Patti Maguire Armstrong" />

Mentorship program helps men, women discern religious life

Young women religious pray during the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 23, 2020, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

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As a high school student, Cassidy Roderick felt somewhat isolated when she discerned God calling her to become a religious sister. Nursing, criminal justice, business — those were some of the majors her classmates were interested in, no religious vocations in sight. Even though she attended a Catholic school, she had never even met a nun. What was she supposed to do with that inner prodding?

Along with a crisis in vocations comes a lack of consecrated religious in communities to serve as examples and mentors for young men and women. Vocations Outreach, an initiative of Franciscan University of Steubenville, recently announced a new mentorship program to help fill that void. In addition to a six-month free, online formation program to help with discernment, there is the opportunity to be matched with a mentor. Seven women and one man have been admitted to the first session, with new sessions beginning monthly.

Firsthand experience

“Discernment can be a difficult and confusing journey, especially if you don’t have anyone to guide you through the process,” Roderick, founder and team director of Vocations Outreach, said in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor. Her motivation was born of personal experience.

“I started discerning when I was 15 years old, but I was not even very into my faith at that point, so I didn’t know what to do,” Roderick said. “My theology teacher had shared her story about having discerned with a religious community when she was younger, and from that point on, the thought of religious life never left my mind. It was like a pebble stuck in my shoe; I was always aware of it. “

By the time Roderick was 18, a high school campus minister recommended that she get in touch with communities to explore if she was really called to religious life and, if so, which one? One community felt like home as soon as Roderick stepped onto the grounds. “I also discerned that God was asking me to wait a few years before entrance,” she said. “Waiting has been hard because there’s nothing I want more than to give my life to God completely, but he has surprised me with so many blessings. Getting to start Vocations Outreach was definitely one of them.”

Cassidy Roderick is on track to receive her master’s degree in theology and Christian ministry from Franciscan University this summer before entering religious life.

Personal guidance

Men and women considering a religious vocation can apply with Vocations Outreach to receive online formation by watching workshops and completing tasks designed to help them grow in their spiritual lives and deepen their understanding of consecrated religious life. Workshops feature talks from a variety of presenters, including religious from four different orders. Topics include: Theology of Religious Life, Monastic Practices, Obstacles to Discernment, Listening to the Holy Spirit, Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement, Personal Vocation, Lectio Divina and more. Each discerner will be connected with a professed religious who will act as a mentor as they go through the formation program. Mentors will provide feedback on written tasks and will engage in long-distance, one-on-one communication throughout the program.

It is important for young discerners to relate directly with those in religious life, according to Roderick. “The best way to help them understand that is through relationships with those already in religious life,” she said. Discerners will also be paired with another program participant to offer a spiritual, supportive friend and to foster a sense of community.

Vocations Outreach is currently accepting applications. Applicants must be at least 15 years old and actively discerning consecrated religious life. To learn more or apply, visit vocationsoutreach.org.

Patti Maguire Armstrong writes from North Dakota.

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