Monday, March 12, 2018

Sisters in Service: Sr. Janet Gildea, SC - AVE: After Volunteer Experience

In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share the perspective of sisters who started volunteer programs through CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative. Sisters will share a little more about how they discerned their vocation, why they felt called to create a volunteer program, and what they've learned from living and working alongside volunteers.Today we meet Sr. Janet Gildea, SC of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and the Executive Director of AVE: After Volunteer Experience in Anthony, New Mexico. 

Sister/Doctor Janet examines a child on a mission project in Ecuador.
My first awareness of “a call” came as a desire to serve as a family physician. I felt that if I was actually accepted to medical school then that was a sign that the desire came from God and I wanted to serve those who most lacked access to healthcare.  I didn’t think that you could be a Catholic sister AND a doctor- until I read about one while I was in college. That was it! I found that dual calling was the perfect path for me. My congregation’s formation process was flexible and could accommodate the demands of my medical ministry preparation. We also had some pioneer Sister-doctors so that made the call to be a Sister of Charity clear for me.

Emma Littmann, an AVE participant, reading with a child at Proyecto Santo Niño, a Sisters of Charity
ministry to children with special needs and their mothers across the border in Mexico. 
Our program, AVE: After Volunteer Experience, was inspired by the newest members of our congregation who had given years of post-graduate volunteer service. They shared the challenges they experienced in the transition after volunteering. They missed the intentional community life, spiritual support, action for justice and opportunity for meaningful service. It was also the time that the question of vocational discernment became significant. We did some exploring and discovered that no one was offering a post-volunteer service transition experience, and so AVE was born!  Women can spend from one to three months living with us in southern New Mexico.  They choose the components of their AVE program with opportunities for spiritual direction, mental health counseling, a directed retreat, service, vocational counseling, and a From Mission to Mission re-entry workshop.

Sisters Carol, Peggy and Janet on the way
 to Mexico with a big donation of diapers.
We Sisters who form the nucleus of the AVE community have had somewhat similar experiences to the returning volunteers.  It is challenging to convey the transformational encounters of our life on the margins to our families, friends and community. We understand the experience of transition, of being neither “here” nor “there” which returning volunteers often encounter. We have a ministry to children with special needs and their mothers across the border in Mexico, called Proyecto Santo Niño.  AVE participants come with us several times a week to help them tap into their volunteer ministry experiences and to discover the meaning of their volunteer time in the larger context of their lives.

From left to right: Sisters of Charity Andrea Koverman,
Annie Klapheke (who served with JVC-NW) and
Tracy Kemme (who served with Rostro de Cristo).
AVE is not a “recruitment program” but it offers an opportunity to live in community with active women religious without any expectation or obligation. For those who think they might be feeling the call to religious life or those ready to seriously discern, AVE offers a place to come and wonder. I invite you to visit our website and learn more. 

For more discernment resources, we also encourage you to visit the "Explore Your Vocation" section on Catholic Volunteer Network's website.