by Jill Ragar Esfeld
LENEXA — “All I’ve done is drink coffee and talk about it,” maintains Holy Trinity parishioner Kathleen Fox. “The work was accomplished by the Lord.”
Fox makes no bones about the fact that Gratia Plena, the new house of discernment for women in Lenexa, is a work of the Holy Spirit.
“People bought me a house,” she said. “They furnished it, they filled the pantry. They’ve provided a computer and support. They’re creating brochures.
“I spend three hours a day in prayer about this — that’s the work I do. The work I do is my prayer life.”
Indeed, when you hear the story of this new addition to the archdiocese, you see the hand of God all over it.
Four years ago, Fox entered into spiritual direction.
Though she had a good life as a single Catholic with a career as a physician’s assistant and then starting her own business in the medical industry, she had never truly discerned a vocation.
And so, she wasn’t completely fulfilled.
“God has given us a vocation at our baptism,” she explained. “It’s up to us to discern it.
“And he’s going to bless our lives regardless of what choices we make.
“But the abundance of life comes when we truly enter into what he has prepared for us in the first place.”
As Fox prayed about her vocation, she came to understand the great need for a house of discernment for women, and she felt called to live in community.
“As that desire grew,” she said, “simultaneously, I found out that Karen Lombardi, the consecrated virgin in the diocese, also had a dream of opening up a house of discernment.”
It had to be more than a coincidence.
If you look up “house of discernment for women” on the internet, only a handful of results pop up.
It’s a fairly new concept, but one Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann had long recognized as a great need in our area.
“Discernment for young women is challenging,” he said. “Our secular culture is not conducive to it.
“Men can go to a seminary college. But women don’t really have a place to go.”
Fox and Lombardi met with the archbishop and explained their concept of a house where women could live in community while prayerfully discerning their vocations.
“We didn’t ask for any financial support or even any help from the archdiocese,” said Fox. “We knew conceptually that we could acquire a home to rent and, if we had enough occupants, a modest home could be affordable.
“And instinctively we knew the community would support the idea.”
After the archbishop gave permission to proceed, a board of directors was established with Father Scott Wallish as its liaison to the archdiocese.
Then the search began for a vacant property close to a parish church.
In March, the group began a 30-day novena to St. Joseph. During that time, two houses come on their radar — basically on the same day, according to Fox.
“And so it was unanimous that St. Joseph was going to be our primary patron saint,” she said.
A generous Catholic family bought one of the properties — a small house on the edge of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa — and agreed to be the landlords of Gratia Plena.
“We as a ministry will rent this from them,” said Fox. “They took possession April 27; the IRS gave us our identity on May 1 — the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
“I couldn’t have orchestrated that.”
No one could better state the purpose of Gracia Plena than Fox, who is a graduate of the Spiritual Mentorship Program, and will live in the house and oversee the ministry.
“We want to produce an environment that’s conducive to hearing God’s voice,” she said. “When you live in the world, there’s a lot of extra noise out there and distractions.
“We want to provide a home on a campus that is conducive to supporting and fostering clarity of your vocation.”
Though discerning women should be open to God’s call to a consecrated life, Fox acknowledges that may not be the outcome for everyone.
“It’s not a nun factory,” she said. “You look at Mary’s vocation: She decided to dedicate herself completely to the Lord.
“And he asked her to be a wife and mother.”
At a Holy Hour preceding the opening of Gratia Plena, Archbishop Naumann offered the following encouragement:
“This house will help women discern God’s will for them, to embrace that will and follow wherever God leads.
“We pray today that many women will hear the call and be willing to take up this special way of life.
“We pray the Lord will bless this house and make it a house full of grace.”