Discerning Religious Life? Consider the power of a good question…

By Sister Amy Taylor on Thursday, June 21st 2018


We learn by asking questions…lots and lots of questions.

Recently, I was on an airplane across the aisle from a young child traveling with his parents. He was about four years old and bursting with questions. One after the other he would ask questions of his dad and, with great interest and patience, his dad would answer each of them.

Airplane in sky

Photo credit: Pexels

At the end of the flight another passenger turned to the father and remarked how he enjoyed hearing his conversations with his child. Then the passenger turned to the child and said “I think your new name should be ‘Why,’ because you have a lot of ‘why’ questions.” The parents laughed and we all went our separate ways. I walked away impressed by how this four-year-old was already navigating the vast world around him, even at 30,000 feet! 

The value of questions you have in discernment

When someone wants to learn more about membership with our congregation, we receive and answer some common questions time and again. Let’s take a look at the most common questions to arise during discernment of religious life.

What are the sisters’ ministries today?

I remember asking this question of congregations I wanted to research further, during my discernment of religious life. The goal was to see whether my interests and areas of expertise would fit within the congregation’s ministry. It was a way for me to prioritize potential congregations. My hope was to shrink the list from hundreds of congregations down to a few, so that I could research them in depth. It helped, but over time, I discovered there were other aspects to consider.

Now as the Director of Membership, the information I offer includes more about the congregation’s spirituality, mission, prayer life and community living. Many congregations have similar ministries, but each of these particular aspects affect how ministry is conducted. For example, Franciscans, Dominicans and Ursulines are rooted in education, yet how they teach is different. To see evidence of this, just ask former Catholic school students to describe the congregation of sisters who taught them. You will hear how the type of congregation influenced their education. Differences also arise in the celebration of patronal feast days and core values. Each congregation has its own “sub-culture” in the wider scope of religious life within the Catholic Church. If you have a relationship with a few congregations and they have similar ministries such as education, ask about the different ways they serve that field. Here are some examples.


How does this congregation define educational ministry?

As you discern religious life, you want to make sure you are aligned with the congregation’s philosophy of educational ministry.


Is it possible to observe or volunteer with a sister for a day, to witness ministerial life?

Spending a day with a sister is a valuable way to get a sense of what it is to be a member of that congregation.


High school students spend day volunteering with Sister Lucy in organic garden

High school students spend the day volunteering with Sister Lucy in the FSPA organic garden.


Do women religious in this congregation serve outside the U.S.?

If you are interested in a ministry abroad, you may want to seek out congregations with sisters who serve outside the U.S. If, however, you would prefer to stay stateside, this question enables you to hone in on communities that focus on serving in the U.S.


Do sisters from this congregation work in public or private school settings?

Perhaps you have a preference on what kind of schools you’d like to serve. This will allow you to find the appropriate fit for your personal calling.


Do these sisters work in bilingual classrooms?

If helping immigrants, refugees or other students who speak English as a second language, you may want to ask this question to find a community that works in bilingual classrooms.


Asking the right questions will help you find the right community for your religious life


Each answer will show how congregations differ. Consider how these nuances will play a role in your ministry. Is there room for your own growth over time? Can you transition to a different grade level or into a different ministry with education experience? Is there flexibility?


We should all be as curious and brave as that little boy on the airplane, asking questions of his father. Questions bring clarity to what, on paper, looks simple. You may be surprised to discover that a congregation you weren’t sure about is the better fit.


How will you know if a vocation to religious life is a call for you?

Reserve your complimentary copy of “Discernment of Signs Along the Way: Your Story of Service in the Catholic Church,” a 24-page reflection journal with guides, questions and connections. Email membership@fspa.org or call 888-683-3772 for more information.


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Elizabeth Gibson Says:
06/24/2018 5:27pm
Great web site. Thank you.

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