‘Being open to God’s will’

Young women attend Vocations Day at All Saints Church

By Gabrielle Nolan

Young women under the age of 30 were invited to meet representatives from religious communities and learn more about religious life in an event at All Saints Church in Knoxville on Feb. 3.

Beginning with daily Mass, the event included breakfast, lunch, adoration, and a meet-and-greet with religious Sisters at their respective information booths in the parish hall. More than 20 young women attended the event.

The event was organized by Christine Blair, a parishioner at All Saints, and was run by Beth Parsons, manager of the Diocese of Knoxville’s Office of Vocations.

“Christine Blair had organized this event, I believe two years ago, where she invited religious orders from the diocese—specifically female religious orders from the diocese—and invited young women—middle school-, high school-, young adult-age to come and have a meet-and-greet with the orders. So, she organized this event as well, and the vocations office was happy to collaborate with her,” Mrs. Parsons said.

“I was hired as the vocations office manager in 2018,” Mrs. Parsons noted. “At that time, we were specifically promoting and working with young men who were entering the seminary. … In the fall of ’21, I became full-time with the sole reason to start promoting and helping young women discern their vocation. So, since then, we’ve had some discernment groups that we’ve created, and we started promoting more through events at parishes throughout the diocese.”

Mrs. Blair said it is “important for young women to have the opportunity to meet Sisters and learn about different religious communities.”

“I personally discerned with many religious orders quite seriously during my youth and, although my vocation ended up being a call to marriage and a mother, what I gained, learned, and experienced visiting and living with the Sisters was invaluable,” she said. “This experience I can pass on to my daughters and other young women, share what I have learned, answer their questions, and encourage and pray for their discernment.”

Young women attending a vocations event at All Saints Church speak to Sister Restituta Nyinoweitu, left, and Sister Maureen Ouma with the Missionary Congregation of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary. (Photo Gabrielle Nolan)

Religious communities present for the event included the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, also known as the Nashville Dominicans; the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary; and the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. Secular communities present included the Franciscans and the Discalced Carmelites.

Mrs. Parsons said that the religious orders are “a great diverse group of people who attract a lot of different personalities and charisms within the diocese, and then also serve in many different ways in the diocese as well.”

Sister Anna Maria Schreyer, OP, and Sister Maria Trinity Dagher, OP, were present to answer questions about religious life and their community with the Nashville Dominicans.

“The most common questions that I receive are about our daily schedule and our communication with our families. We also often receive questions about our habit and the vows, as well as community life,” Sister Anna Maria said.

“Women who are discerning religious life often ask questions about our own vocation stories, the Dominican Order, and about the process of discernment. They may ask general questions such as what a typical day looks like for a Sister, what the formation process is like, how community life works, what the contemplative and active dimensions look like, and what our apostolate is,” Sister Maria Trinity added. “They also ask personal questions such as what our vocation stories are, whether we ever wanted to get married, what it means to be a bride of Christ, which communities we visited, and why we chose our community.”

Sister Anna Maria entered the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in 2014, making her final profession in 2021.

“My vocation itself is such a gift and a joy—each of the vows, our life in common, Dominican study and preaching, our times of prayer, and our monastic observances such as silence and the cloister each speak to me of the love of our Lord, and are a source of joy for me,” she shared.

Sister Anna Maria called Vocations Day “a great experience.”

“There were several women there in various stages of discernment, and it was a privilege to see how the Holy Spirit is speaking to their hearts,” she said.

Sister Maria Trinity added it “is always renewing to speak with young women about our vocations.”

“It is beautiful to see the Lord at work in their hearts and to be reminded ourselves of our first calling,” she shared.

Gloria Jenkins, a 16-year-old student at Knoxville Catholic High School, attended the event to be “open for discernment.”

“I’ve been around convents and different orders of Sisters and trying to figure out my call as a 16-year-old, as a single, just discerning that process and being open to God’s will,” she said.

Gloria said the religious Sisters were “so beautiful.”

“They have so much joy … it inspires me to do more,” she said.

Gloria shared that her Catholic faith is inspired by God’s personal love for her.

“No matter what I do, no matter how hard I fail, He always will love me, no matter what happens,” she said.

Thirteen-year-old Felicity Weber, a student at the Chesterton Academy of St. Margaret Clitherow in Knoxville, also attended the event.

“The first time I went was because I was curious about the discernment, and this year I’m more strong in that I’m asking more questions to the Sisters, more devout in my discernment of vocation, mainly with the Franciscan order,” Felicity said.

Felicity said the event was helpful to her because she has learned more about religious orders while at school.

“Starting at the Chesterton Academy, I learn a lot more about different orders and their big differences, so I’m asking more questions, like with the Dominicans and with the cloistered Carmelites and just different orders and what’s the difference,” she said. “I think it’s always helpful for girls, even if you’re going to discern with marriage, to know at least a little bit about each order.”

Felicity shared that when she turned 12 she realized that God has a plan for her.

“It’s not just going to hit me like, I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go find that discernment path on my own. God’s ready to hold my hand when that starts, and He’ll be with me till I get there,” she said. “So, it’s just kind of like leaning on God, learning that you need to lean on God coming to these things. I think that it’s just kind of remembering that if I hold His hand, He’ll hold mine.”

Mrs. Blair encourages all young women “to discern their God-given charisms and find a spiritual director.”

“Then, listen to their well-formed conscience by turning inward and listening to where God is lovingly calling them,” she said. “Young women should ask the Holy Spirit every day to guide them to discern well and seek where our good God is calling them with an open and available heart to do His will.”

The diocesan offices of Vocations and Youth, Young Adult, and Pastoral Juvenil Ministry are sponsoring a Bilingual Vocational Retreat at St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge on May 4.

The event is open to men and women ages 18-35 and will include a day of reflection and discernment featuring priests, deacons, married couples, and religious Sisters.

For more information on vocations, contact Mrs. Parsons at bparsons@dioknox.org.

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