A long-time religious looks forward

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Ursuline Sister Ruth Gehres with Sister Anh Tran, left, and Sister Huyen Vu

Image: Ursuline Sister Ruth Gehres (center) with Sister Anh Tran, left, and Sister Huyen Vu, two Sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross congregation from Vietnam. They are living at Maple Mount while they attend Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky. Gehres is teaching them English.

Despite declining numbers
of candidates in convents, Sister Susan Rose Francois, C.S.J.P. reminds us that still the “call of the gospel remains large.” I am witnessing this first-hand in my convent, which is housing two young sisters from South Vietnam while they study at a local university. Their 500 professed Sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross are blessed with 200 candidates and 100 novices. We are preparing leaders for a group in which the Holy Spirit seems to be very busy. Who are we to question how the Spirit chooses to work?

Here in the United States, some of our greatest help in promoting vocations comes, surprisingly, from laywomen. The Ursuline Sisters created an associate program for laity in 1983. Associates live their own lifestyles while celebrating and praying with the Ursuline community and spreading the spirit of Saint Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursulines, in their workplace and environment.

Connect with youthIn rural Kansas a few years ago, some associates began recruiting teenage girls to a group called Young Daughters of Saint Angela (YDOSA). They bring groups to our convent to hear some of the older sisters’ vocation stories, and the girls learn about the remarkable life of our foundress. In the process, they hear much about prayer itself and simple moral living—yes, even things like modesty and purity. Such lessons from laywomen and mothers, I think, have a special impact. Most of these girls will probably not become sisters, but their lives as Catholic women and mothers have been wonderfully enriched by their YDOSA experience.

In our area, sisters used to come from large farm families of eight to 15 children. Their parents were less opposed to surrendering children to religious orders when some remained at home. Religious life may have seemed less burdensome than farm life to many. It is hard to imagine that these large, church-oriented families will ever be repeated in our time. Still, it’s all the more important to appropriate the creative energy that our religious communities can muster to promote solid family life once more.

Prepare for the next harvestWhen I moved to my present convent six years ago, our large vineyard was overgrown with trees and weeds and had not been fertilized in years. Many vines were seemingly dead or producing nothing. A local vineyard owner taught me how to prune them. “Grapes love to be pruned,“ he assured me, and it is quite true. Some invisible underground roots started to send shoots out of the earth, and those alive but unproductive started rewarding us with baskets of beautiful fruit. God certainly is pruning the sisterhood, and I hope that this is a portent for a bountiful harvest, in His own time and place.

Click here to read companion article, "Stay tuned for the young and the religious."When I entered religious life in 1947, I expected to be teaching grade school in small country towns. I ended up teaching in universities and doing research in many countries for 32 years. I have witnessed much of what Sister Susan Rose called “the constancy of change.” It hasn’t been easy, but I am now enjoying retirement years with a group of lovely, educated, prayerful women. I have strong hope that God will shower such blessings on new generations of women whose hearts incline them to the love of Christ and service to His church. 

Related articles: vocationnetwork.org, Obstacles and options for older discerners, Vision 2013.

Sister Grace Swift, O.S.U.
Sister Grace Swift, O.S.U. is a member of the Ursuline Sisters of Maple Mount, Kentucky. After teaching grade and high school for many years, she spent 32 years as a history professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.




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