Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


‘Culture of vocations’ supports people to hear God’s call in their lives

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 30, 2014

ATLANTA—In November, Catholics will observe National Vocations Awareness Week.

Pope Francis, in his November 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), underlined the continued need to build a culture of vocations.

“The fraternal life and fervor of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to preaching of the Gospel. This is particularly true if such a living community prays insistently for vocations and courageously proposes to its young people the path of special consecration,” Pope Francis wrote, according to a news release.

“A culture of vocations is one that provides the necessary support for others to hear and respond to God’s call in their lives,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, in a news release. “With God’s grace, we help build that culture through fervent prayer, the witness of our lives and the encouragement we extend to those discerning a vocation to priesthood or consecrated life.”

National Vocations Awareness Week is Nov. 2 to 8.

Religious communities in the South have been inviting women Catholics to learn more about the different ways of life and ministries of service through discernment weekends.

From a peak in 1965 of 181,000, the number of women religious in the U.S. has steadily declined to the current 50,000. That’s about how many sisters there were in the United States 100 years ago, said the report: “Population Trends Among Religious Institutes of Women,” by Mary L. Gautier and Mark M. Gray, staff of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, and Erick Berrelleza, a Jesuit scholastic at Boston College.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have served in Mobile, Alabama, for the past 114 years. Eight sisters there care for nearly 90 elderly poor.

Participants in Little Sisters of the Poor discernment weekends seem to be “moved by the authenticity of the sisters’ lives” and to come away with a lessening of fear of religious life.

“We are normal people like them. There is a comfort and confidence in going forward with what God’s asked them” after these weekends, said Sister Carolyn Martin, of the Little Sisters of the Poor. She’s been a religious sister for 45 years and works as a nurse, administrator and vocation outreach coordinator.

They are holding their next discernment weekend Nov. 14-16 for single women 17 to 35 years old.

“We always need more,” said Sister Carolyn.

“The stream is steady. The women (who join the congregation) are vibrant, are enthusiastic, and they are passionate in their love for the Lord,” she said.

The upcoming Year of Consecrated Life, proclaimed by Pope Francis, Sister Carolyn said, will be an opportunity for people to dispel stereotypical views of religious life and see how these women and men live out their vocation. Also, it will be a good time for Catholics to promote life lived as brothers, sisters, or priests.

“It’s a vocation for the church, and we all need to be ambassadors for vocations,” she said.

Studies show people will pursue a religious vocation the more they are encouraged to consider it, she said.

A teaching sister in Savannah, Sister Donna Jo Leoper said, “Being Catholic, being a sister or priest should always be in your head.”

Sister Donna is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph (Philadelphia). A native of Pennsylvania, she joined her community at 27 after earning a master’s degree, dating, and living on her own. But she felt she wanted more, she said.

She has organized weekend days of reflection and discernment for women for the past three years. She said women are very curious about the lives of sisters, from whether they wear habits to how women can use their college degrees in any future ministry.

Today, religious communities need to seek women out more than the past, but also women must be sure a religious community’s mission fits their own personality and interests, she said. Sister Donna said a good vocations director is not focused on recruiting for one community, but instead with helping people discern the life that God is calling them to live.

A weekend she organized this fall included opportunities for vocations directors to meet college students and a day spent with two women, she said. In addition to time for prayer and spiritual reflection, there was time for casual answers to questions the women had about religious life, she said. Catholics do not have chance encounters with religious sisters so these questions about “nitty-gritty” life as a sister don’t come up, she said.

“We’re on the journey together. I find that exciting. What would Jesus want us to do now?”



Catholic News Service contributed to this story.