Saturday, August 16, 2014

Discernment story: 'Everything I was missing could be found in religious life'


By Annie Klapheke
Former Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest member
From Service to Sisterhood Vocation Story

I was nearing college graduation at the University of Dayton and was grappling with the question, ‘Where to next?’ I was unsure about my career path, but I had a desire to be engaged in direct service, to be living in intentional community, and to grow in my faith. A year of service seemed just the right fit for me. Having lived in southwest Ohio all of my life, I was ready for an adventure. So I was off to Anchorage, Alaska to serve with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest.

My JVC community departing from orientation on our way to Anchorage, Alaska.

My service placement with JVC was at Bean’s Café, a soup kitchen and day shelter for the homeless population of Anchorage. I worked in the Social Services office of Bean’s. My duties included distributing toiletries and vitamins, sorting and distributing mail, driving clients around town, assisting with housing applications, and simply being a listening ear and a friendly, welcoming face. I lived in intentional community with seven other Jesuit Volunteers. These seven strangers became my family for the year. We shared a house, money, meals, prayer, struggles, and joys. We supported each other in our quest to live a radically simple lifestyle, doing without some of our usual material possessions and comforts. This experience of direct service, community living, and a simple lifestyle began a slow transformation within me; a transformation that would continue to evolve in the coming years.


Posing with a client of Bean’s Café during my final week of service with JVC Northwest.

After my year as a Jesuit Volunteer, I returned to my home state of Ohio and went back to school full-time to pursue a graduate degree in nutrition. For the fist time, I was living by myself. Despite the fact that I was near friends and family, this was a very lonely time for me. I desperately missed the support and companionship of community living. But where could I find community living as a person in my mid twenties? I felt like all of my friends and peers were getting married and starting families. I was also unsatisfied by my daily routine as a graduate student. I felt like I was consumed by my own agenda and studies, and was not making an impact on the world or those around me. I looked for support in my faith community, and did find some nourishment there, but I was craving more. I could not help but question God, ‘Where have you brought me? And where is all this going? I need a change, God.’

After a couple years of questioning and waiting, God finally showed up one day in my mailbox. I received a letter from a college friend, Tracy. Tracy and I both did full-time service programs after college, and we kept in touch as pen pals to share about our experiences, supporting each others’ life and faith journeys. Tracy had been discerning religious life, and at the time she wrote her letter, she had just begun formation with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. I was envious of Tracy’s new life; she was living with an inspiring group of women, daily serving those on the margins, and was delving deeper into a relationship with God. Despite my admiration, it never dawned on me that I could have that life too, until Tracy flat out asked me in her letter, “Annie, have you ever considered religious life? I think it would bring you much joy.” The question hit me like a tons of bricks. It was like the fog suddenly lifted and I could see clearly the path in front of me. 
Everything that I was missing and craving – community living, direct service, simplicity, a faith-centered life – could be found in religious life.
So I began the search for the answer to this life-changing question, ‘Am I being called to become a Sister?’ As I began to explore the possibility, my image of a modern-day sister began to change. The Sisters I met were highly educated, working on the forefront of social justice issues, contemplative in prayer in the midst of an active ministerial life, and most importantly – joyful. I looked at these women and thought, ‘I want to be a part of that.’ As I opened myself up to this possibility, I was drawn by the idea of joining something so much larger than myself. I heard God say, ‘Annie, give me your life and I will magnify it.’


Teaching a nutrition workshop for the moms of Proyecto Santo Niño in Anapra, Mexico.

During my time of discernment, I did lots of looking back on my life to try to make sense of the experiences that had led me to this point. Although I was not intentionally discerning religious life during my service with JVC, I could clearly see how my time as a volunteer guided me toward religious life. My experiences of community living, direct service to the poor, and simplicity were seeds planted within me. However, it took a couple of years for these new sprouts to spring forth; I needed time for the experience to marinate, and for the slow transformation process to unfold on God’s time.


My community for my affiliate year at Casa de Caridad:  Sister Janet, myself, Sister Peggy, and Sister Carol.

As I write this, I am half way through my first year of formation with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. It has been a life-giving journey thus far, and each experience affirms that I am on the right path. As I look around, I am filled with hope to see that I am not alone. There are many other young women also beginning their pursuit of religious life. As we share our stories with one another, each path is unique, but all have common characteristics – we all crave community, long for a more just world, desire simplicity, and thirst for a deeper relationship with our God. Blessed are we who are called to this communion.


For more resources on discerning your vocation through service, click here.