Become a Sister
Are you thinking about centering your life in prayer? In community? We welcome you!
Our mission as Catholic sisters, as vowed Franciscan women centered in Eucharist, is our commitment to be loving presence through prayer, witness and service. We live in community which grounds us in a prayerful life, our sacred tradition of perpetual adoration, and pushes us to minister to meet the needs of the times.
As Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, we commit ourselves to witness our love for God in service to others. We strive to bring new life, meaning and hope to a suffering and searching humanity. We seek to bring healing with compassion and forgiveness. We do this through ministries of spirituality, education, healthcare, church ministry, social ministry and advocacy.
FSPA foundresses desired to live the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare and in deep union with God. Two of our early leaders, Mother Aemiliana Dirr and Mother Antonia Herb, worked tirelessly to solidify the dream of a community devoted to perpetual adoration and to serve the needs of all they encountered.
As women religious, we seek to follow the universal call to holiness by our public profession of vows. As women in a Vatican II church, we wear contemporary clothes and live in small groups or individually, usually near our ministry sites. A community medal and ring are signs of our FSPA commitment.
We center our lives in prayer; adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is our most sacred tradition. Our prayer lives also include meditation, contemplation, Scripture reflection, liturgy of the Hours, and Mass. Shared prayer and faith are balanced with private and public prayer. We commit ourselves to witness our love for God in service to others. We strive to bring new life, meaning and hope to a suffering and searching humanity.
The following profiles offer insight into some of our sister’s hometowns, vow ceremonies, educational backgrounds, community life, current and past ministries and much more. Learn about the lives of Sisters Laurie, Michele, Sarah and Kristin below.
Meet Sister Laura Nettles
Sister Laura Nettles, a native of Los Alamos, New Mexico, celebrated her final profession of vows with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in May of 2013. Sister Laura currently ministers as an assistant professor of religious studies and serves as an executive director for Mission and Social Justice Chair at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. As an assistant professor, she regularly teaches courses in introductory theology, Franciscan theology, Catholic Social Teaching and women's studies.
As St. Francis of Assisi explained in his response to St. Anthony of Padua's request to study and teach at a university, "I am pleased that you teach sacred theology [so long as it] does not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion [charism]." Sister Laura takes St. Francis' response to mean that education (both learning and teaching) should be used in service of others, particularly those who are poor and marginalized. "This is how I have approached my own educational opportunities and how I teach my students," says Sister Laura. "Every day I have an opportunity to help students understand the Gospel vision of service to others, in both our classroom and through service-learning. I take pride in knowing that there are nurses, educators, business owners and others who focus on those in need because of their experiences at Viterbo." In addition to teaching, Sister Laura also spent much of her time last fall ministering to refugees at Fort McCoy, one of the main sites housing refugees awaiting resettlement in U.S. communities.
Meet Sister Kristin Peters
Sister Kristin Peters (right) entered into the FSPA community in 2007 and, 10 years later, professed her final vows at St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Having earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling and a certificate in addictions counseling from Viterbo University in La Crosse, she currently ministers as a counselor at St. James Cathedral Counseling Center in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. In addition to being a counselor, Sister Kristin is an active member of FSPA’s Anti-Racism and Truth and Healing teams. These teams meet on a regular basis with the hope of dismantling racism and white supremacy within themselves and other areas of influence.
Sister Kristin enjoys being rooted in the FSPA community and connected to the lives of those she accompanies as both a friend and counselor. She values building relationships with marginalized people and communities within our society and is passionate about land justice. She desires to be in right relationship with the Earth community and fulfills this desire through acts of activism, solidarity and stewardship such as composting, gardening, reusing plastics and redistributing food and flowers that would otherwise be thrown away – all ways in which she responds to the cries of the Earth and the cries of the poor. Sister Kristin also lives out Eucharistic presence by practicing contemplation (art and journaling), communal prayer and building strong relationships with fellow members of her FSPA community.
Meet Sister Sarah Hennessey
Sister Sarah Hennessey, raised as a Quaker in the South, joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 2002, professed her first vows in 2005 and renewed her commitment in 2008. On Sept. 24, 2011, we welcomed Sister Sarah into full membership during her vow ceremony at St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, Wisconsin. This ceremony culminated the nine-year process that Sister Sarah had to take to become fully incorporated into the FSPA congregation. Today she serves as a spiritual director for the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse. She officially joined the staff in 2019, but her involvement with the center goes back several years. As a spiritual director, Sister Sarah uses her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies and her Master of Arts in theology from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, to companion others to find the holy in the ordinary.
