By JENNA MINK The Daily News

Pictured second from left, Sister Nancy Gerth
on a recent mission trip in New Orleans

Nancy Gerth fought the calling to become a nun.

She even went to college, joined a sorority, had a boyfriend and worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was meant to serve God in a more serious way.

While working, “I looked up, and who’s in line? A nun,” she said. “I go to Kroger to buy groceries; who’s behind me in line? A sister … it was like I had nun radar.”

Now, Gerth is a part of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth near Bardstown, a congregation of Catholic sisters who do mission work and other duties on behalf of the church.

Gerth and another sister, Bowling Green native Rita Davis, spoke to students Thursday at St. Joseph School. The presentation was part of Catholic Schools Week.

Davis attended St. Joseph for 12 years, and she recalls some fun – and serious – moments when she went to the Bowling Green Catholic school. She was in school when she first contemplated becoming a sister, she said.

“I was 15 and none of my friends were going to be sisters,” she said. Later in life, “I would be somewhere with a date and think, ‘I don’t think so.’”

That’s when she seriously started considering it. She became a sister about 45 years ago.

“It’s challenging to live with all women,” Davis, who now lives in Nazareth, said after the presentation. “We try to beef up on our communication skills.”

A sister is different from a nun because the latter mainly stays in her community, serving God through prayer and church work. Sisters, on the other hand, travel the world performing mission work, said Gerth, who lives in a house with three other sisters in Bardstown.

But, like nuns, they do not marry or have families outside the church.

Like Davis, Gerth initially brushed off the idea of becoming a sister. She was a student at a Louisville Catholic school when she first felt a calling, she said.

“I heard a voice in my head saying, ‘Be a sister,’ ” she said. “I didn’t want to be a sister. Me and my friends, we were talking about volleyball and cheerleading and hanging out at the mall and B-O-Y-S.”
But, when she was nearing college graduation, she could no longer run away from the voice. She broke up with her boyfriend and informed her parents that she was becoming a sister.

Her parents were not supportive. They claimed she had been brainwashed and was throwing her life away. Her mother didn’t speak to her for two years, she said.

“But I still had to do it because, in my heart, I felt God wanted me to be a sister,” she said.

Years later, it’s still challenging. Remaining faithful to prayer, community and her ministry can be difficult at times, she said.

“Just like in any relationship, you do have to work at it,” she said, “and it’s the everyday things that you have to continually work at.”

But she doesn’t regret her decision. Because she’s a sister, Gerth has traveled and worked in an array of places. She spent 18 years in a homeless shelter for teenagers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“I’ve seen everything, and I’ve heard everything. I’ve been with the most amazing people,” she said. “Because of being with the sisters, God has become so big. There’s no limit to God.”