God calls women to religious life more commonly in little whispers, nudges and recurring thoughts, than in lightning-bolt moments of clarity. Sisters of Providence Margarita Hernandez and Marie-Thérèse Gnamazo in the Vocation Office help women make sense of these calls and explore opportunities to deepen their relationship with God.
Perhaps even more so during times of uncertainty, anxiety, grief and loneliness like that brought on by the pandemic, curiosity about religious life – like a seed planted – begins to take root. That’s where Sister Margarita and Sister Marie-Thérèse come in, ready to support, accompany and encourage women ages 18-40 through a deeply thoughtful process to determine if religious life is truly their calling.
In their shared role as co-directors of vocations, Sisters Margarita and Marie-Thérèse respond to email and phone inquiries, meet with women on Zoom, organize retreats, collaborate with other congregations, and, until COVID, attend vocation and formation conferences nationwide.
Answering a call to religious life includes a long discernment period; it’s not something you can jump into, explains Sister Margarita. It’s a time to slow down, pray, reflect on your spiritual journey, and examine your relationship with God.
When a woman contacts one of the vocations directors, the sisters start by encouraging her to learn more about the Sisters of Providence community, ministry and spiritual life by visiting sistersofprovidence.net and reviewing the vocations brochure. They also ask questions and suggest steps she can take to continue exploring her call:
- How often do you pray and what are your favorite prayers?
- Do you have a spiritual director? A religious sister, priest, deacon or other trusted advisor at your parish can help you on your spiritual journey.
- How are you involved in your parish? Serving as a catechist in children’s ministry is a good place to start.
Come & See
Women who are ready for the next step can participate in a Come & See experience. Depending on where they live, this can be a short or extended stay with a Sister of Providence in the Seattle area, or an online experience for women outside the area or country.
During this time the woman is accompanied on her journey by a vocation director and a spiritual director. The first experience is often for one weekend, followed by another experience lasting a week or two, plus a retreat. The woman then continues the discernment process either living with sisters in a community setting or individually with a member of the formation team to guide her.
Sister Marie-Thérèse explains that it is an important time to think on a larger scale about your deepest calling. Is it best served through religious life, married life or single life? One example: Transitioning to religious life can be especially challenging if a woman is established in her career and wealthy, because she would have to give it all away to take a vow of poverty. Yet she may use her career skills in a ministry that brings her richness of spirit in service to God and God’s people. Another example: If a woman feels drawn to a prayer-focused religious life, a contemplative order of nuns may be more appropriate than an apostolic congregation like the Sisters of Providence.
If she choses to join the Sisters of Providence, the sister-to-be begins the formation process. Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph Province, based in Renton, Wash., and Sisters of Providence Holy Angels Province, based in Edmonton, Alberta, work together to provide a multi-year formation program.
- As a candidate she spends one or two years living in community with other sisters while ministering or attending school.
- The next step is to become a novice. During her novitiate, a woman spends two years exploring in depth the call to vowed life in community.
- After taking her first vows, a woman spends between three and six years living in community under temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and sharing in full-time ministry.
- When she has completed her first vows, a woman is prepared to make her final vows – her permanent commitment to the religious community.
Planting the seed
Though it is a road less traveled in contemporary society, a religious vocation is no less worthy of consideration than marriage or single life. Families and faith communities can plant the seed and encourage young people to explore different vocation options through conversation, prayer and church involvement. Sister Margarita encourages participation in parish youth groups which offer “a journey of curiosity” – an opportunity to learn about religious life among other paths relevant to young people today.
If you know a woman who feels drawn to religious life, help her find a person of faith to connect with to begin exploring the call, such as a sister, priest, deacon, committed lay person in the church or the Sisters of Providence vocation directors. Being accompanied early on her journey may mean the difference between answering the call and letting it go.
“God is always calling in one way or another,” says Sister Margarita. “We must determine how to respond.”
Connect with a vocation director
Sister Margarita Hernandez, SP
Languages spoken: English, Spanish
Sister Marie-Thérèse Gnamazo, SP
Languages spoken: English, French, Italian