Sisters hoping visibility boosts vocations

On a Sunday in March, sisters from three religious communities got on a trolley after Mass at Lumen Christi Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and headed first for Ascension Parish, then Assumption Parish. They waved out the windows as they traveled the city streets, sang when they stopped and collected donations of hygiene products for the Dorothy Day Center.

Sister Mary Kay Brooks of the School Sisters of Notre Dame predicted that their vocations event was going to be a blast.

It was Plan B after they were turned down for a flash mob appearance at the nearby Mall of America.

“We are trying to be creative with how we invite young women and men to consider vocations,” she said.

‘It’s that personal relationship we work for’

Sister Mary Kay is on the vocations team with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. They rode the trolley with sisters from the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis and the Sinsinawa Dominicans from Dubuque, Iowa.

Sister Mary Alix of the Sisters of Mary Morning Star talks with Marie Regnier on Feb. 18 in Bloomington, Minn. CNS photo

Next stop was Mickey’s Diner, a restaurant inside an old trolley, where the sisters mingled with guests. Then they headed for St. Thomas University and St. Catherine University to hand out candy to students in the libraries. The last stop was the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

“It’s that personal relationship that we work for,” Sister Mary Kay said. “Right now, we’re trying to make relationships with high school teachers, the younger teachers and the Jesuit volunteers. We’re trying to help them with their discernment. We’re going out to universities to have spiritual conversations, and just sitting and sharing our faith.”

They attend conferences, conventions, busy student retreats and anywhere they can engage young people. The sisters ask them, “How do you let God into your life? How do you see God helping you to find your deeper purpose?”

‘Get them through the door’

Also in March, the Benedictine Sisters at St. Scholastica Monastery in Chicago welcomed women to an afternoon of knitting that had a twofold purpose: one was to make hats, gloves, mittens and teddy bears for an after-school program and a center for the homeless; the other reason simply was to introduce young women to the idea of a religious life.

“As vocations director, I have found that very few women have met a sister or have been to a monastery,” Benedictine Sister Belinda Monahan said. “The first idea is to get them through the door.”

The Benedictine sisters in the past organized lectio divina (“divine reading”) evenings with readings, meditations and journaling. They’ve also offered ora et labora (“prayer and work”) retreats with communal work in the garden.

“We talk about what it’s like to work for God and serve God in both prayer and labor,” Sister Belinda said.

Sometimes they just have regular discernment retreats.

“These have all been very successful in introducing young women to religious life and what Benedictine monastic life looks like,” she said.

Sister Theresita Donach, associate director for vocations with the Sisters of the Holy Family in Nazareth, Ill., said participating in community events is key. Courtesy photo

‘A great promoter of being present’

Sister Theresita Donach of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Des Plaines, Illinois, decided in eighth grade that she was going to become a nun. She attributes that early inspiration to growing up when nuns were very visible in churches and schools.

“Girls cleaned the convents and went shopping with the sisters and helped at school,” she said. “You developed a relationship with the sisters because they were there.”

Sister Theresita joined the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth 54 years ago. She is associate director for vocations for the community that has nearly 300 sisters scattered across the United States — and more internationally. Their vocations outreach focuses on visibility.

“I’m a great promoter of being present at an event that’s already happening,” she said. “We’re invited to fish fries and pancake breakfasts where people are already there. We can set up a table and people stop to talk to us.”

Her community invites high school and college students to service experiences that include prayer, community life and getting to know the sisters. The events are open to both young women and men because the focus is not just on vocations to the religious life. It’s also about family life.

“Developing that relationship with the sisters is what’s important,” Sister Theresita said. “We have some kids who went through high school, then college, and they still communicate with the sisters, and they still hang around. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Three members of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia sit around the fire with a young woman in Tacoma, Wash., where the sisters host retreats. Courtesy photo

‘I’m able to share my charism’

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have sisters on the West Coast, and their small community in Tacoma, Washington has a retreat house on Puget Sound. They open it for youth and adult ministers who want to take a break for however long they need to get recharged for their ministries.

“It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and a time for them to support one another and for us to build relationships with them and the young adults that they serve,” said Franciscan Sister Christine Still, who is vocations director and charism promoter for the community.

Pink Sisters Pray for Vocations
Sister Mary Caritas Nash saw several photos of nuns kneeling in adoration and felt called to be with them to adore Christ. She entered the cloistered Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters in 1958, shortly after high school, and is the superior of their Chapel of Divine Love in Philadelphia.

“They will then invite me to come to their young adult activities, speak to confirmation classes or provide retreats for youth groups. They know me, and I know them, and I’m able to share my charism and spirituality, as well as religious life,” Sister Christine said.

When she entered the convent in 1981, candidates were reading brochures and making phone calls. Now they have numerous options to explore on the internet and social media sites.

What hasn’t changed, Sister Christine said, are the expectations.

They’re looking for prayer and a deep spirituality, she said. “They’re looking for community and a meaningful ministry, which is really what most of us were looking for, whether we entered in the 1960s, the 1980s or now. The religious life still offers all that.”

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Vocation Special Section