Online door never closes on discerners
DO YOU HAVE TO WANT to be a nun to be called to religious life? A listener posed that question to the “Ask Sister” podcast a few years ago. “Could my lack of desire for such a life be proof that this urge I’m feeling is not a calling but something I’ve made up in my mind?” the listener asked.
The show’s cohosts, Sister Julie Vieira, I.H.M. and Sister Maxine Kollasch, I.H.M., loved the question. Nothing gets the two founders of aNunsLife.org excited like helping people figure out what God might be calling them to do with their lives.
“The short answer is no, you don’t have to desire to be called to religious life to actually have the call—at least not at first,” said Kollasch. “But ultimately there is some sort of a connection you need to feel.”
“It doesn’t have to be that head-over-heels feeling. It might be a very quiet desire,” added Vieira. “But you do ultimately need to have that sense of ‘Yeah, I want this for myself and my life.’ ”
As the two women discuss the issues this question raises, neither sister is trying to push the listener into the convent. Just because someone is interested in prayer and spirituality, they point out, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re called to religious life.
“Maybe this is a call to be open to any number of directions God might be calling you,” said Kollasch. “I think it’s safe to say that God is calling you somehow to a deeper relationship with Godself,” Vieira said. “You don’t have to answer the question: ‘Should I be a nun?’ Instead we can go with what we can be sure of, which is that God wants to know you, maybe in a new or deeper way.”
The listener’s reluctance and unease—combined with a persistent desire to figure out her life’s purpose—echo in the vocation stories of Vieira, 42, and Kollasch, 57, both members of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (I.H.M.), based in Monroe, Michigan.
“I never wanted to become a sister; it wasn’t on my radar,” recalled Vieira, who grew up in Rochester, New York and attended the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto before pursuing a master’s degree in theology from Regis College in Toronto.
Throughout her young-adult years, Vieira kept revisiting the question of what to give her life to. Inspired by a documentary about the four U.S. churchwomen killed in El Salvador and by several Catholic sisters she met in college, she thought about religious life. “Still, I couldn’t even imagine that God would call me to such a thing,” she said. “I had that stereotype that I would have to be super-religious and super-devout.”
Partnering with a spiritual director from the I.H.M.s connected her with her current community. Eventually religious life went from something she didn’t want to “being afraid that it was something God wasn’t calling me to, because I was falling in love with it and my congregation,” she recalls. “I was becoming a better person, more myself.”
Religious life was also an unexpected turn in Kollasch’s life. “I had always considered myself a spiritual person but never imagined myself in religious life,” she said, even though she has two aunts who are Presentation and Benedictine sisters and an uncle who is a Jesuit priest.
Instead she was focused on a professional path. With a bachelor’s degree from Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa and a master’s degree in advertising from Michigan State University, she was working for a health corporation doing writing, marketing, and advertising.
“At some point, God just snuck up on me,” she said. “Especially when I met the I.H.M.s, something resonated so deeply within me. I knew I wanted to be part of that mission, that way of being community.” One of the first steps in her life as a religious was a master’s degree in theology from Catholic Theological Union.
|“We can help nourish the idea that every single person is called by God,” says Sister Julie Vieira, I.H.M. (left).|
Because both Vieira and Kollasch had experience as professional authors—both have written for several Catholic publishers—they both hoped to use those skills in their ministry. After professing final vows in 2006, they began A Nun’s Life Ministry.
“We are both tech-savvy, so we started off by blogging about what it’s like to be a nun and to counter some of the stereotypes,” Vieira recalled. “We wanted a place where sisters could speak about religious life in their own words. The blog was a great place for that.”
Religious women have always gone out into the world to minister to God’s people where they are, so it’s not surprising that nuns are on the Internet. Hundreds of sister-bloggers write about their particular ministries or about religious life in general (see the VISION Vocation Network’s “Blog Index” of blogs by both women and men members of communities at vocationnetwork.org). And every vocation director knows the place to communicate with young people who may be discerning a call to religious life is online and on social media.
A Nun’s Life Ministry, an independent nonprofit organization, serves not only those who are discerning a call to religious life but anyone seeking to grow in relationship with God. The majority of the ministry’s online visitors are people interested in spirituality, said Kollasch. Most are women, and they represent more than 130 countries.
A Nun’s Life still hosts a blog, but these days a main feature is the podcast, broadcast live every weekday at 5 p.m. (Eastern), accompanied by a live chat. Most podcasts feature Vieira and Kollasch reflecting on the scripture reading of the day and sharing prayer requests, but once a week they broadcast either “Ask Sister,” responding to listener questions, or “In Good Faith,” an interview show with nationally recognized guests. They’ve also started a popular “Motherhouse Road Trip” series, involving broadcasts on location from the headquarters of various religious communities.
The site is truly multimedia, with videos, discussion forums, and links to lots of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and Vine. “We try to keep up with what has traction on social media,” said Vieira. “Our goal isn’t to get people to come to us. Our goal is to be present where people are. If it’s a place where people are, we’re going to be there.”
Vocations for all
The home page of A Nun’s Life contains all the essential elements: a welcome video, a Twitter feed, a list of upcoming events, and a mosaic of Facebook friends. But it is dominated by a serene photo of a green forest and the underlying credo of Vieira and Kollasch’s ministry: “We believe that everyone is called by God to a vocation that enriches the person and the world.”
|“We want to help the next generation of sisters find their way home,” Kollasch says. “Religious life has been such a great gift in our lives that we want to reach out and help people for whom it might also be a great gift.”|
As Catholic sisters they have been immersed in a “spirituality of discernment,” said Vieira. “Our goal is to take these gems from the tradition of religious life and bring them to bear on [other] people’s lives. I love religious life. With all the goodness and shadow side, I love it all. And if people can find their way to whatever vocation makes them feel that way, I consider it a good day.”
“We want to help the next generation of sisters find their way home,” said Kollasch. “Religious life has been such a great gift in our lives that we want to reach out and help people for whom it might also be a great gift.”
The broad definition of vocation is why they encouraged the listener who was afraid her lack of desire meant she didn’t have a call to religious life to instead pursue whatever God might be calling her. “By our very presence we are engaging with people and helping them reframe questions,” said Vieira. “When they say, ‘I don’t know what God is calling me to. Can you help me?’ we can help nourish the idea that every single person is called by God. It doesn’t have to be a churchy vocation. You are unique, and God has given you something unique about your life to give to the world.”
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