The diocesan Office of Vocations expects to welcome eight men who will begin formation for priesthood in August. Religious orders across the country are also forming local men and women for a life of service in the Church.
Carmelite Brother Edgar Varela, a graduate of St. Agnes School and active parishioner, is one of them. The Catholic Sun has been unable to reach him, but he made his first profession of vows with the Carmelite Order in June. Check out the video highlights. He will remain in temporary vows for at least three years.
Carmelites have held pastoral duties at St. Agnes since 1971. Its pastor is a former parishioner.
The Catholic Sun spoke with four other Catholics who are at various stages of discerning their religious vocation. Meet them:
Brittany Allen, 24
A high school essay assignment planted the first seed for Brittany Allen’s vocation. She wasn’t Catholic, but selected Mother Teresa from a list of names from which to write a biography.
“Her example struck a nerve with me. She was living what she believed,” said Allen, who shortly after began attending daily Mass. She entered the Church at St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale in 2005.
Allen went straight from college in 2009 to work as a live-in staff member at Maggie’s Place. She realized in serving the pregnant women there, she couldn’t be everything to everyone.
“Only by giving of myself completely to Christ could I affect them,” said Allen, now a St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner.
Through eucharistic adoration and spiritual direction, she found the Poor Clare Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She loves that they intercede on behalf of the world and perpetually adore the eucharistic Lord.
Allen began a three-month candidacy, a live-in vocational experience July 1 alongside Tara Smith, another local Catholic. These are the very beginning steps of discernment with the order.
Allen has the support of friends at Maggie’s Place, but less so from her family. She knows discernment can be rough, but said she’s most at peace pursuing Christ’s expectations and not the world’s.
Advice: Reading about and studying an order can only take you so far.
“Unless you go and meet the nuns, you can’t truly know,” Allen said.
She advised Catholics discerning a vocation to be courageous and try.
Dan Dixon, 24
This Michigan native had a Jesuit seminarian for a teacher who became a role model his senior year.
“I remember thinking, ‘I could to this too!’” Dan Dixon said.
A summer college experience teaching English to inner city Chicago children affirmed his desire to teach. Dixon just earned his Masters in Education through the University of Notre Dame and finished a two-year Service through Teaching program at St. John Vianney in Goodyear. He taught middle school social studies and religion.
Now, he’s headed for formation in the Chicago-Detroit province of the Jesuits. Dixon will spend the next two years as a novice, which includes formation, pilgrimages, work among the poor and teaching. Not all of it will be new experiences. Dixon once worked with the homeless in Indiana and volunteered to be with dying patients at a hospice in Michigan.
Dixon said discernment is “never a direct, point-A-to-point-B endeavor.” He considered the married life, but seven years later, the idea of becoming a Jesuit priest stayed with him, so he knows it’s a desire from God. Family and friends’ support — an “Of course. We-were-only-wondering-when-you-would-enter” attitude — helped too.
Other than the typical “evil spirit” pressure that makes him anxious or scared about his vocation, Dixon said there haven’t been any challenges.
Advice: Be grounded in daily prayer.
“If I can bring my desires before God each day and share this honestly and openly with Him, I can be sure of His guidance,” Dixon said.
A Jesuit friend once told him that discernment is a lifelong process and the only thing that changes is what is being discerned. If there’s a pull toward a certain vocation, Dixon said, and “loved ones agree you’ll be joyful and successful, it’s a pretty good indication your desire/calling is from God.”
Sr. Kim Marie Nguyen, SOLT, 69
She first felt the call to religious life as a 6-year-old in Vietnam. Despite growing up in a devout Catholic family where “the whole village assembled at the Church every night” for three hours to say vespers, plus regular devotions throughout the day, Sr. Kim Marie’s family thought her tomboyish ways made her unfit for religious life.
She attended a Catholic boarding school instead of a minor seminary or minor nunnery like some siblings did. She visited the Carmelite sisters as a teenager and remained grounded in the faith. She also raised seven children and worked at a library.
Finally, while living in Kansas City and praying, “Jesus, what do you want me to do with my life,” the answer was clear. Some Sisters of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity attended the same church one day when a nearby priest was away. They started talking.
“I know now that Our Lady has called me to be in this order,” Sr. Kim Marie said.
She sold her home and lived in a house for laypeople next to the sisters for 12 years. Sr. Kim Marie started reading Church documents, but found it difficult since English wasn’t her first language.
At one point, she spent a month in the convent as a layperson helping with its care. This time, despite the language differences, she read all the books she could.
“I’ll just leave those difficulties for Him,” she reasoned.
Sr. Kim Marie is excited for the second half of her novitiate: a canonical year. She’ll study the constitutions of the sisters, the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience plus St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. She’s excited for further intimacy with Jesus.
Advice: Be humble, but pursue your vocation with zeal and determination no matter the stumbling block. Spend time in eucharistic adoration, Daily Mass, reading the Bible and praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
“That’s the four things that really gave me strength and food,” Sr. Kim Marie said. “He never talks loud. You have to really focus to hear His voice. He’s very gentle and soft-spoken.”
Sr. Lindena Brace, SC, 39
A simple encounter 10 years ago with the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill at Lindena Brace’s then-home parish in West Virginia prompted her to ultimately discern her own vocation. She’s a convert to the faith, just like the order’s founder St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The sisters’ joy and fidelity to their call also spoke to her.
Sr. Lindena made her first vows in 2006 and is preparing for perpetual vows in August. She spent the time in between studying the order’s charisms, earning a master’s degree in education and teaching at Catholic schools, including second grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale.
The Sisters of Charity have 208 members in the U.S. Province. They are serving in 11 dioceses across nine states.
Sr. Lindena said her vocation was difficult for some of her family and friends to understand, but knew all obstacles could be overcome with the grace of God.
Advice: Give discernment a chance. Parish involvement and spiritual direction can help.
“It is full of joys and challenges,” she said. “Pray. Seek the advice of priests and religious.”