Clearing house steers two to Manitowoc
Interest in religious life led from West, South to Wisconsin
World Day for Consecrated Life is Feb. 2-3
By Pat Zahorik
Because of a Hales Corners "clearing house" for religious orders and their possible candidates, two young women from small towns in southern and western states have found their way to a Franciscan convent in Manitowoc where they are pursuing their desire to give their lives to God.
Postulant Rexanne Hammons is from Raleigh, Miss., and first-year novice Sr. Lourdes Jaure hails from Rollins, Wyo. Both found the motherhouse of the sisters of St. Francis of Christian Charity through Vocation Central.
Through this service, the Sacred Heart Fathers and Brothers of Hales Corners play "matchmaker" between religious communities and seekers who might never have heard of them. Responses to brochures or ads placed by them are sent to the communities, who then make their own contacts with the letter-writers.
Sr. Lourdes says that once she contacted Vocation Central, she received at least six letters a day from communities.
Both young women come from small towns where their Catholic families were minorities among Southern Baptists in Mississippi and Mormons in Wyoming. In Rexanne's county there are just 20 Catholic families. Because of a Hispanic community, there are a few more Catholics in Rollins, but both grew up with pressure from schoolmates because they were "different."
For both, prayer life in their homes was a constant presence.
"I had a very full prayer life," says Rexanne. "Daily rosary at home, weekly Mass, a Mission that went for eight Sundays. My mother," she laughs, "is from New Orleans, and she is very Catholic! Through any struggles she turns to prayers, and it became a regular part of our lives. Even as the youngest of six children, I was taught to put God first, surrender to him."
"My mother," recalls Sr. Lourdes, "was really the director of my religious education. A convert who has a deep appreciation of the Faith, daily Mass and the daily rosary are part of her life. With constant challenges from the Mormons, I learned my answers from my mother."
Rexanne recalls her junior year in high school, when two nuns -- the first she'd ever seen -- visited her community.
"Then I met a vocation director, and during spring break, both junior and senior years. I went visiting. I visited five convents." Now 18 and a college student at Silver Lake College, she is concentrating on becoming a member of community, the primary goal of entering a convent. "Jobs" come later.
Sr. Lourdes has a family background of parish service, accompanying her mother who is a nurses' aide, working since age 17 as a nursing assistant, particularly to the elderly.
"They helped me develop a perspective on life, dealing with aging and death. These people taught me at 17 lessons that had taken them a lifetime to figure out."
She was already 21 years old when she flew out to Manitowoc for the first time in 2000.
"I spent a week here, and I felt so much at home. It was a lot of little things. I have a devotion to the Infant of Prague, and I found a shrine here. But ... I found welcome everywhere. It was the sisters, the way they laughed and talked ... the meals ... it was a joyful community!"
For Sr. Monica Mary, vocation director, the most important task for both of her young charges is not to prepare for a particular field of work, but to the primary task of becoming a sister.
"It takes eight years to become a sister, to really understand what it takes to be a sister. Whatever your talents or interests when you enter, becoming one of a religious community is where you must direct yourself."
She calls the talents and interests developed in a life before entering religious life "stepping stones" by which a person grows "while looking for more."
"Our community is 'middle of the road,' not strictly contemplative, not totally focused on service. We are contemplative and prayerful, but we also reach out into the world, with health care, social work. We are apostolic religious."