Second in a two-part series on answering God’s call to the priesthood or religious life
PROVIDENCE — When Dominican Sister Mary Veronica Keller, principal of St. Pius V School, Providence, answered the Lord’s call in 1993, she felt “a huge tug in her heart to be totally his.”
Sister Keller, who taught high school English in Catholic and public schools, and who worked as a technical writer before becoming a religious, recalled that as she kept praying and speaking to God, “the tug was just getting stronger.”
The educator said that once she entered the convent, she was “totally happy. It was truly what I was made to be.”
“Every vocation story I have heard has a common thread – a deepened relationship with Jesus and renewed devotion to eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation,” she continued.
During adoration, Sister Keller noted that an individual discerning God’s call to religious life has “a chance to be quiet and listen to God and hear his call in your heart. If you are called, God will give you the desire.”
Sister Keller emphasized that a religious vocation is not a career choice, but rather a “personal invitation from Christ to your soul.
“It’s very specific, loving and gentle to each person,” she said. “A vocation is a gift, it not something earned.”
Adding that the increase in vocations that the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia is experiencing is “a divine mystery,” she noted that it is because of God’s grace that the congregation is flourishing.
“I believe it is because of a new springtime in the church,” she concluded.
While the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are experiencing an increase in the number of candidates discerning vocations, there has been a sharp decline overall in the number of women entering religious life in the United States, although vocations directors from women’s congregations report an increase in inquiries. Some of the requests have come from older women who have enjoyed successful careers but who seek a deeper relationship with God, according to the vocation director of a local Carmelite monastery.
Like the Diocese of Providence’s Office of Vocations, which has a strong Internet presence, many religious orders are also embracing modern technology to communicate with individuals interested in learning more about religious life.
Most congregations promote vocations through Web sites, and some are exploring the use of other social media. Many vocation directors of women’s orders emphasize that personal contact with those discerning a vocation is important, whether it be made at a retreat or vocation program, through a telephone call or by witnessing a sister engaged in active ministry, such as a teacher or one living a contemplative life of prayer.
Dominican Sister Peter Marie Chrismer, vocation director for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, based in Nashville, Tenn., noted that the congregation currently has 95 sisters in formation, including 67 who are in the novitiate.
“A vocation is a call from God,” Sister Chrismer emphasized, “He is calling so many women. They want respond in the most generous way that they can and give everything that they have.”
The vocation director said the congregation accepts women who are recent high school graduates to age 30, with most applicants coming from the United States. With education as the religious order’s primary apostolate, its sisters staff schools and colleges throughout this country, Canada. Italy and Australia.
Sister Chrismer added that priests and Dominican friars involved in campus ministry often recommend the congregation to women discerning God’s call.
“That’s a huge part of it,” she said, adding that sisters who attend World Youth Day and diocesan vocation events, such as the one being held at St. Mary Academy-Bay View on Jan. 26, also generate interest in the order.
The congregation also promotes vocations through a monthly newsletter, which includes reflections from sisters in formation and suggestions for spiritual reading.
She added that while plans to add a Facebook page to disseminate vocations information and announce retreats and other programs have been considered, definite plans to implement such electronic recruitment efforts have not been made.
“We are very, very blessed,” Sister Chrismer emphasized, adding that 36 women recently attended a vocations retreat last week in Nashville “to ask the question if they are being called.”
For Dominican Sister Mary Gianna Klein, the call to religious life began in high school when her mother encouraged her to “spend time with the Lord.”
After learning about the congregation from a college friend, she went on a vocation retreat and entered the order in 2006. Sister Klein, who earned degrees in nursing and education, teaches second grade at St. Pius V School and assists in the infirmary at the motherhouse in Tennessee during the summer.
“The whole idea of being the bride of Christ is what my heart was made for,” she said. “I saw it beautifully and authentically lived in the sisters in Nashville.”
Sister Klein will profess final vows on July 22 at the motherhouse.
“The Holy Spirit is calling people to religious life,” she said. “It’s all the work of the Holy Spirit."
At the Carmelite Monastery in Barrington, Carmelite Sister Eileen Nasser, who serves as vocation director, noted that she has received about 10 inquiries in the last six months about contemplative consecrated life.
There are currently no sisters in formation at the Barrington carmel, which has 14 sisters.
“Religious vocations are very rare,” Sister Nasser said, adding that of the inquiries she does receive, some are from older women aged 40 and older.
“After they experience the world, they want to live a life of prayer,” she said.
Sister Nasser emphasized that while some of the 13 carmels in the United States are attracting younger vocations, some monasteries that are smaller in size are merging.
“I think the religious life will continue,” she said. “We always need women who are devoted to prayer and to both the active and contemplative lives.”