the person who lives next to me but my homeless neighbor, my abused neighbor, my neighbor who needs justice, and the earth as part of my family.
Making this commitment means that I promise to give it my all. To dream dreams and work toward letting them become a reality. To work toward justice for the poor, oppressed, and those who don’t have a voice. This commitment means to me that I am part of a bigger community and it feels like I belong. It means that I am part of a group that I am proud to say I belong.”
So is it clear to see that, from caterpillar to butterfly, from Sista Fresh to Sister Carlette, this SCN has found a place where her dreams will transform the world around her as well.