Directory displays richness, variety of religious life

Left: Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, chairperson of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, sings during a Mass June 1, 2016, marking the Sisters of Life community's 25th anniversary at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City (CNS / Gregory A. Shemitz). Right: The cover of the council's 2017-2018 Vocations Directory.

Imagine hearing that still, small voice urging you to religious life but having no idea which order or community might be right for you. Where would you even begin?

Thanks to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), a great place to start is the 2017-2018 Vocations Directory. Published every two years, it features more than 100 different religious communities with photos, a summary of each and contact information.

"One of the things I like so much about our directory is the visual imagery that's there," said Hillary Theriault, the council's director of communications. "It really lets you get a feel for the community."

That "feel" is important for women deciding whether to make lifelong vows, and Theriault said they hear stories about sisters who found their communities through the directory.

That's why paper copies of the book are free, you can view it online for free, or you can download a PDF version to your computer for free. And if that's not enough, there is also the CMSWR app, available for iPhone in the App Store; the app features the information from the directory as well as videos and interviews with sisters and a map of communities belonging to the council.

"It is a blessing that young women are still hearing and responding to the call to serve God," said Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, council chairperson and superior general of the Sisters of Life. "CMSWR is blessed with many vibrant communities serving a number of different apostolates. Our Vocations Directory assists young women in finding the right community for them."

Council officials say they want to build a culture of vocational discernment so religious life is not an afterthought or a secret.

"We really just want to get [the directory] into the hands of young women who may be discerning," Theriault said. "It could be through a parish priest, the vocations office at the diocesan level or anything."

Even for those who are not discerning, the directory of nearly every CMSWR community is a valuable resource that displays the richness and variety of religious life.

"It shows the beauty of the church in its diversity," Theriault said. "It's really affirming."

The directory — which runs from the All Saint Sisters of the Poor to the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus — features photos of the sisters in each community. Some are posing for a portrait, others are at work serving those who are sick or poor, and some are laughing, throwing leaves or taking a hayride.

"As a culture nowadays, we're not as exposed to religious life as we were in the past, so it's hard to see that richness come forth on a daily basis," Theriault said. "One sister is a juggler. They do all sorts of things."

Theriault said the CMSWR app was a result of the Year of Consecrated Life and, unlike the directory, is updated at least a couple of times each month. It features areas such as Meet a Sister, videos and information about religious life and how to enter it, a directory by apostolate, and, of course, vocation stories.

"So many people are on their phones nonstop. This gives people an opportunity to have a kind of sneak peek at religious life," Theriault said. "What is this sister's vocation story? How did she hear the call and respond?"

Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious was founded in 1992, and its members represent 120 communities nationwide with approximately 6,000 sisters.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is dstockman@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

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