“I am in love with Christ, and I love to have my whole life centered on Christ. Being an FSPA helps me be more ‘Sarah,’” explained Sister Sarah when asked why she became an FSPA. She lives out Eucharistic presence by “listening to others that are hurting, playing with a friend in joy and gazing at a sunset in awe.” During her free time, she enjoys singing, taking long walks in nature and making some of the best popcorn around! Sister Sarah has been teaching about prayer for many years and states “My prayer practices help me be who I am meant to be. Gazing on Christ, I see Christ gazing on me.”
Meet Sister Michele Pettit
Sister Michele Pettit, a native of Edina, Missouri, professed her first vows as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration on July 25, 2020, at Viterbo University’s San Damiano Chapel in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Coming from a family of educators, Sister Michele has taught in the Public Health and Community Health Education program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse since 2009. She joined FSPA as an associate in 2017 and was welcomed into the novitiate program a year later. As a novice, she prepared for her first vows by engaging in intense prayer and study and encountering Christ in others through her ministry at a soup kitchen, a food pantry, an afterschool program and a humanitarian respite center for refugees on the U.S.-Mexico border.
When asked why she became an FSPA, Sister Michele explained that there were a variety of reasons. “First and foremost, I had a desire for a stronger relationship with God. Second, the sisters were very welcoming, and I admired their commitment to social justice and Gospel living. Third, I had a desire to be less self-centered, to be part of something bigger than myself, to participate in service activities I wouldn't participate in on my own and to live counterculturally. Fourth, I have an appreciation for the Franciscan emphasis on peace, love and care for the Earth. And fifth, I felt at home in the FSPA Adoration Chapel.” For Sister Michele, life as a Catholic sister includes “being exposed to diverse forms of prayer including meditation, praying with nature, praying with art and music and spending time with God in the Adoration Chapel. One of my regular practices involves praying while I exercise. I also enjoy praying with my living community on a daily basis. As one of my housemates put it, ‘We pray and play together.’”
Meet Sister Laurie Sullivan
Sister Laurie Sullivan, born in Lake Linden, a small village located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, professed her final vows as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration on Sept. 12, 2020, with her loving family and friends joining the celebration via Zoom. After living in Michigan for over 45 years, Sister Laurie thought that is where she would spend the rest of her life, but God had other plans for her. Holding a certificate in pastoral studies and a Bachelor of Science in business administration, Sister Laurie currently ministers as an office manager at Marywood Franciscan Spirituality Center in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin.
Sister Laurie’s Michigan upbringing now places her in harmony with her love of God and the beauty of Wisconsin’s Northwoods. When asked how she responds to the cries of the Earth and the cries of the poor in her ministry, she expressed, “My spirit and heart have always been drawn to the marginalized and the poor, and they have both taught me a lot. I live simply so that both the Earth and the poor may live. I am conscious of how my day-to-day choices affect both, and I always try to do no harm.” For Sister Laurie, being a Catholic sister during this time in Church history means “being a voice, as well as a presence, to those on the margins, even those to whom the church itself may have overlooked or ignored. As Catholic sisters, we assist people in learning to discern and accept the will of a loving and merciful God. Relying on God, Mary and our founders, we seek to follow Jesus’ footsteps.”
In our vocation as vowed women religious we are grounded in the observance of these vows:
Poverty: Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have vowed to live simply in the spirit of the Beatitudes. We reverence all of God's gifts and rejoice in the goodness of creation. We hold all things in common which allows us to devote our community resources to serving others.
Celibacy: Sisters also commit to living and sharing a community lifestyle within this vow. Community life frees us to cultivate and enjoy personal relationships-both within and outside the congregation.
Obedience: Members of the FSPA community find that we can accomplish great things when we are united in our efforts. Through this vow, we commit ourselves to the congregation's mission to serve God, the church and society. Listening to the voice of the Spirit in our community, ourselves and the world enables us to discern how our unique gifts foster our mission.
Membership is open to women who:
- desire a deeper relationship with God and a life of Gospel service
- are generally 21-50 years old with at least one year of college or work experience
- are active members in the Catholic Church
- are free from marriage vows and responsibility for minor children
- wish to live in community and to minister according to the FSPA mission
Steps to FSPA Life
To begin your initial discernment and discuss community living experiences, call or text Sister Julia at 608-797-8345 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The mailing address is Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, 912 Market Street, La Crosse, WI 54601.
After the application process is completed, formal entrance takes place in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It includes continuing to develop personal spirituality; learning FSPA history, traditions, and Franciscan spirituality and values; and working within and experiencing community life.
