Published August 30, 2012
Sister Barbara Young is still as excited about her vocation as she was 50 years ago when she professed her vows with the Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle.
The 80-year-old sister has been serving the North Georgia community since 1994, when she joined fellow Cenacle Sister Susan Arcaro, who had been sent here two years earlier. Together they provide spiritual direction, lead retreats and live their Cenacle vocation in community.
A native of Brookline, Mass., Sister Barbara described her vocation discernment as long and drawn out, one that evolved over time, not a blinding light or sudden moment of clarity that led her to religious life. She remembers she was in her early teens when she first felt a call to something else, to a life different from that of a wife and mother.
“Ever since I was 13, I felt a call, a conscious awareness of God in my life,” she said.
As she grew older, she discerned that she was not being called to marriage, teaching, nursing, the cloistered life, or life as a missionary abroad. That seemed to cover all the possibilities then.
“So as I’m thinking about all of this, I thought, ‘Well, that really boils it down to practically nothing,’” she recalled with a chuckle.
It was some years later, encouraged by a friend, that she attended a retreat with the Cenacle sisters and found exactly where God was leading her.
“When I went to the Cenacle to make my first retreat, I walked through the door … and I said to myself, ‘This is the place I want to enter.’ And, as they say, the rest is history,” said Sister Barbara.
The sister, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religious studies from Windsor University, Ontario, Canada, entered the Cenacle congregation in 1962 at the age of 30 and has served in various capacities since, including six years as the order’s novice director.
She now continues her ministry as a spiritual director, helping people to find their “true selves” and answer God’s call in their lives.
“I love the vocation. I love trying to help people … to understand how God is working in their lives, to walk with them on a spiritual journey,” she said. “It is a wonderful experience to see how God is working in people.”
‘A Woman In Love With God’
Sister Barbara enjoys working with Sister Susan, as she feels they are a good team. A self-described introvert, Sister Barbara feels that her personality and Sister Susan’s extroversion create a great balance when it comes to leading retreats and offering spiritual direction.
They often lead retreats at Atlanta’s Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center. Focusing on women’s retreats, the two Cenacle sisters cover a range of topics, from exploring women’s roles in Scripture to highlighting the importance of silence and stillness in one’s spiritual life.
“They are … very much a part of the Ignatius House team and have been for many years,” said Maria Cressler, executive director of Ignatius House. “They lead four weekend retreats for women at Ignatius House and lead other weekends for men and women as well. Sister Barbara is herself a great spiritual leader and mentor.”
“They are both advocates of the laity working and serving the church,” Cressler said. “When I think of Sister Barbara, in particular, I think of her sense of humor and her ability to see the ‘cosmic humor’ of many of life’s experiences. When you are in her presence you know that she is a woman in love with God and who finds great joy in her vocation and ministry.”
Active throughout the archdiocese, Sister Barbara provides personal spiritual direction as well as parish support, directing parish missions, days of prayer, and retreats for specific parish groups such as parish pastoral councils, RCIA communities, parish and school staffs. She is also an adjunct lecturer in Spring Hill College’s certificate program in spiritual direction.
When seeking one’s own vocation, Sister Barbara encouraged each person to trust God and the gifts he has given him or her as that will lead to happiness and to one’s true vocation.
People should “trust the inspirations that they have and not try to compare themselves to other people. … If we can trust the gifts that God has given us, that is the surest way,” she said. “God will lead us, God will guide us.”
After 50 years of trusting God in her vocation as a Cenacle sister, Sister Barbara has experienced firsthand the fidelity of God and the fruit of answering the call to religious life.
“I’ve never regretted entering. I’ve just been the happiest person in my vocation,” she said.