By Dave Jolivet
WAREHAM, Mass. — When Christ was ready to begin His active ministry among the people of Israel, He didn’t amass an army of thousands of evangelists. Instead He called a dozen men of differing ages and from various walks of life to get the ball rolling.
More than 2,000 years later, His followers number in the millions.
Recently, at the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham, the fifth annual “Called By Name Retreat For Young Women,” welcomed a small group of seven young women whose desire was to learn how to better hear Christ calling them in their lives, and possibly what that message may be.
“The retreat this year was small in number but huge in Spirit,” Paula Wilk, director of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry at St. Patrick’s Parish in Wareham, and one of the coordinators of the retreat, told The Anchor.
In attendance were young women ranging in age from 16-24. “My first thought about that was this could be a challenge with the age difference,” added Wilk. “But it was not, because the younger girls were very mature and wanted to be on this discernment retreat for that very reason. Throughout the retreat the girls wanted to know the personal stories of each Sister that was there, and myself to my vocation of Marriage.”
In a preview story about the retreat in The Anchor, associate diocesan director of Vocations, Sister Paulina Hurtado, O.P., said the weekend was for young women to block out the “strong winds, earthquakes, and fires,” they’re often exposed to in day-to-day life.
The weekend was comprised of testimonies from Sisters from four orders: Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, Dominican Sisters, and Little Sisters of the Poor. Wilk offered a testimony on the vocation of Marriage.
The women also experienced time for sharing, camaraderie, Eucharistic Adoration, daily Mass, prayer, food and fun.
Twenty-five-year-old Hollis Dunlop, currently attending Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, was one of the attendees, after responding to a call from Sister Catherine Lamb, MSBT, director of the parish Home Bound Ministry at St. Patrick’s Parish in Wareham, who has spoken to Dunlop in the past about exploring the possibility of a vocation.
Hollis has been very active in Church activities for some time. “I have grappled with vocational questions since my time as a student at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth (Class of 2008), where I first felt that God might be calling me into a deeper relationship with Him,” she told The Anchor.
Hollis went on to Providence College, completed a year of service with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, and most recently at Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries in the Hudson Valley, even after “leaving the faith” in 2013.
“This retreat was a wonderful chance to hang out with Sisters and a very involved and inspiring lay woman, Paula Wilk,” she added. “I love hearing vocation stories and all of the stories were very relatable and well-delivered.
“Christ was truly at the center of the Sisters’ stories and of the retreat. I think a very unique aspect was that Paula continuously asked what we wanted to hear and what we were interested in learning. It allowed us to really make it our own.”
Sydney LeBlond told The Anchor, “I went into the retreat hoping to learn more about God, myself, and an affirmation of where God may be calling me in my life. While there not only were those goals accomplished, but I also had the chance to bond with other women my own age who are actively discerning God’s Will for them in their own lives.”
Commenting on the relaxed and informal atmosphere the weekend took on, LeBlond said, “This gave us all the opportunity to talk to and interact with the Sisters in a carefree environment and to get an in-depth idea of what religious life is really like. It also gave us the ability to see past the stereotypes that are sometimes associated with religious life.
“The most touching part of the weekend was during Adoration on Saturday night, being surrounded by my friends and sisters in Christ. Knowing that each one of us, whether being called to married, single, or religious life were all there in front of Jesus, simply adoring Him and listening to Him.”
Attendee Maria Miller told The Anchor, “I felt very close to the Lord and it has really helped my prayer life. Afterwards I noticed it really helped me look at my vocation. I could very well change my opinions, but I feel that I know my vocation in my heart.”
Remarking on the camaraderie and prayer opportunities throughout the weekend, Miller said, “We were all in the same place. We all share the same faith. We are all young women who love the Lord and want to know and do what He wants; yet, we all want some fun. We stayed up late both nights and had a really splendid time. It was almost like a slumber party. We all became fast friends and found each other’s company pleasurable. Because there were only seven of us it was very intimate.
“I enjoyed the retreat so much and examined some new types of prayer and different styles of life. I would advise any young woman who is looking for the Lord’s holy Will to come on this retreat and enjoy the company of Him Who calls them, and who are looking for some fun.”
As is often the case with religious-themed retreat weekends, it’s not only the retreatants who benefit from the experience. Those who prayerfully work so hard to make it a success feel the Lord’s gentle touch.
Sister Barbara McIntyre, MSBT, was one of the presenters. She told The Anchor, “Helping people discern how to live out that call is a special joy to me as a MSBT Sister. An ongoing part of our life is taking Counsel with others in prayer and dialogue in order to be attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
“I found the women on the retreat an inspiration. For me the casual conversations during and after meals were great times of sharing personal experiences of our being called by name and efforts to respond to those calls.”
Fellow Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity Sister Mary Kay MacDonald also shared her personal testimony on the weekend. She told The Anchor, “Spending a weekend with young women who are serious about discerning their vocational choice and growing Spiritually was a joy for me as I participated in the retreat.
“I am so grateful to all who made this weekend possible. In an era of fewer religious Sisters, it is so important that young women know about this beautiful vocation as well as have the opportunity to meet Sisters personally and learn about the different charisms and ministries.
“Listening to young women say, ‘How do I really know what my vocation is? How can I make the right choice? What if I make a mistake?’ reaffirmed for me the great need young adults have for accompaniment and tools for discernment as they seek to make life choices.”
Wilk added, “It was so beautiful to see these young girls taking in every blessed moment of this retreat. The Holy Spirit was alive and working on this weekend. Thanks be to God.
“The one thing I know the girls will take away from this weekend is that God is calling them to something and the way they will find out what that is, is to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. Get closer to Jesus and the invitation will be revealed.”
Jesus began His earthly mission with 12 very different men. Only God Himself knows what can happen with seven faith-filled, open-minded young women.