Novitiate (two years)
The novitiate phase is two years. During the canonical year, which can be either year one or two, the novice learns more about the Church, the community's constitution, the vows of celibacy, obedience, and poverty and spends time integrating Franciscan values. The apostolic year, again, either year one or two, is a time of continued study of the vows and integration into ministry.
Temporary Vows (typically six years)
During temporary vows, a sister lives her vows in the FSPA community and grows in a Franciscan way of life. Careful attention is given to balancing ministry, prayer, community life, and personal enrichment and preparing for permanent commitment.
After the preparation described above and mutual discernment with the FSPA community, a sister publicly affirms her commitment for life. After pronouncing her perpetual vows, she receives a ring, which identifies her as a full participant in the FSPA community for the rest of her life.
Transferring to FSPA
For Catholic Sisters discerning transfer from another religious congregation, the first step is connecting with the FSPA president who invites the sister to a time of initial relationship. If you're a Catholic Sister looking for transfer information, visit our transfer resource page.
We follow in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In his footsteps, we live simply. This allows us to have a true and humble faith, to serve and work faithfully and conscientiously and to live with special dedication and joy.
FSPA minister throughout the United States and in Canada. Our Global Awareness Through Experience pilgrimage program takes us throughout Latin America and our partnership with the Franciscan Common Venture connects us with Franciscan Sisters in Cameroon, West Africa and beyond.
Since Aug. 1, 1878, we’ve prayed daily in our Adoration Chapel. Through perpetual eucharistic adoration, we offer God praise and thanksgiving before the Blessed Sacrament. Nurtured and strengthened by Jesus' presence, we live out this adoration in our daily lives as we strive to help those in need.
True to our Franciscan calling, we commit ourselves to building Christ's Kingdom of justice and peace. We continue our efforts to preserve and nurture God's creation, to increase social and global consciousness, to educate ourselves to political awareness, and to encourage action to effect change where necessary (Unity in Diversity #40).
Through sponsorship, we continue to influence our sponsored ministries in ways that further the mission of both FSPA and the institutions themselves. We sponsor three spirituality centers and Global Awareness Through Experience.
An important role of FSPA is to invite others to learn about and experience God's presence in nature. Using our land resources, including our organic garden, to model sustainability practices and spirituality for others is a very significant way of continuing FSPA's long-standing tradition of education ministry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What does a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration do all day?
A: While sisters' days are varied, prayer, ministry, community and recreation are all necessary for a balanced, happy life. Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are engaged in all - with days that begin and end with prayer, through ministries that are tailored to each sister's individual gifts, and through a community lifestyle that fosters close relationships, recreation and meaningful interaction with other sisters and lay people.
Q: Why do some sisters wear habits?
A: There are many symbols that women religious use to indicate their faith in God and commitment to Christianity. Some congregations choose a habit to be their sign. They believe it helps them live out their vows, and some say it is also a sign of penitence and a separate lifestyle.
Most FSPA opt to wear street clothes instead of habits, believing that it helps us build bridges of understanding with lay people and that it makes us more personally accessible to the people we serve. Although we wear a medal, either as a pendant or pin, and a ring as our FSPA symbol, we strive to make our Christian lifestyle the most obvious sign of our commitment.
Q: How do congregations or orders differ from one another?
A: Differences among religious communities are found in their emphasis on prayer and community life. In contemplative communities, for example, all members live at the motherhouse with their primary ministry being one of prayer. Their only other work is for the purpose of providing for their basic needs of life. Most members of monastic communities also tend to live and work together at the motherhouse, though they work in a variety of ministries. They gather together frequently for prayer, usually several times a day. FSPA is an evangelical community, where the sisters are united through prayer yet work among people wherever needed in the world and serve in various ministries.
Q: What ministries are FSPA involved in?
A: Our strength as Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration is found in our commitment to God and in the unique gifts of each sister. We are encouraged to use our diverse and unique talents as we strive to bring new life, meaning and hope to a world in need of compassion and healing. We minister as teachers, nurses, pastoral workers, spiritual directors, counselors and in many other capacities as directed by the Spirit, community needs and our own talents.
Q: How often do you pray?
A: As our name (perpetual adoration) suggests, prayer has a central role in our lives. As with any individuals working together for the same cause, we must stay in constant communication with God as we seek union with God and to spread God's love, and prayer is that communication. FSPA pray alone, in small groups and with the larger community. Our prayer takes different forms, including liturgy, Divine Office, reading and quiet meditation. We tend to pray more in the morning and the evening since our day usually is spent in ministry, but we carry prayer in our hearts at all times.
