The vocations webpage for the Holy Names Sisters features women explaining their call — and their response. (Screen grab from
snjmusontario.org)
The vocations webpage for the Holy Names Sisters features women explaining their call — and their response. (Screen grab from snjmusontario.org)
When it comes to inviting women to religious life, forming a relationship is key. In the 21st century, technology usually is the first place of connection.

“The first thing interested women do nowadays is look up women’s communities on the internet,” said Sister Veronica Schueler, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist who is chancellor of the Archdiocese of Portland. “They may find you there, but then we need ways for young women to meet the community.”

The Franciscans at Bridal Veil are doing just that, with a Sept. 18 gathering that includes Mass, adoration, an outdoors experience, a meal and a time to listen to the sisters explain how they followed the call.

Discerners are hungry for personal testimony, said Sister Veronica.

“We explain that religious life is a real option to consider,” she explained. “It’s not top of mind any more in society. We Franciscans talk about finding what God is asking you to do; we don’t pick or choose, but listen to God’s call. That message gets through best in relationship.”

Strong websites

Most local religious communities have strong vocations web pages, with large photos and videos.

The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, appropriately, feature a photo of the sisters praying before the Eucharist. Another photo at fsecommunity.org shows a young sister getting a ring put on her finger.

The Franciscans, who run Franciscan Montessori Earth School, wear simple habits and are committed to living together in a convent.

“Don’t waste time wondering if you have a call!” the Franciscans say on their website. “Do something about it.” A phone number and email for the vocations director follows.

“If you Google ‘Sisters Oregon,’ we have that covered,” said a smiling Sister Michael Francine Duncan, superior general of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.

The SSMO vocations web pages (ssmo.org) lead with sisters telling their stories. “That’s what gets people,” Sister Michael Francine said. “It’s everyday people being called by God.”

The Providence Sisters, who began health care in the Northwest in the 1850s, have a large question looming on their vocations web page (sistersofprovidence.net): “Is God calling you?” Then comes a link to brief articles and a video in which a Providence Sister explains her vocation.

“My vocation is very simple,” Sister Rosa Nguyen says in a video that includes both Vietnamese and English. “I became more aware of how meaningful it was to receive the Blessed Sacrament every day. Prayer was the foundation of my vocation.”

The website of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (snjmusontario.org), who founded St. Mary’s Academy in 1859, emphasizes their charism, or defining characteristics: standing in solidarity with the marginalized and working to bring about a world of just relationships.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, who have ministered in Oregon for decades in health care and spiritual ministry, also have a colorful web page (osfphila.org). It includes big photos of sisters in action — praying, marching for justice and observing Earth Day. One paragraph reads, “Why become one of us? Use your unique gifts to serve in the gaps and margins of our world.”

“We get it,” vocations director Franciscan Sister Christine Still says in a short video meant to calm anxiety. “Every one of our sisters were where you are today. All of us had questions. Some of us had doubts.”

The website also has a virtual tour of the motherhouse near Philadelphia.

Women who show interest — usually via email — are paired with a sister who answers questions, stays in touch and offers guidance if asked.

Podcasts catching on

Women’s religious communities are branching into new media.

The Sisters of the Holy Names have begun a free podcast called “Holy Names Sisters: Women on a Mission.”

“This could attract people who would never have heard of a sister, younger people who listen while they ride their bikes,” said Sister Teresa Shields, one of two Holy Names vocation directors in the West.

The recordings have covered the sisters’ key role in saving Oregon’s Catholic schools from the Kul Klux Klan in the 1920s, sisters who went to serve at the Mexican border in recent years and education initiatives for migrants in the Northwest.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia also have a podcast. Called “Brewing Faith,” it fields questions from young adults and offers responses from the sisters. Topics include sexuality and the very idea of God. The sisters’ YouTube channel is full of videos showing ministries like outreach to homeless people. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts give the latest news.

In person

Even in a digital world, showing up in person matters to women religious who want to build relationships.

Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon are regulars at local schools and rallies, giving vocations talks. Often, several sisters will put on their nametags and attend a youth Mass at a local parish. “It’s about being present, heightening awareness,” Sister Michael Francine said. The SSMO women also hold vocations retreats.

Everyday life gives vocations opportunities for those who go out into the world. Recently, Sister Michael Francine was walking in her habit when a woman called out, “What are you?” Amused by the comical phrasing, Sister Michael Francine explained religious life and the charisms of her community. The woman listened closely and responded, “I would like to do something like that.”

Sister Teresa of the Holy Names Sisters has an in-person vocations elevator speech she adapts depending on circumstances. She advises all to listen to the “still small voice” in one’s heart, slowing down and seeking out a spiritual director.

School connections

Communities who work with schools help students explore their life options.

On the Valley Catholic campus in Beaverton, the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon have hung a series of simple banners that say: “Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon: Women of compassion,” or women of simplicity, prayer and joy.

The Society of Mary, with foundations in Argentina, Uruguay and Oregon, has a ready-made vocations setup; the sisters mostly work in campus ministry and at parishes near universities like Oregon State and Portland State. They lead retreats, teach courses, help with liturgy and serve the poor.

The Society of Mary website (socmaria.org) includes many brief videos, a preferred medium among young adults.

The Society of Mary holds retreats for young women, including a gathering set for Nov. 13 in Corvallis. “This encounter offers a place for each to discover life as a vocation and grow in listening to and discerning the Lord's voice, desires and vision for her life,” said the retreat description.

Open to changes

Sister Teresa of the Holy Names Sisters said women religious must be open to what the Holy Spirit is doing. Religious life may look very different in the years ahead, she mused.

“It may be intergenerational, temporary, or communal living like a Catholic Worker House,” she said. “There have always been women and men who want to give their lives to God and there always will be. We can’t stand in the way of that.”

Sister Michael Francine of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon predicted that the climate crisis will impact everything, including religious life and vocations. Women may come to see that a simple life in community is a good response to a planet harmed by overconsumption.

Prayer essential

Women religious promote prayer as the ultimate vocations tool.

“We know the Holy Spirit is the caller,” said Sister Michael Francine. “We do ask that if the Holy Spirit is so disposed that women get sent our way.”

She has formed a vocations team, including herself, so that there is broad representation. The SSMO vocations crew includes experience, youth and three or four different language fluencies. Sister Michael Francine, a trained mental health professional, takes the initial calls; sometimes people with psychological challenges seek religious life and she is there to guide them to help.

Though most candidates know English, Sister Michael Francine may link them to a sister who speaks Spanish or Vietnamese, since matters of the heart and prayer are often best plumbed in the native tongue.

Religious communities say they need lay people to pray for vocations and help encourage responses to the call. “I would hope that everybody would be aware,” Sister Teresa said. “If they see somebody at church who seems very spiritual, ask if they have considered religious life.”