Sisters take to the air to invite discernment with FSPA

By Sister Amy Taylor, membership director

Sisters Amy Taylor and Mary Arnoldussen

This was the fifth year that I have applied for permits and organized an informational booth for the FSPA Membership Office to share vocational discernment information during the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, held annually at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. Religious Education Congress is in its 54th year and has educated multiple generations serving in the Catholic Church throughout. This year, I invited Sister Mary Arnoldussen to accompany me and to share the mission and charism of FSPA with attendees. 

On Feb. 19, we excitedly boarded our first flight of the day at La Crosse Regional Airport in Wisconsin, flew to Detroit, Michigan, and then to Los Angeles, California. Happy to be on the ground once again, we waited patiently for our shuttle to take us through the snarled traffic to Anaheim. After a restful night of sleep and a little caffeine with breakfast, we were off to the convention center to set up our FSPA booth.

This year there were 540 booths. Amidst skid steers, rolls of carpet, a sea of cardboard boxes and an array of union workers and vendors, we located our booth and went to work. We began hanging our banner filled with pictures that depict, from our founders to community members of today, life as an FSPA. Each photo conveys a quick glimpse into our lives, offers a visual gateway to religious life and invites the attention of the throngs of attendees that would in a few hours make their way through the rows of booths. We arranged packets filled with brochures, newsletters, bookmarks and website promotions. This year I also shared our new 14-day video discernment meditation series designed to open conversation and reflection of discernment. This series has been well received with more than 3,000 online views to date.

Following Youth Day at LA Congress Adult Days, Feb. 21 to 23, was themed “Live Mercy - Be Holy” and drew a total attendance of 21,156 people from around the world. What a wonderful experience it was to take a quiet moment of contemplation when the doors opened and the world church walked into the arena. Stepping inside were women and men rich in diversity, expression and confidence representing our Catholic faith tradition.

Sister Mary and I had wonderful conversations with women discerning religious life, full-time Catholic school teachers, CCD catechists, youth ministers and a wide assortment of active parish volunteers. Taking Pope Francis’ encouragement to heart, we had stepped out of the convent and were among the people of God! We listened as they shared stories of ministries, their hopes for the future and their dreams of continuing to create vibrant parishes in many cities, states and countries around the world. We shared with our visitors the good news of who we are as FSPA. We offered a Live Franciscan Peace resource packet and with it the invitation to share the information with women they know to be considering the call to religious life. We also encouraged our visitors to share the packet with their parish councils and church leadership to promote vocations in their parishes. We encouraged them to invite me to host vocation talks via Skype or Zoom, connecting me with today’s discerners and students, many of whom have never had a chance to ask questions of a sister. Many parishes no longer have sisters teaching in their local schools or even as members of their parish community.

As attendees walked away from our booth, I heard many remarks about how FSPA is reading the signs of the times and learning to connect in new, innovative ways. I even caught a “Wow, they have a blog and a discernment meditation video series.” 

Even though some COVID-19 precautions were present at LA Congress, like encouragement to cover mouths and noses if sneezing, to refrain from touching faces, to stay home if feeling ill and to clean hands at sanitation stations located throughout the building, who would have predicted that just a few short weeks later the whole world would essentially shut down. 

COVID-19 has temporarily changed our patterns but it will not stop women from discerning religious life. My hope is that, in the increased silence and slower pace, many women are taking more time to listen to God - who continues to call - and consider life as an FSPA .

Also in June Presence:
Extension Cords Companion Community: presence at a distance
A common thread: environmental justice, current ministries and a pandemic
COVID-19: ‘will we ever know how many have succumbed to this virus?’
Refreshed website offers visitors new opportunities
Presence Briefs June 2020

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