The annual Vocations Fair is like a fall harvest of sorts.
It will be filled with men and women religious already bearing fruit for the kingdom of God via at least 18 religious communities that serve the Diocese of Phoenix. God willing, it will also be full of children, teenagers and young adults willing to mingle with them and consider how God is calling them to serve in the Church and in the world.
For some, that answer may be within a religious community. It was hearing the stories of saints as a child — both those well-known and the lesser-known ones — that best prepared Sr. Rene Noel Blanchard’s heart to consider religious life. The St. Thomas the Apostle teacher, with roots in Gilbert and Flagstaff, is one of nine young women less than a year away from final vows as a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
Those stories “started to plant that seed for the desire of holiness and to be able to ask the questions of how God is calling me to be holy and how He is asking me to be a saint,” Sr. Rene Noel said.
They also helped her be infatuated with religious life when she finally encountered a sister on a diocesan youth retreat. That encounter quickly snowballed into a visit to the Michigan motherhouse and entering the community right out of high school.
Sr. Katharine Rose, an alumna of both St. Thomas the Apostle and Xavier College Preparatory, was one of 10 who made their first vows with the same Dominican order this summer. She hopes that religious education teachers at parishes and theology teachers at schools discuss religious life as a normal possibility. Teachers can bring it up by showing pictures of young, happy sisters and “letting them see that we’re real and we’re not something in a time past,” Sr. Katharine Rose said. Share it as an option. Share the “beautiful, life-giving vision of what religious life is.”
Seeing women religious as people, part of regular parish life creates a sense of mystery and sense of awe in younger ones, said the Phoenix sister who now serves at a high school in Austin, Texas. Organizers of the Vocations Fair think so too. That’s why they’re showcasing other talents among the religious. So far, they have a priest magician plus a sister juggler and musician scheduled at the Oct. 29 bilingual vocations fair.
When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 29
Where: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 2121 S. Rural Rd., Tempe
Bilingual Mass at 9 a.m.
followed by fair. Children are encouraged to dress as a saint and trick-or-treat at the booths hosted by various religious communities. Lunch provided.
An invitation/reflection from the hosting pastor
“My hope is that children and the youth come to the vocations fair to see the beauty of religious life, their joy and interact with them in a fun way,” said Sr. Anthony Mary Diago, RSM, director of the diocesan Office of Consecrated Life.
Each community will have its own information booth where saint-like children can trick-or-treat and collect info on the community. There will also be separate English- and Spanish-language vocations panels to help inquiring minds answer additional questions.
“There are a lot of women expressing interest in religious life, in contemplative life and in active missionary life,” Sr. Anthony Mary said, noting a desire to serve the Lord. “They’re inspired by the desire to do good for those in need.”
That’s exactly how Sr. Mary Joy of Our Father became a sister with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, more commonly known as the SOLT community. The lifelong Catholic hadn’t considered religious life until meeting discerning peers at Franciscan University of Steubenville and then feeling called to spend a college summer serving the Church. That brought her to a SOLT mission in North Dakota.
Their strong community and prayer life spoke to her. She returned each summer and spent a year-and-a-half in youth ministry there after graduation before entering SOLT.
“I initially thought I would be a lay missionary, but Our Lord had other plans for me,” Sr. Mary Joy admitted.
The Oregon native, and middle child, did get to be a missionary of sorts, just while wearing a habit. She has since served in Belize, Seattle and Colorado. She is in her third year at Most Holy Trinity Parish where Sr. Mary Joy supports faith formation for youth and children in her fourth month as a perpetually professed sister.
She recalled many profound moments from her day of final vows, but especially relished the sign of peace at Mass with the other perpetually professed sisters.
“I felt a sense of belonging to the community in a new way, and each embrace came from a sister who had already made this definitive step and knew what it meant,” Sr. Mary Joy said.
She was among eight SOLT sisters who made final vows this summer. That included Sr. Maria Mater Dei who served at Most Holy Trinity during part of her formation. She has since been reassigned to Missouri.
There are plenty of other women from the Diocese of Phoenix or serving here at other stages of discernment with religious communities. Sr. Anthony Mary knew of one scheduled to enter the Missionaries of Charity in January plus there are two novices with the Carmelite Sisters of St. Therese of the Child of Jesus at St. Daniel the Prophet in Scottsdale. The Catholic Sun also bumped into a woman on a “Come and See” month with the Tempe-based Servants of the Plan of God this summer.
“It’s a real way to become holy, being challenged in prayer and community to grow in virtue,” Sr. Mary David Klocek, a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, said of religious life. The theology teacher at St. Mary’s High School has been a sister for 18 years.
Whether the vocation lies in religious life or the secular one, a strong family life is key to discerning that role, she said. Regular confession and attendance at Mass are starts, as are praying for the child and teaching the child to pray and be comfortable with silence.
“The Lord is going to speak in the young person’s soul through prayer,” she said.