Recently, I received an email from a young woman who is discerning religious life. She wanted to know the possibilities available in the archdiocese for someone who is thinking about becoming a religious sister. Her question is one that I have received more than once during these last two years as vocation director. The difficulty in answering this is that there are no “diocesan sisters” as we have diocesan priests. Although every order has its own vocation director, there is no central director that one can contact about religious life.
The challenge with not having a diocesan point person for the sisters is that it can seem that there are not as many opportunities for women to discern religious life as there are for men to discern priesthood. An example of this is the Cathedral Prep program where high school age men seriously considering a vocation to the priesthood meet once a month from Friday evening to Sunday morning at St. Joseph’s Seminary to spend time together and discern God’s will. This program is a great blessing and every year a few of them go on to the college seminary after high school. As far as I know, there are no programs like this for the sisters in New York.
At the same time, however, New York is in a unique position because we have such a wide array of religious orders that have convents throughout the archdiocese. Often when I am at a national gathering with other vocation directors some say how they wish they had the same array of religious sisters in their diocese that New York has. I think there has always been a sense of what a great gift the sisters are to all of us. It reminds me of the loudest ovation Pope Francis received during his apostolic visit to New York, when at St. Patrick’s Cathedral he asked the rhetorical question, “Where would we be without the sisters?” Those in attendance that evening applauded understanding just how integral to the health of the diocese the sisters are.
So what should a woman do who is considering a religious vocation? In a way, there is the sense of finding a vocation in a vocation. Once someone discerns that the Lord is calling them to follow Him as a priest, brother or sister the next question to ask is: Where might the Lord be drawing me within this vocation? Where are my passions, gifts, and talents, and what kind of work would I want to be involved with as I serve the Lord? It can be anything from pro-life ministry, to teaching, evangelization, work with the poor, etc. After praying about this and discerning what kind of ministry attracts someone, the next step is to research the orders that serve in those apostolates. Many religious orders provide service opportunities to people that are considering joining their order or simply want to minister to others with various needs. By serving and volunteering there is a strong chance that one will meet people with the same interests and questions. This is a great way to realize that one is not alone in their discernment. By meeting and working closely with the sisters the discerner can determine if their ministry and outreach is something that speaks to the heart as they seek to understand and respond to God’s will. Another great resource is the website vocationnetwork.org. This site, through a list of questions that will take no more than 15 minutes to complete, can help point someone to the type of religious order that most fulfills what the discerner is looking for.
The desire to discern God’s will can be frustrating at times, but there are many opportunities to assist someone as they ask these questions. The most important thing is simply to keep our hearts open to whatever way in which the Lord is speaking to us.