Vocation Director Nancy Gerth, SCN, recently set out to answer a question she is often asked. Why would a woman want to enter religious life today?
The answer is the same as it was when I, and many others, entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth: God called. God is still calling today and young women are trying to listen. Beyond the experience of the initial call, women still desire prayer and spiritual growth, Community life and serving others while being part of something bigger than themselves … some of the same things that attracted many Sisters in the past. So what is different today? The world and many things in it!
In the past, many Sisters came from a “Catholic-centric” world where most family, neighbors and friends were Catholic and many activities revolved around the church. Life and its choices seemed to be more neatly packaged with delineated roles for almost everything we were and did: wife, parent, religious Sister, doctor, farmer, teacher, etc. The world today offers many more options and complicated, quick-evolving answers, partly due to our increased capacity to use and share information. Think about just one factor that has been a game-changer in recent years — technology. Today, if I can’t remember a fact, all I have to do is use a search engine on the internet; the information is literally at my fingertips in seconds. Just a little over 15 years ago, Google had just begun and who would have thought to “ask” your phone for information? In addition to technology changing things, so many other things have and are evolving right along with it. The young women searching today come from a frame work different than anyone has had before, and they are discerning religious life in unchartered waters. Their world is filled with manifold family configurations, shifting neighbor relationships, and diverse friendships extending from friends seen every day to those visited halfway across the world. Coming from this world sometimes feels overwhelming and daunting, especially when exploring serious life decisions. Simply having the amount of options, variations on options, mixed with unpredictable life events is enough to paralyze even the most skillful seeker.
Where does one begin? How does one integrate the flood of data coming in from all sides? Who has the correct information? When does one finally say enough data-gathering, I have all I need to move forward with a decision? Who do I talk to? Who do I trust? And, most of all, how do I remain attentive to the inner stirrings that are part of a sometimes long, confusing and surprise-filled process? There are six women in the United States, all of whom I greatly admire, who dare to wade into these unchartered waters of discernment and delve into these questions, among many others. I admire them, especially for doing this at our particular time in the world and Church, for holding all these things, including societal influences and deep questions, with great resolve and integrity as they pursue a mysterious invitation from God.
Some in this group of six are in college pursuing a first degree, others are in the workforce and/or are pursuing higher education goals. Each woman is distinct in personality, talents and passion to serve; each enters the journey of discernment from a different place in life. Each comes with her own experience of Sisters, as well as her understanding and preconceived ideas about religious life. Each woman is at a different point in the exploration of her call — from just dipping her toe in to check the temperature of the water, to jumping in to ride the waves.
I am in a privileged position as vocation director to meet them where they are, stand beside them as their journey unfolds, listen to their pondering, and witness God working in and through them. My role and desire is to accompany each woman who considers a call as a vowed member of the SCN Community with a listening ear, a steady hand in choppy waters, and a reminder that God is in it all – no matter where the journey might lead.
Felicia Boham, from Lima, Ohio, shares that she is inspired by the way SCNs reach out to everyone — all over — and that it comes from a strong faith life. When she is with SCNs and at Nazareth, she is inspired to do her best and appreciates the sense of community she experiences. She isn’t sure where God is leading her, but she says one should “never close a door.”
Here are a few things these women say about the SCNs and what attracts them:
- The SCNs are kind and caring.
- They are generous in many ways.
- They make everyone feel welcome and comfortable.
ABOUT VOCATION MINISTRY
How do you connect with women exploring a call to religious life? Being present with women at retreats, on service trips, “Nun Run” events (women visit several communities over a 24-hour period), Come and Serve weekends, and being introduced to them by Sisters, Associates, diocesan vocation staff, and others.
How do women “find” the SCNs if they don’t know us? Online: through vocation referral services such as Vision, ¡OYE!, Guide to Religious Ministries and the SCN website.
What type of Vocation Education outreach is currently being done? Vocation Education presentations at grade schools and high schools, religious education classes and for college groups.
How do most women end up in contact with the vocation director? Through direct and personal interaction with a Sister! (All six women mentioned above began a conversation with the vocation director after meeting a Sister of Charity of Nazareth or the vocation director in person.)
Do you know someone you think might have a vocation to religious life? 1) Ask them about it! 2) Encourage them regarding the qualities you notice. 3) Pray for them. 4) Contact any SCN or the vocation director for information. 5) Encourage discernment for all types of vocations and for putting one’s faith into action.
This article originally appeared in the 2014 Volume II issue of The Journey magazine.