In Ann Arbor, Mich., the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, has grown from a group of four founders in 1997 to more than 115 members today. Their growth is so phenomenal that Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, vocations director, has been interviewed by Oprah and on all major television networks.
At the Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Ark., Benedictine Father Elijah Owens, assistant vocations director, said the men who inquire about a vocation as a Benedictine monk are looking for balance and a monastic life lived in community.
And, in the greater New York City area, Sister Virginia Joy Cotter, a member of the vocations office for the Sisters of Life, had such a dramatic call to discernment that she travels around the country evangelizeing and witnessing to the religious life.
Dedicated to bringing others to God through vocations to religious life, these three leaders see firsthand the fruits of their labor.
“We just have to say that it’s God’s goodness to us,” Sister Bogdanowicz, one of the founders, said about the Dominican growth. “He is generously sending us many intelligent, vibrant young women from the United States and Canada. Nobody can do that but God. We are getting very bright young women, some from the biggest universities like Harvard, and some who were home-schooled. It’s a real variety, which is good, because the Church family needs all kinds of talent.”
At a recent retreat, 160 young women brought, along with their sleeping bags, their curiosity about Dominican life.
“They are the John Paul II generation, and now Pope Benedict’s, and they really want to do God’s will,” Sister Bogdanowicz said. “And God always will be calling for the spiritual motherhood of young women.”
Many women on the discernment retreats, Sister Bogdanowicz said, are looking for a community that wears a habit and has the essentials that Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote about in 1983 — a set time of prayer and community life rooted in that prayer.
“But our vocations discernment retreats aren’t just ‘come and see,’” she said. “Our community helps them to find God’s plan, and many have a married vocation. If they have a religious vocation, we help them to find the community they belong to. Not all are called to our community. We help them to find the charism in the Church that calls for their love and devotion and talents.”
The role of technology
Every month, more than 1,000 visitors check out the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist website. Internet visitors have increased, too, for the Subiaco Abbey. Father Owens, who works with vocations director Brother Francis Kirchner, noted that the contacts directed from the website have more than doubled.
“It seems that men are using Google and their own related searches rather than print publications for their research,” he said. “Since the general population has been moving away from desktops and laptops to the tablets and mobile devices, we have updated our website to work primarily for those two devices. Most of our initial contacts from men are via cell phone, texting, Skype and social media. Even emails have begun to lessen in number.”
For that reason, men are more informed about communities that may be geographically distant. And since Benedictines take vows of stability, technology can help them keep in touch with family and friends.
“We have 34 solemnly professed monks and 10 men in formation,” Father Owens said. “Of the 10 in formation, only three come from Arkansas.”
When the men who inquire are asked why they think God is calling them to explore monastic life, the most common answer is the balance of prayer and work, or ora et labora.
“Men are able to draw closer and deeper in their relationship with God through personal and communal prayer in this monastic life as lived according to the Rule of St. Benedict under our abbot,” Father Owens said. “Likewise, they will be able to enter into a variety of works that span everything from farming, to teaching, to retreat ministry, to parish work. That balance of prayer and work is important to them.”
The second most common answer is the desire for community. That comes from a generation, Father Owens said, that may not have experienced the feeling of community even among families and friends. In fact, the monastery itself is often the appealing factor.
“These men have typically experienced our way of life through a retreat, our camp or a visit to our monastery after having looked at our website,” Father Owens said.
But then, he added, even though they desire the experience of community life, the challenge comes in the formation of living that experience.
Restless hearts find peace
“I think that people are looking to know that their life has meaning no matter their vocation,” Sister Cotter, who has been in formation for three years and has professed her first vows, told OSV.
Sister Cotter frequently shares her vocation story as an example of the need for discernment. “I had to recognize the great need to pray for courage to respond to what God was asking of me,” she said.
|Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist postulants. Courtesy of Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist
Sister Cotter, 32, didn’t realize that she was called to the religious life until she was well settled elsewhere. She was a high school counselor and soccer coach, and she wanted someday to get married.
“I believed God had a plan for my life and I assumed that I knew what the plan was, and that was based on every romantic comedy I had ever seen,” she said.
Sister Cotter bought a house and was living with some of her best friends, had a good social life, traveled and was having a lot of fun. Yet her heart felt restless and unsettled. Then during consecration at a Mass, she prayed for her family, for students and for herself and — much to her own shock — she prayed for her own religious vocation. She left Mass dismissing the thought as being overly dramatic, and tried to push it out of her mind.
It took two years for Sister Cotter to work through the ensuing confusion. Grace came when she visited the Sisters of Life, a contemplative active community whose primary work is prayer.
A trusted friend assured her that if she was being faithful, the Lord would work with her. Two weeks later, Sister Cotter realized that the Lord was “putting it before me” over and over again when she met a young woman who was entering the Sisters of Life.
“I can’t describe grace and how it works,” Sister Cotter said about her decisive moment praying before the Blessed Sacrament. “The Lord was laying it out, and immediately my heart was undivided. In that moment, I knew, and I never felt more free and more peaceful.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.