What can I do about my student loan debt if I want to join a community?

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Friday 29, July 2011 | Category:  
"I know in my heart God has called me to be a sister and I have been in contact with a few orders, but they will not consider me because of my student loan debt. "

With today’s economic crisis, debt is on the minds of many of us—from legislators to families to businesses across the country and beyond. While a student loan isn’t exactly a multi-trillion dollar burden, it can feel like one given post-college finances and negotiating a doable loan repayment plan.

Thinking about religious life poses additional considerations because in order to become a religious sister or brother or a nun or monk, a person may not have any debt. Discerning a life choice like religious life calls a person to be free to enter fully into a community. The church wants people in discernment to be free of undue distractions—and paying back tens of thousands of dollars is definitely a distraction!

So what’s a person to do when they feel called to religious life but have student loans to repay?

1. Don’t close the door to your vocation! Keep faithful to prayer and to exploring God’s call in your life. It’s very important that you have a spiritual director during this time to help you sort out how God is working in your life.

2. Work diligently to manage your debt and to repay it. Check in with your loan company or with a trusted financial advisor who can help you make good decisions about repayment plans, loan consolidation, debt relief, and other financial options. Start repayment as soon as possible and don’t miss a payment. Take an extra job, start a fundraiser, be creative!

3. Spend time with religious communities. There are lots of ways to be part of them. Pray with them, minister with them, learn about their life. Seek out opportunities to connect with them. You might consider becoming a volunteer or associate or oblate of the community in order to immerse yourself in their way of life and give them a chance to get to know you.

4. Check out The Laboure Society. Their mission is “to provide financial assistance and spiritual support to individuals who must resolve student loans in order to pursue their vocation to priestly and/or religious life in the Catholic Church.”

There are some religious communities that may allow you to begin the process of becoming a religious sister or brother even though you have student debt. That is more common in communities which are involved in education and/or that place a significant emphasis on a college education as important training for apostolic work. These communities work with discerners on a one-to-one basis, depending on their circumstances.

For more info on dealing with student loans, download and listen to my conversation with Sister Maxine on our Ask Sister podcast episode 41.

Editors' note: The National Religious Vocation Conference is sponsoring a study funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, currently underway, to examine the debt problem more thoroughly. Project completion is scheduled for late fall. We will keep you abreast of study updates and results as they become available.

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