She was 16 and we all heard her say, "We can't
be afraid of being different. I'm willing to consider
it." And who were we to doubt her? With her head partially
shaved and her ears pierced many times over, she spoke her
truth with courage to us who were considerably older.
"I've been in gangs. I've done drugs. But there
has got to be something more. I'm going to do it. We have
got to encourage each other," stated a 17-year-old student
whose personality and style could have convinced any crowd.
"I've been seriously thinking about this for a long
time, but I need to know more about it." This was the
comment of a lively young woman as she came into the room,
her beautiful red hair flying.
What is the "it" that these three young people
are talking about?
Backing Up Into the Subject
Let me back up a bit. I'm a sister, or a nun, as
some people call us. I'm also a vocation director, which means
that I work with young men and women (as well as some who
aren't so young) who are interested in exploring the possibility
of being a priest, brother or sister.
I was once asked to be on a panel at a youth convention.
A bishop, a brother, a single woman and a married woman were
also part of the panel. Although I think being a sister is
pretty exciting, I've learned over the years that when I talk
about "vocations," I can't necessarily expect to draw a crowd.
But there we werefive of usinvited to talk to
these junior high and high school age people about lifestyle
and ministry optionsyou know, vocations!
The room was filled to overflowing. I was a bit
surprised. I have to admit I asked one of the participants
if she was in the right workshop!
It has been my experience that in order to begin
talking about religious life and priesthood, at least with
adults, I have to start out with some general statements like
the following: We all have a call through Baptism. No call
is better than another. It isn't for everyone to be a priest,
brother or sister. It isn't a better choice, just a different
way to respond to our baptismal call. And so on.
It seems one has to say all of that before daring
to raise the question of whether someone would ever be willing
to consider being a priest, brother or sister. Well, did we
guess wrong with this group of young people! They were ready
to cut to the chase and get on with it.
Several young people got up and started saying how
they felt about "it." Unlike many of their parents and friends,
they saw being a sister, brother or priest as a great thing
to do with their lives and they wanted to know more about
itand these were healthy, normal young people!
I hope you'll keep reading this Youth Update.
Maybe some of your questions will be answered. Or it may raise
some other questions and issues that you may want to explore.
How Did I Know?
Many times when people talk about vocations, you
hear them talk about God calling them. Now, I realize that
with all the media hype about angels these days, it may not
seem so impossible to have God actually speak. But for most
of us, God is revealed in the ordinary, everyday people and
events of our lives.
I grew up in a pretty ordinary family, but I did
have parents who were involved in our parish, and we often
had priests and sisters visiting our home. As I was growing
up, I had the opportunity to see priests, sisters and brothers
as real people, so it wasn't unusual to think about it as
a possibility for my own future.
But you know how it goes. As you get older, there
are a million things that look appealing in trying to explore
future options. One thing I knew for sure: I wanted to make
a difference in our world, even if it was just a small difference.
When you consider being a sister, brother or priest,
in some ways it isn't so different from how you go about making
other choices. For some reason, deep inside yourself, you
have this feeling that this might be something to look at.
So you talk to other people or do some reading. It doesn't
hurt a bit to pray about it either. A thunderbolt is always
a possibility, but as far as I know, it isn't the way God
I had a friend who dared me to try it. He said to
me one day when I couldn't make up my mind about joining a
congregation of sisters or not, "I dare you. I bet you can't
Well, it wasn't the best reason for going to the
convent, but it got me in the door. I never had any real intention
of staying, but I figured I would check it out and then get
on with my life. Only about two years later did it dawn on
me one day, "My gosh, this might actually work!"
Different people consider priesthood or religious
life for a variety of reasons, because God works in a variety
of ways. I'm convinced that God doesn't play games with us,
waiting for us to find the right hole in which to put our
peg. God gives us multiple choices, many good opportunities
from which to choose. We need to decide, in dialogue with
others, just what the best choice seems to be. You may not
have to act on all of these ideas right now, but it is never
too early to start thinking about personal options.
Forever Is a Long, Long Time
To become a priest, sister or brother doesn't mean
that you walk in the door one day and you are expected to
profess final vows or be ordained the next day. It just doesn't
work that way. You have plenty of time to "get a feel" for
the life and ministry before being asked to make any kind
You won't be alone in exploring whether or not this
is a good idea for you and for others. The freedom to choose
is with you the whole way.
We live in a society that seems to say nothing is
forever. If something doesn't work, we throw it away. Sometimes
that happens in relationships too. Due to society's attitude,
it isn't surprising that the idea of making a commitment can
be rather scary, but remember "forever" doesn't happen all
at once. You only have to act one day at a time.
I've been a sister for a while, but I have to keep
choosing. I've heard sisters and priests make the comment,
"I've never doubted my choice for a moment." I've always been
amazed at that comment. My conclusion is that they are either
fibbing, forgetful or very unusual people.
Just as married couples have doubts at times, so
do most priests, sisters and brothers. Just as married people
have to work at having a strong marriage, priests, sisters
and brothers need to find ways to keep renewing their commitments.
For me, it is important to be part of a community.
