When Sister Dianna Maring, O.Carm., was 10 years old, she liked to play nun, taking a cue from her favorite spiritual movies, "The Sound of Music" and "The Song of Bernadette."

"Our TV had broken and we didn't get a new one until my sister and I were teenagers," Sister Dianna explained, laughing.

She spent her childhood as an altar server, lector and choir member at St. Joseph's Church in West Winfield, now paired to become St. Joseph the Worker in West Winfield/Richfield Springs.

The young girl stuck out a bit at the public schools she attended. "I was considered a little bit of a loser because I wasn't doing some of the things the other kids were doing, like sex and drugs," she said.

It was no surprise, then, that Sister Dianna decided to pursue a vocation to religious life after dating, graduating from SUNY-Canton and working as an occupational therapy assistant.

Now 25, she's a month into her postulancy with the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown.

"She has thought about being a sister probably since the fifth grade," said Sister Dianna's mother, Jo Ellen. "Ever since she learned about nuns, she loved them."

When Mrs. Maring was diagnosed with breast cancer, she offered up her suffering to God to further her daughter's discernment. Today, Mrs. Maring's faith is stronger and her initially poor prognosis has changed; her cancer is in remission.

"God has a perfect time for everything," she remarked. "For [Dianna] to become a sister is just so beautiful. They show us what life in heaven is like, because in heaven you have no possessions."

Sister Dianna visited several orders before finding her calling with the Carmelites, who are committed to serving the elderly, praying the Rosary and devotions to Jesus, Mary and the Blessed Sacrament. The sisters also wear a traditional habit, but allow for other clothes during some activities.

The latter was important to Sister Dianna, who enjoys downhill skiing and swimming - but has now ruled out two-piece bathing suits.

Sister Dianna felt connected to the order because her great, great-aunt was a third-order member - a layperson who follows the order's precepts - and because as a child she admired St. Therese of Lisieux, who was a Carmelite.

Little like me
Sister Dianna was born with Turner syndrome, a growth disorder that stopped her height at 4 feet 8 and three-quarters inches. St. Therese was known as the "Little Flower."

"I'm like, 'Oh, she's little, like me!'" Sister Dianna remembered.

"When you look differently, people treat you differently. I want to be taken seriously."

The other sisters she's encountered are respectful of her stature, she said: "Of course, that's not the reason I entered, but it's a perk. I wouldn't change [my condition]. I believe we are all called to suffer in different ways. Crosses are important.

"I think it's made me a better person," Sister Dianna continued. "It's made me more compassionate. I accept it as God's will and I enjoy educating people about it."

Her other cross, she said, is missing her parents, sister and infant nephew and the family farm. Her family can visit her, but she can't own a vehicle or go home until the end of the first year of her novitiate, which she'll start at the end of her six-month postulancy. It will be another eight years after that before she makes her final profession of vows.

"Of course, I miss her very much," Mrs. Maring said. "But we just offer it up, and the joy of her responding to her vocation always outweighs the suffering."

God's valentine
If Sister Dianna had any doubts, they were quelled by the serendipitous date she entered the order: Feb. 14.

"When she was little," Mrs. Maring recalled, "she always wanted to get married on Valentine's Day."

Sister Dianna was originally scheduled to enter on Jan. 21, but the paperwork was delayed. "That was such a blessing," Sister Dianna told The Evangelist. "I just couldn't believe it."

So far, Sister Dianna's postulancy has been what she expected: practicing the Liturgy of the Hours and getting ready to begin ministry as a sister.

She'd like to coordinate activities when she's placed in one of the nursing homes the order runs, but she could receive any position: "I'm a little nervous. The worst part for me is not having a say in where I'll end up working."

Religious life requires more discipline than she's used to, but she enjoys living with other people practicing the same things.

Hopes and dreams
"To have that support in your faith is beautiful. It really carries over in your work," she said. "When [clients] see you in the habit, they know that you are a faithful person. I would hope that it inspires them in their faith life and helps them with any suffering they may have."

Sister Dianna looks forward to "being a light for Christ through being a shining example" and is already thinking of taking the name Cecilia after the patroness of church music, who remained a virgin while married.

Her advice to other young women contemplating a vocation is to trust in God, parents, parish priests and spiritual advisers.

"I really wanted to do everything I could for Christ," Sister Dianna recalled. "It seemed to me that it was like the ultimate devotion in faith to make that sacrifice. It was a thought that never went away."

(Read Sister Dianna's blog at http://carmelite-sisters.blogspot.com.)