The call to life as a religious sister can come at any time, in the most unexpected way.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius Sister Judy Therese Holler first announced she was going to become a nun when she was seven years old, even though at the time she wasn’t even Catholic. The calling stayed in the back of her mind until college, and through prayer and the guidance of spiritual advisors, she joined the church and eventually found her way to the order that has been her home for 21 years.
Sister Judy’s vocation story can be a good example for women who might feel they have a call to religious life but don’t know how to pursue it.
It’s a call more need to heed as the number of religious sisters in the United States declines and the current population ages.
“I would suggest women who feel a call talk to sisters in their area, research the different orders and see what they offer,” Sister Judy said. “Also be very prayerful. Spend some time praying for the Holy Spirit to speak to you. Spend an hour sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament to see what God is calling you to do.”
The Internet offers a quick way to explore many different religious orders, their charisms, and what daily life is like.
“When a woman is discerning a vocation, the big question is: Do I really have one? And then to what kind of community?” said Sister Mary Connor, OSC, abbess at the Monastery of St. Clare in Travelers Rest. She noted there are two kinds of religious vocations a woman may pursue. Active religious communities follow their charism in the public world, while contemplative communities like hers, the Order of the Poor Clares, live cloistered lives of prayer with limited access to the outside world.
“Often we might start talking to someone and discover she really has an active vocation,” Sister Mary said. “You want what’s best for the person, so you guide her in that way. It’s not like you’re recruiting for your team.”
It is important to personally visit a community to see if their lifestyle is a good fit, the sisters said. The Poor Clares, for example, offer “Come and See” weekends for women to experience life at the monastery.
Sister Mary advises women to spend as much time as possible in prayer, attend daily Mass if possible, and spend time reading Scripture to discern what God is calling them to do. It can also be helpful for a woman to consult a spiritual advisor or talk to women religious in her parish or community, she said.
The faithful are encouraged to pray for those in religious life and discuss vocations in their homes. Nationally, the 16th annual World Day for Consecrated Life will be observed in parishes Feb. 4-5, a time to pray for an increase of vocations.
“As a church, we’re not doing enough to nurture vocations,” Sister Mary said. “We need to be praying for women’s vocations and openly encouraging women to think about it. Religious life is something God calls us to and gives us the grace to do. To really be a disciple, we really need God’s help.”
Individuals who wish to determine how God is calling them may contact the Office of Vocations at (800) 660-4102 or visit charlestonvocations.com/women-religious/.