Thesing, Jenkins, and DeLee talk poverty, chastity, and obedience at Legends
“Two Priests and a Nun Walk Into a Bar” mimics the beginning of a joke, but this humorously-titled event held at Legends on Wednesday, March 25, was a panel discussion held in celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life. Father Mark Thesing, CSC; Sister Lois DeLee, OSF; and University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, discussed their vocations and vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Father Thesing, Director of Finance and Administration at the Mendoza College of Business and priest in-residence in Duncan Hall, shared that he became interested in the priesthood during high school and found his way to Notre Dame after seeking a college with a seminary. It was during formation, however, that he began to understand religious life, to appreciate members of the community of Holy Cross, and to know their work in parishes, education, and missions. “Entranced by the vibrancy of the community,” today he “can’t imagine life without it.”
Sister DeLee, Vocations Director for the Mishawaka Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, a contemplative active order, reflected on her 53 years as a sister. Her family fostered her vocation, she explained, in valuing love for God and His Church and an education in the faith. “I began to receive in my heart a draw,” Sr. DeLee said.
After high school, she entered an 8-year period of discernment before professing final vows. “I knew that I was going to give my heart away to the one I loved,” Sr. DeLee explained.
Father Jenkins spoke of his desire for “something that had meaning beyond me.” This desire for a transcendent purpose, he explained, led him to the seminary. Now, a priest since 1983, Fr. Jenkins declared that his “desire to live a meaningful life has been fulfilled.”
“The wonderful thing about this call,” Fr. Jenkins expressed, “is that you’re invited into people’s lives in a profound way.”
He explained the great privilege that is being involved in other peoples’ lives, from the recent memorial service for student Lisa Yang to baptizing Vice President of Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding’s child.
In discussing the evangelical counsels, Fr. Thesing, who served as provincial steward of the Congregation for five years, commented, “Poverty for me is a common life. It is living.” The vow of poverty takes care of necessities for religious so they do not have to worry about them and can focus on ministry instead, he explained. The vow of chastity involves recognition of an “incompleteness that can only be completed by God.”
Obedience means “a commitment to the common good”—what the community needs, rather than what the individual desires.
Sister DeLee described her ministry as an educator, which she viewed as “a way I could plant the seeds into [students’] hearts.” She found “spiritual motherhood” through teaching, and regularly prays for her former students.
Sister DeLee also noted that religious life brings her joy in seeing how her life touched the lives of others, especially her students, and brought God to them. The cross is the challenge, yet “the cross can transform my suffering … my pain into something beautiful,” she said.
“Our life is simpler,” Sr. DeLee concluded. “The simpler it is, the more we can focus on things that belong to Him.”
Father Jenkins described vowed life as a “constant invitation … to conform yourself to Christ.” He mentioned that he is constantly confronted with the challenge of feeling that he is failing, yet he retains “an abiding sense of being an instrument of God.”
David Flournoy, a sophomore at Notre Dame and seminarian in Old College, told the Rover, “What struck me … was how firmly the three presenters renounced the common view of the religious life as solely a sacrifice. Of course, one cannot deny that professed religious give up much in their daily living—the three vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience make this quite clear. But Sr. DeLee, Fr. Thesing, and Fr. Jenkins each related how God invites them through their religious vocation to enter more deeply into the lives of those they serve, and in a way only a religious can do.”
Flournoy continued: “Students and parishioners look up to them, confide in them, seek meaningful advice from them, and hold themselves to higher standards of behavior when around them. Their identity as consecrated priests and sisters is not just a sacrifice; it is a powerful gift to the world.”
Deirdre O’Leary, a junior at St. Mary’s College, commented to the Rover, “Even if someone feels called to the married life, they should still be informed about all possible vocations, go through discernment to truly decipher God’s call for their life, and be open in mind and heart.”
Speaking of the joys and challenges of religious vocations, Flournoy stated, “Indeed, what sparked my first thoughts about the priesthood two years ago was this realization that consecrated religious experience abundant joy in their lives. Previously I had assumed that all priests were in some sense unhappy, enduring a difficult lifestyle because it was a necessary sacrifice for God. But how far this is from the truth! If young people could see more closely with what love and zeal professed religious carry out their ministry, they would surely feel an attraction to that way of life. Therefore, the personal encounter of a young person with a joyful sister, priest, or brother is essential to an increase in vocations.”
Flournoy continued, “By encouraging a culture of prayer at every residence hall that extends beyond the Sunday night liturgy, students will come closer to that joyful union with Christ which is at the heart of religious life. Liturgy of the Hours, group rosaries, Grotto trips, Eucharistic Adoration, and faith-based discussions over pizza and a movie are all great ways to bring students together for prayer and conversation.” He concluded, “Where there is prayer, there are vocations.”
Stephanie Reuter is a freshman majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and living in Welsh Family Hall. She recommends getting to know the religious around campus. They’re pretty cool. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.