Q: Is prayer always easy for you?
A: Prayer is our way of communicating with God. Like any relationship, there are times when we need to act on motives deeper than feelings and trust in God's presence and unconditional love. In fact, Sister Sarah recently blogged about this! Read The transformative power of the spiritual practice of Eucharistic Adoration.
Q: Do sisters have free time, and if so, what do they do in their free time?
A: We have about the same amount of leisure time as most other adults and may spend that time as we choose. Some sisters enjoy sports and athletic activities, others enjoy the arts. We also spend our free time watching television or movies, reading, sharing with friends or visiting family. While the activities are as diverse as our members and this diversity is encouraged, we at all times and places remain true to our vows and commitment to Christian living.
Q: How often do you gather as a congregation?
A: We meet annually to make community decisions and to reconnect with one another in the midst of busy ministries.
Common myths about life as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration debunked:
Myth: I will never see my family or friends again.
Fact: Women in the incorporation process as well as vowed members are encouraged to maintain healthy relationships with family and friends.
Myth: If I become a sister I will never have time off from ministry.
Fact: It is important to maintain a healthy balance of ministry and rest. Each year women in the incorporation process and vowed members through discernment make arrangements for a retreat, and vacation time to see family and friends.
Myth: Someone in community will assign me a ministry and I will have no choice.
Fact: Each person in community discerns her choice of ministry with community members. Factors such as qualifications, living arrangements and timing of a change are some of the topics for discussion prior to interviewing for a job opening.
Myth: I will not have the basic necessities of food, water, clothing and shelter because of preparing and eventually taking a vow of poverty.
Fact: By sharing resources with one another in community together we make sure that each person has the basic necessities of life.
Myth: I will lose my professional credentials because I will not be allowed to complete requirements for my career field.
Fact: Sisters are encouraged to maintain professional standards for any field in which they are actively ministering.
Myth: If I say yes and begin the process of incorporation to become a member of the congregation I will not be able to choose to leave.
Fact: Discernment is a mutual process and at any time in the incorporation process the candidate can chose to leave and the congregation also has the right to require the candidate to leave. There are also processes in place for someone in temporary vows or in perpetual vows to discern departure.
Myth: I will be stuck living and working at the same place my whole life.
Fact: We are Franciscans and by our very nature are iterant and in tune with the Holy Spirit. Changes in living and working experiences happen after discernment with community. Many sisters move and change ministries several times over the course of their lifetimes. Sometimes the change will also require further education to work in ministry.
Myth: I will lose my independence.
Fact: Not all decisions are discernments, you will have some autonomy. Moving from independence to interdependence and thinking about what is good for the community is done in steps as you make decisions through discernment.
Myth: I will not have access to use technology such as a cellphone or a computer.
Fact: Access to technology is available. Use is discerned and resources are shared. Community members have access to the tools they need for mission and ministry. In fact, be sure to meet our podcast host and bloggers! Sister Julia blogs and podcasts at Messy Jesus Business and Sister Meg blogs at Wanderings and Wonderings.
Myth: Franciscans love animals so I can bring my pets to live with me when I start the process of becoming a sister.
Fact: Candidates cannot bring pets with them; plans for re-homing pets must be made prior to moving into community. Allergies, cost, distraction from the incorporation process, diversion from relationships in living communities, and ministries that require focus are just some of the reasons candidates cannot have pets. Attachment to your pets needs to be part of your discernment process.
Discernment Guideposts & Resources
Seven Discernment Guideposts
1. Listen to God in your life.
2. Know your heart's desire.
3. Pray for freedom and guidance.
4. Search out data.
5. Talk with someone you trust.
6. Make a decision.
7. Experience peace with that decision.
Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for openness and courage to follow your inspirations, to be free from undue influence and fear of change. Pray for the wisdom to seek and know the way that will best enhance your own gifts and talents and use them to serve God and the church. Identify your greatest fears and what you want to hold onto most.
Look at your own history and feelings surrounding your past expectations. Gather facts. Consider the pros and cons, losses and gains in the situation. Share your findings and get feedback from a friend, advisor, or spiritual director. Ask yourself why this would be good for you, and explore good reasons for or against your choice.
As you make a decision, take care to ensure it is life-giving to you, so that it can be life-giving to the world. It may not always be the easiest choice, but there will be some confirmation in the form of God's peace. When it comes, you may feel it unmistakably or just have a quiet sense that the choice is right. The correct choice should bring you peace and should be in harmony with your gifts and personality.
