Local Religious life

Ministry provides women space in which to discover their vocation

Kathleen Fox is the director of Gratia Plena House of Discernment for Women. Adult Catholic women who feel they may be called to consecrated life live in the house in community. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

LENEXA — “Everyone needs to recognize the fact that we’re discerning something at every point and time in our lives,” said Kathleen Fox, director of Gratia Plena House of Discernment for Women here.

“But are we inviting God into the decision we’re making?” she asked. “That’s what we focus on here, helping people understand that process, helping people see this is possible — knowing what God wants in your life.”

Gratia Plena, unique in its support of women discerning vocations to religious life, was founded in 2017.

Adult Catholic women who feel they may be called to consecrated life live in the house in community while deepening their faith, growing in holiness and discerning God’s call with greater clarity.

Situated adjacent to Holy Trinity Church in Lenexa, the house provides easy access to places for prayer, meditation and reflection.

During the pandemic, communal living became unfeasible and Gratia Plena pivoted its ministry to include offering virtual and hybrid events to a wide range of people.

The house also began hosting nonresidents at any stage in life who desire a peaceful, quiet place for prayer, spiritual guidance, mini retreats and quarterly days of recollection.

The pivot has enabled many women to discover in this little house an oasis of spiritual support and enrichment.

Twelve women gathered here on Oct. 30 for a day of recollection and found Gratia Plena lived up to its name as a place of grace.

Warm and cozy with a comfortable chair in every corner, the house is accessed by a side door that leads into a kitchen filled with smells of baked goods and coffee.

There is no judgment here, no intellectual intimidation — just director Fox welcoming guests with her warm smile and genuine joy.

More participants attended virtually, some from as far away as Rome.

The recollection day focused on St. Teresa of Avila’s book “The Interior Castle.” It began with a virtual presentation by Catholic spiritual mentor Carol Kleinert, followed by time to reflect and a luncheon.

After lunch, participants prayed together and then unpacked and discussed all they had learned.

“I believe the process of discerning, prayerfully seeking what God wants you to do, is not well known to a lot of women,” said participant Malleson Emmerling, who has been involved with Gratia Plena since its inception.

She credits Fox with setting a beautiful example of discernment as she facilitates women in the process.

“Kathleen lives this rule of life that is necessary to discerning,” she said. “And that life consists, number one, of daily prayer.”

In addition, she and the women who live with her attend daily Mass and eucharistic adoration.

Though Gratia Plena serves at the pleasure of the archbishop, it is independent of archdiocesan support.

“This ministry does not exist without contributions from the faithful because it is not supported financially by the church,” said Fox.

Gratia Plena’s board of directors is striving to compensate Fox with a just wage and benefits, but it is nowhere close to being able to do that yet.

Therefore, Fox has to work outside the ministry to provide for her own personal financial needs. This takes time away from her desire to develop programming that will help women learn to discern.

Fox believes that “every person who experiences Gratia Plena for whatever length of time [will be helped to] take the next right step in their life, in their discernment — whatever it may be, big or small.”

“God has created us for a purpose,” she added. “And when you can find that, by becoming docile to the will of the Holy Spirit, God will bring peace to your heart.

 “There is nothing that exceeds that experience this side of eternity.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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