For years, Paris Slapikas struggled with an inner voice that told her something in her life was missing even when everything seemed to be in the right place. She didn’t listen at first. “I didn’t open myself to it,” she says. “The more I fought it, the harder things became.”
In August 2007, as Paris prepared for her first vow ceremony with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, she recognized the small voice in her heart had slowly transformed into the calling of a lifetime. A call to enter religious life, a life dedicated to service and mission. So what has the journey been like for Paris, a young woman in search of her true calling?
It began in Alabama, as Paris, the youngest of four in her family, decided to go on a pilgrimage at the age of 14. She recalls this as the first step in her spiritual and emotional development. She began searching.
The thought of religious life hadn’t yet entered her mind. Paris dreamt of a family of her own, of being the mother of six children and a wife. And when she did begin to think of being part of a community of women religious, her mind filled with stereotypes – stereotypes she had to let go of.
When Paris took a volunteer job in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., at Covenant House, she met SCNs Eva Kowalski and Nancy Gerth. They weren’t working in the same department, but she remembers being attracted to their spirit from afar. “There was something about them that I wanted to know,” Paris explains. “They seemed really grounded, really committed to service, also with a real sense of generosity.”
She continued to watch Sisters Eva and Nancy for a while without trying to connect with them. But the little voice in her heart was growing stronger. “I don’t even know how to explain it. There were simple things, the way they carried themselves, and gave of themselves. I felt it was coming from their spirituality.”
She came to visit the Nazareth Campus for the first time during a retreat. Today, she chuckles calling that her “undercover” mission, because she was yet unsure to voice her search to the Sisters. The trip was a big step in her formation, “I had a sense of peace and calm that I didn’t have when I wasn’t here.”
The next time she took the trip to Nazareth, it was intentional. By now, she could clearly hear her call. The campus greeted her again, and she felt like she was coming home. “One thing that struck me was that some of the Sisters I met the first time remembered who I was. That sense of hospitality blows you away from the beginning.”
During a hospitality weekend at Nazareth the following summer, Paris expressed her desire to begin discernment. “It was a real sense of freedom that came to me when I could talk about it openly.”
What followed wasn’t a walk in the park. While the discernment process offered her a chance to share her beliefs, desires, stories of faith, so many questions also flooded her heart and mind. “What does it mean? Where is it going to take me? What happens to my dream of having a family?”
For four years, first as a candidate, then as novice, Paris experienced the SCN community as supportive and comforting, staying by her side during such a personal journey. “They said to me, ‘we want what you want. We will journey with you even if you are journeying somewhere else.'”
Her mentors throughout this process helped her see that there was nothing wrong with the struggle she was experiencing, that “true discernment happened between two goods,” and she just had to follow the stronger call.
Soon, she recognized the strong desire to be a Sister in mission with the SCNs. The exact feeling cannot be put into words. “It’s a heart thing,” she explains. “It’s not about a handful of people in the community, it’s the whole community… what it stands for, what it embodies, that has kept me here.”
Looking back, Paris wishes she would have spoken up sooner. “I made my personal journey much harder than it had to be.”
As she took steps down the aisle in St. Vincent Church at Nazareth, Paris made an official commitment, but she said she felt she was an SCN long before that day. “I’ve lived these vows as a novice. This is a public recognition of the choice that I’ve made.”
She is ready to go into full time mission, to travel and experience the passion for mission SCNs are all about. “My reality has changed.”