- How to talk to family about your vocation, Father Andrew Hofer
- Join Us: a guide for discerning religious life, FSPA's monthly e-newsletter
- Celibacy steeped in a whole lot of love, by Sister Sarah Hennessey
- Messy Jesus Business, a blog and podcast hosted by Sister Julia Walsh
Celebrations & Events
Coffee and Chat with Sister Julia
Join Sister Julia Walsh for some coffee and friendly conversation. Email email@example.com for more details – including upcoming dates, times and specific locations.
"To discern your vocation, try an immersive mission"
In this U.S. Catholic article, "To discern your vocation, try an immersive mission," Sister Julia Walsh offers the following perspective:
Is it inherently wrong for the changed hearts and minds of those doing the service to be the end goal of the experience rather than the service itself? Would just dropping off your nearly expired leftover canned goods or cutting a check to a local homeless shelter be any better?
The answers are complicated, but according to Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Julia Walsh, creator of the Messy Jesus Business podcast, it all comes down to radical discipleship. She notes that the word radical is connected to the Latin word meaning “root.” And if we are going to be radical disciples, then we have to get to the root of what it means to be Christians.
“Being a Christian is all about love and imitating love in the way Jesus Christ modeled for us,” she says. Like McCormick, Walsh speaks of accompaniment, about knowing what it is like to walk in another’s shoes, and about relationship building as opposed to just charitable giving. “It’s not about becoming better than or achieving or accomplishing,” she says. “It’s about surrendering to whatever God’s will is . . . and being in relationship with one another, so that through our relationships we come to be closer to God.”
Contact Sister Julia
Sister Julia Walsh is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and part of a new generation of Catholic Sisters. She’s often writing and podcasting about the messiness of following Jesus and being Catholic and doesn’t hesitate to ask important questions. This joyful, wild Jesus-lover can be found visiting jails, leading retreats, companioning spiritual seekers, advocating for peace, teaching about social justice, praying in the chapel or camping in the woods. Follow Messy Jesus Business Podcast and Blog here.
Email Sister Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call or Text Sister Julia at 608-797-8345.
More about Sister Julia
Julia Walsh grew up on a goat farm in a small community in Northeast Iowa with her parents: Kevin and Elsie, and three siblings. As a child, she enjoyed gardening, reading, and spending time in the woods. She attended college in Iowa, starting at Wartburg College in Waverly, then ultimately transferring to Loras College to discern her vocation. While a student at Loras in Dubuque, Iowa Julia studied abroad in South Africa and realized her passion for social justice, equality and Gospel living.
In 2003 she graduated from Loras College magna cum laude with a BA in History, Secondary Education and Catholic Studies. After graduation Julia interned with the Iowa Catholic Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, and then moved to California and joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. As a Jesuit Volunteer, Julia worked with young parents and their children transitioning from homelessness to healthy interdependence at Waking the Village/Tubman House in Sacramento, California. Her experiences in South Africa, as an intern with the Iowa Catholic Conference and in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps helped her to develop her passions for Gospel-centered systemic change.
In 2006 Julia entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, (FSPA) based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She entered the novitiate and received the name Sister in 2007. She professed first vows in 2009 and perpetual vows in 2015.
Sister Julia began her teaching ministry at Catholic high schools in Chicago where she lived and served from 2008 to 2012. In 2012, Sister Julia moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin to be closer to her community’s motherhouse and minister at Aquinas High School, where she served as a theology teacher until 2016.
In the fall of 2016, Sister Julia joined the staff of Marywood Franciscan Spirituality Center on Trout Lake in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where she presented programs and retreats and served as a freelance writer. In August 2017, Sister Julia graduated from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago with a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies.
Sister Julia returned to Chicago in August 2019 and became a certified spiritual director though the Claret Center in May 2020. That same year, she joined her congregation’s formation team, serving women who are discerning their vocation. In 2021 she co-founded The Fireplace, an intentional community and house of hospitality on Chicago’s southside that offers spiritual support to artists and activists.
In addition to writing, serving as a spiritual director, companioning people who are discerning their vocations, facilitating retreats, and managing Messy Jesus Business blog and podcast, Sister Julia also volunteers at Kolbe House, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Jail Ministry Center.
Sister Julia enjoys hiking, camping, watching movies, gardening, creating and taking in art, cooking, traveling and spending time with her community, family and friends. On a sunny day in Chicago she can be found riding her bicycle throughout the city and writing poetry about her relationship with God.