Sisters chat about their experience of the religious life

In an event co-sponsored by the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and Campus Ministry, seven religious sisters from Notre Dame’s campus gathered for an evening to share their stories of vocation discernment and their expression of the religious life.

The event was introduced by Tami Schmitz, associate director of Pastoral Care, who, at the beginning of this school year, was given the task of helping young women in the Notre Dame community who are discerning a vocation to the religious life.

Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director for the Cushwa Center, spoke about a 2015 study the Conrad-Hilton foundation conducted on how women religious were perceived in America. The study concluded that, “Sisters, though highly respected, remain a mystery.”

Many views of sisters are largely shaped by media representations of sisters. “Many think that sisters wear habits, when the majority of sisters’ dress is simple, modest clothing,” said Cummings.

Those present at the night were: Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P., Sr. Ann Astell, Sr. Cathleen Cannon, O.P., Sr. Susan Sisko, O.S.B.M., Sr. Mary Donnelly, O.P., Sr. M.J. Hahner, C.S.F.M., and Sr. Mary Lynch, S.S.J.

Each sister shared her vocation story. They felt the call at various ages and entered either straight out of high school or were “late vocations” in their early 30’s. God was persistent in letting these women know they were called. Sister Susan said, “There was this mosquito––and you know, it’s God!” When walking into the motherhouse of their communities, they felt right at home, experiencing the peace of being where God meant them to be.

The sisters then spoke about their education. Some sisters took 12 years to finish their undergraduate degrees, as they could only take weekend and evening classes concurrently with their order’s apostolate.

Later, the floor was open to all to ask questions. Carolina Robledo, a sophomore in Breens-Phillips Hall asked, “Do you have to cut your hair short?” One sister chuckled and explained it was more of an age thing; long hair at an old age gives one a haggard look.

A former student of Sister Cathleen was present, and he asked about prayer and their relationship with God. Sister Hahner said she thinks of God as a relationship. Sister Mary Lynch added, “We live in a culture so full of noise.” Sister Susan then commented, “Young people tell me there’s no time to pray. It almost seems like we have to set the stage before we can be present to God and for him to be present to us.”

One student taking the Faith and Feminism class asked, “How do you fit in a church that doesn’t allow for women to be ordained?”

Sister Mary Lynch answered, “It’s been a struggle, I’ll tell you. One time I worked at this college, and I got to function as a deacon and got my turn to preach. Some priests were happy to see the back of my head driving downtime highway. At UNC some students asked me, ‘Why don’t you leave and join the Episcopal church?’ No. I’m Catholic from head to toe. I saw that I could change the Church from the inside. It’s not easy.”

Sister Mary Donnelly added, “Once I was asked to preach for an O Antiphon. I’ve learned to see being a preacher as more than just from the pulpit. It’s frustrating. I sometimes do have to ‘play the game’ by being with the priest.”

Bea Cuasay is a freshman studying philosophy, theology, and music. As an avid supporter of women religious vocations, especially of the Dominican order, she advises that you visit or for more information.