by Marc and Julie Anderson
WILLIAMSBURG — Do you ever go on vacation? Do you ever get to sleep in? What do you do for fun?
Those were just three questions posed to religious Sisters from nine different religious communities as part of a Q&A panel held during the archdiocese’s first discernment weekend for women held Nov. 18-19 at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg.
Titled “Love’s Reply,” the retreat was developed by Sister M. Karolyn Nunes, the vocation director for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George based in Alton, Illinois.
In the past, Sister Karolyn said men discerning a call to priesthood or religious life have been able to attend Project Andrew events and “Quo Vadis” discernment retreats, but until recently, there was no equivalent within the archdiocese for women.
That all changed about three years ago when the first dinner for women was held. In 2022, at least 50 women attended a daylong retreat. So, Sister Karolyn asked Father Dan Morris, the archdiocesan vocations director, if the time was right for a weekend retreat.
With the enthusiastic support of Father Morris and the vocations office staff, which handled the logistics, the goal was to attract 20 to 40 women. But all told, 63 women ranging in age from high school juniors to late 20s signed up for the retreat, surpassing anyone’s expectations.
“The ‘Love’s Reply’ retreat for women was an answer to many years of prayer — prayers of many religious communities desiring to come together and create a space for young women to encounter Jesus; prayers of the many young women who have felt an invitation on their heart, with no environment to explore that invitation; and prayers from the vocations office to finally make this retreat a reality with the help of our religious,” Father Morris said.
Other questions the women religious were asked ranged from topics like the challenges of saying “yes” to the Lord, staying in contact with family and friends, fitting in with others within a religious community, finding a religious community, and discovering one’s charisms and gifts.
In addition to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, other communities represented included the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and the School Sisters of Christ the King, among others (see below for the full list).
In addition to the Q&A panel, the weekend retreat included Mass, eucharistic adoration, recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, talks on discernment basics and testimonies of the religious Sisters on how they discovered their vocations. Additionally, women were given opportunities for one-on-one conversations with the Sisters.
The discernment talks covered a range of topics and themes such as trusting in love, growing in love as a daughter of God, spousal love and motherhood, and the discernment of spirits.
After each discernment talk, a representative of one of the religious communities shared her own personal testimony, allowing retreat participants to hear from all nine communities at some point throughout the weekend. Furthermore, a journal provided to each participant allowed the women to record their thoughts on additional reflection questions.
Sophia Krebsbach, a home-schooled high school junior and member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka, said she’s not sure to what God is calling her in the future. But after the weekend, she is definitely more open to religious life.
“It’s a possibility,” she said.
Krebsbach said she decided to attend the retreat at the invitation of Nancy Ruoff, her youth group director, to “talk to the Sisters and meet some new people.” The retreat did not disappoint.
“The Sisters are so full of joy. They’re always willing to talk about Jesus. It’s really beautiful,” she said, adding later that she really enjoyed learning about the Liturgy of the Hours.
“I had heard about it, but I’d never done it before,” said Krebsbach. She particularly liked how the Glory Be is interwoven into many of the prayers because, “everything is about giving God the glory.”
Likewise, Luiza Mello, a junior at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison, said she attended the retreat at the invitation of her youth ministry director. The most important thing she learned was about “the love of Jesus for me. He is with me in every place I go.”
For Bernadette Wallace, a senior at St. James Academy in Lenexa and a member of Good Counsel Parish in Kansas City, Missouri, it was her mother who gave her information about the discernment retreat.
“I was like, ‘OK. A retreat. OK. That’s cool,’” she said.
Still, Wallace found she grew in ways she didn’t quite expect.
“I learned to be open and more receptive to what the Lord has to say and to let go of everything preventing me from doing his will,” she said.
Of seeing so many religious Sisters from different communities in one place, she said, “It’s just refreshing to see so many communities come together.”
There were even some she had never heard of or seen before, such as the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and the Sisters, Servants of Mary, who actually go into the homes to care for people who are ill, ministering at all hours of the day and night.
“The sacrifice that takes is amazing. . . . They go into people’s homes. They take care of the sick. They see the face of Jesus in the suffering,” Wallace said.
She added that she found their vocation “absolutely beautiful.”
For Elayna Marqus, who works at Christ the King Grade School in Kansas City, Kansas, but belongs to Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, the weekend provided her an opportunity to truly pray and reflect on what God is calling her to do with her own life.
“I was at a standstill in my vocational life, and I felt like I needed guidance to be more open and prepared for whatever the Lord has set aside for me,” said Marqus, explaining why she chose to attend the weekend.
From this “spiritual desert,” she found the weekend to be extremely helpful. And it allowed her to come to one major realization.
“Following your vocation does not need to be something you need to be anxious about,” she said. “You don’t have to pursue it. It will come in time. Allow yourself to be pursued.”
That’s a sentiment with which 24-year-old Fiona Mulholland said she definitely agrees.
“The Lord will make [his call] clear,” she said. “Don’t worry. He wants your holiness more than you want it.”
Participating religious orders
• Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus (carmelitedcj.org)
• Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist (sistersofmary.org)
• Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George (altonfranciscans.org)
• Franciscan Sisters Poor of Jesus Christ (sisterspoorofjesuschrist.com)
• Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary (piercedhearts.org)
• School Sisters of Christ the King (cksisters.org)
• Sisters, Servants of Mary (sisterservantsofmary.org)
• Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Wichita (sistersihmofwichita.org)
• Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (solt.net)