I've had many doubts along the way, but in living and working
with other sisters, they helped me keep things in perspective
by sharing with me their struggles, joys and successes. They
have helped me to believe that it is possible to struggle
and still choose this way of life.
My family is also supportive, and it is important
to have good friends, not just other sisters, but married
and single friends as well as priests and brothers.
Finally, if you don't keep trying to stay rooted
in God, I think any commitment is impossible.
Not Get Married?
I think the people who make the best priests, sisters
and brothers would also make the best marriage partners and
parents. Hopefully, it is people with options who consider
priesthood and religious life, not those who aren't good at
anything, or have failed at everything else and decide almost
desperately to try being a priest, sister or brother.
The majority of the population chooses marriage,
but some people do choose priesthood and religious life. It
is a tough decision not to be married or have a family. To
choose to be celibate is much more than choosing not to be
married. To be celibate is to choose a different way of loving.
I've often been asked, "Have you ever been in love?"
The question is always asked in past tense, which invites
an answer like, "Been there, done that, and now it's over."
I hope I live my religious life being "in love"
now and not in a way that suggests that I love everyone the
same. It is true that not having a partner or children allows
one to be available to many, but without very special persons
in my life whom I love and who love me, I would have far less
awareness of God's love and would not have experienced the
intimacy of real friendship. This isn't just about sex or
lack of it; it is about real intimacy.
There are times when a priest or religious senses
in coming to know someone that "Yes, this is a person with
whom I could see myself spending the rest of my life." This
doesn't have to create panic nor does it necessarily mean
that the person shouldn't be a priest or religious. I see
such an experience as an invitation to look again at my heart's
deepest desire and make choices that will he most true to
the person I amfor my sake and the sake of the other.
Am I ever lonely? Yes. Do you know of anyone who
isn't at times? This isn't something that has been reserved
for priests, sisters and brothers. Talk to your parents or
your friends. Think about your own experiences. No one person
can take care of all our needs or fill the deepest longing
of our hearts.
Being in relationship with God is essential for
anyone who loves, but certainly for someone who is celibate.
At times it feel as though God isn't enough, or that we need
a God with "skin on." God does put special people in my life
who teach me about God's love and the love of others, and
reveal to me more about my true self.
People Will Talk
People who are thinking about such a possibility
often find it difficult to share this inspiration with their
family or friends for fear of being misunderstood.
One young woman said to me, "I thought I was the
only person in this part of the world to think about being
a sister. I thought that, if I told my friends, they would
never let me live it down and none of the guys would ever
look at me again. When I finally told my best friend, she
admitted that she had thought about it too."
Some teens anticipate pressure from parents who
will either push them into religious life or try to discourage
such a choice. One young man said, "My mother would have me
ordained tomorrow if I mentioned I was thinking about it."
But another said, "My parents want grandchildren. They'd be
horrified if they knew what I want to do with my life."
At times, you may underestimate your parents and
friends. Some may not understand, but at least give them a
chance to be supportive. They can't support what they don't
know about. My experience of young people has shown me that,
because you are surrounded by diversity in terms of culture,
sexual orientation, religious beliefs and practice, you are
able to accept the differences in others and be supportive
of each other, even in making choices that may not always
represent the majority.
The fact is priesthood and religious life can be
exciting ways to live. A group of young people told me recently
that what is most encouraging about considering religious
life is seeing happy and hopeful priests, sisters and brothers.
Talk to us. Help us get to know you. This isn't
just about you getting to know more about us. We need you.
We learn from you.
Could This Be Me?
If you look at some of the media images of priests
and religious, no sane or normal person would choose to imitate
them. I also hear many young people make comments like, "I
could never do this with my life. I'm not holy enough."
So where does this leave us? What does it take?
Most priests, sisters and brothers are very ordinary people
who love God and have a burning desire to be of service to
others. They aren't perfect. Yes, they do pray, but not all
the time. And just like you, they like to have fun, to have
friends. They want to do something worthwhile with their lives.
To be a sister, brother or priest offers the opportunity
to use one's skills and gifts for the sake of God's people,
and to do this not only by the work we do, but also in how
we live. I've had numerous opportunities to serve others and
learn from others in a variety of settings, having ministered
in high schools, a prison, parishes and camps for migrant
People seem to be looking for a sense of community,
a way to belong, as well as having a deep desire for the spiritual,
a longing for God. I hope that, by our lives and ministry,
priests, sisters and brothers can be supportive of those desires.
Research indicates that the number one reason
people fail to consider priesthood or religious life as an
option is because no one ever invited them to do so. It isn't
for everyone, but it could be for you or for one of your friends.
So I'm inviting you to find out more about this possibility.
I dare you to consider it! It just might
change your life and the lives of others as well.
Carey Bromwell (16), Sommer Kidwell (16),
Jenny Niehaus (16), Stephanie D. Suhr (16), Becky Thomas (16),
Allyson Hayley Wilcox (16), Kristy Wilson (16) and Christine
F. Wisher (17), all students at Notre Dame Academy in Park
Hills, Kentucky, critiqued this issue before publication.