Acushnet teacher leaves school to study for religious life

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

ACUSHNET, Mass. — Some of Haley Ketschke’s former students at St. Francis Xavier School in Acushnet are probably feeling a little bittersweet as they prepare for another school year knowing their beloved “Miss Ketschke” won’t be there to teach them.

Ketschke will, instead, be transitioning into the student role herself this year as she begins a whole new chapter in her Spiritual journey.

The second-grade teacher left last week for Ohio to begin her postulancy, or first step towards professing her religious vows, with the Franciscan Sisters Third Order Regular (T.O.R.) of Penance and the Sorrowful Mother.

“I could not have asked for a more supportive environment to discern for these past two years,” Ketschke recently told The Anchor before she left. “Everyone from the administration, faculty, parents and students offered many prayers and much encouragement. My students knew of my discernment and would ask me many questions along the way. It was a gift to be able to walk with them all these last two years. I never would have had the courage to say ‘yes’ without their support.”

“Having Haley Ketschke as a member of our staff was a true gift,” said Michelle Russo, principal of St. Francis Xavier School. “She exuded the joy that can only come from loving Our Lord deeply, and this allowed her to leave a lasting mark on our faculty, our student body, and our school families.”

The product of a Catholic education, Ketschke has always valued that unique combination of religious and academic training and credits the experience with helping her to find her calling.

“My discernment came from having teachers remind me that in discerning your vocation it is not about what you want, but rather what God wants for you,” she said.

Ketschke first encountered the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R., of Penance and the Sorrowful Mother at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she attended for her undergraduate studies. She was immediately taken with the work of the nuns who mostly serve the physically poor and Spiritually hungry people in the Ohio and Pittsburgh areas.

“When a young woman discerns a call to a particular community, she has to look at who the Sisters are, how they pray, and how they live out their charisms — not just what they do,” Ketschke said. “A vocation is not a job but a means by which one makes a gift of themselves in love and a call to Salvation. With that being said, I visited many other communities and felt attracted to the T.O.R. charism of ‘Making Known God’s Merciful Love through Poverty and Contemplation.’”

Although she was exposed to a variety of religious orders during her school years, it wasn’t until she began her undergraduate studies at Steubenville that she seriously began considering religious life herself.

“It was my studies (at Franciscan University) that led me to study at the Theology of the Body Institute,” Ketschke said. “While taking a class on St. John Paul II’s teaching on human sexuality and Marriage, I fell in love with the Church’s teaching on religious life and celibacy. I learned that I was not rejecting Marriage and motherhood, but rather that religious life is living out a vocation as both bride and mother in another capacity.”

Given that pivotal moment, it’s no surprise then that St. John Paul II holds a special place in Ketschke’s heart and has remained a role model throughout her discernment.

“He always encouraged young people to ‘be not afraid when love requires sacrifice,’” she said. “His numerous writings have encouraged me and challenged me on my faith journey and in my discernment.”

Attending and working for a Catholic school — first as student, then as a teacher — certainly helped Ketschke during her formative years and eventually helped her to hear God’s call.

“I went to Catholic school from third grade on through graduate school at Providence College,” she said. “I was also very active in the campus ministry office at Bishop Stang High School and that foundation of having a relationship with Jesus was crucial for me. Being educated in the Catholic tradition formed me well in a life of prayer and virtue to be able to have the courage to answer a call to religious life.”

One of Ketschke’s friends, Father Christopher M. Peschel, associate director of Vocations and Seminarians for the diocese and parochial administrator at St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Attleboro, expressed great joy in learning of her decision to answer God’s call.


“In the summer of 2016, Haley contacted me and mentioned that she would be returning to the Fall River Diocese to get a masters degree in Education while teaching in one of our Catholic schools,” Father Peschel said. “She knew I was in the vocations office and had let me know she was actively discerning religious life. I had helped several guys in their application for seminary, but had never worked with a young woman discerning religious life. Working with her was a blessing for me as I came to a greater understanding and appreciation of discernment, application, and preparation for a young woman entering the convent.”

Now that Ketschke has chosen to become a postulant with the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R., of Penance and the Sorrowful Mother, she’ll spend this first year getting to know more about the order and transitioning into the religious community.

“I will be living with the Sisters and studying in order to discern further if this is what Jesus is asking of me,” she said. “After postulancy, I will officially enter the community, according to canon law, when I am invested into the novitiate. At that time I will receive a habit and a religious name. Novitiate lasts for two years before the profession of first vows. These first three years of formation are essentially to help a woman discern if she is both called to religious life and called to this particular community. The whole process of formation is made up of much prayer, simple ministry, and study.”

Unlike the four- to six-year process of getting a college degree, the road to religious life can take upwards of eight to 10 years to complete, Ketschke said.

“If I persevere to final vows, I just hope to be a faithful Sister,” she said. “I really have no expectations because at that point, my life is not my own. I hope to be free and willing to serve wherever my community needs me. Based on where my community is now serving, I do not foresee that being back here in Fall River; but I will always pray for my home diocese.”

Her students, likewise, will be doing the same.

“Haley’s students will continue to keep their former teacher in their prayers and will write letters to her as she continues to discern her call,” Russo said. “The St. Francis Xavier community is extremely blessed to have been a part of her journey and call to religious life, and will continue to keep her in our thoughts and prayers.”

“It’s such a blessing for our whole diocese to know that even one person has stepped forward to say yes to the Lord,” Father Peschel added. “Though I’ve recently handed over the reins of vocations office recruiter to Father Jack Schrader, I’m nonetheless very happy and willing to support anyone discerning and answering God’s call in their lives.”

And even though she won’t have a formal syllabus to teach this year, Ketschke still has a life lesson to pass along to her younger students: keep learning.

“I would encourage young people to learn,” she said. “You can’t discern something you don’t know. I would also remind young people that God only desires our good and our happiness. He is never going to ask us to do something unless it is for our own good and happiness. Young people need to be encouraged to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

“Lastly, if and when they think the Lord is inviting them into a vocation with Him, have no fear and take courage. The journey has certainly not been easy thus far, but the joy, peace, and freedom that comes with a simple ‘yes’ is profound.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts