SHCJ Sisters Take The Road Less Travelled to Adventure
Vocations Can Be Challenging and Exciting, Yet Misconceptions Abound
Contact: Beth Drost | 215.884.6499
Search the Internet for “exciting careers” and you will be surprised at the jobs that appear. From air traffic controller, to video game tester, to veterinarian, the list is extensive, yet incomplete. As the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ) are aware, the life of women religious is an exciting and fulfilling career choice. As National Vocation Awareness Week, January 9-15, 2011, approaches, the Sisters of SHCJ reflect on their vocational journey.
Understanding the Life of Women Religious
The general public often has little knowledge of the realities of women religious and instead views this life as portrayed through the lens of movie or television cameras. Singing nuns, flying nuns and dancing nuns are popular depictions. And although SHCJ Sisters are quick to acknowledge the extreme joy they experience from their commitment, their joy evolves from rigorous intellectual study, productive contemplation and a studious pursuit of understanding the wants of the age. It is further enhanced by the ability to remain adaptable and effectively respond to evolving challenges and situations.
Embarking on the Journey
Sisters Caroline Conway and Eileen Algeo were educated by SHCJ Sisters and initially experienced the joy, commitment and compassion of the order through their teachers. When they each understood that they had received the calling, they thought they knew what to expect. Yet, like anyone new to a profession, the young novices did not grasp the full magnitude of the many opportunities and challenges awaiting them.
Entering the Society pre-Vatican II, Sisters Caroline and Eileen anticipated a life of teaching, obedience and prayer. During the early years of their careers, this was the path they experienced. However, following Vatican II, their role expanded. As a result of the dramatic changes, they now experienced less structure, broader choices and increased freedom. While the Society’s teaching mission guided their decisions, the Sisters were free to explore teaching strategies that went beyond the earlier classroom options. Although satisfied with their initial roles as teachers, Sisters Caroline and Eileen, with the blessing of SHCJ, were able to consider less traditional ways of serving their communities and continuing the Society’s mission.
Sr. Eileen continued to teach but she also took on the additional role of spiritual counselor to the families of the sick. Her talents as a counselor were widely recognized and Sister Eileen believed she would better serve her community by ministering to the spiritual needs of the sick. As a result, her superiors supported her change of focus. She continued her education and studied for a Master’s Degree in Counseling. She is also a Board Certified Chaplain. Sr. Eileen continues to serve the families of the sick.
Sr. Caroline also entered SHCJ and expected to spend her career as a teacher. However, after contemplating the current needs of society, she embraced the SHCJ edict to “meet the wants of the ages” and found her calling in many other positions. These included school administrator, communication director for the Society, director of a human service agency for the needy and spiritual director.
The experiences of these two remarkable and unselfish women underscore a lesser known aspect of vocational life. In fact, the life of women religious is one that is fluid and adaptable. As both Sisters demonstrate, it is important to continually reassess how best to effectively carry out the mission of the Society. The Sisters’ ability to understand how they can best apply their talents is neither easy nor static. They arrived at that decision through contemplative prayer and interaction with and understanding of the communities they serve.
The sisters of the SHCJ have the good fortune to be able to redefine and redirect their careers. This flexibility and adaptability is rare in the secular world. In a slightly ironic twist, the secular community often views vocations as structured and rigid. In reality, women religious are often more easily able to adapt their careers and ministries with the support and encouragement of their order because the mission is not profit, it is serving the needs of God’s children.
Both Sisters Caroline and Eileen opened their hearts and minds to the needs of their community and society. It was through the discipline of contemplation, the will to understand the needs in the world and the desire to use their skills to make a difference that these Sisters have, through their years with the Society, been able to remain fulfilled – not simply because they made career changes, but because they made a difference.
The Joy Factor
Of course there are people who are extremely satisfied with their careers outside the spiritual world. However according to recent studies, close to 25% of people employed in specific professions are not satisfied. Some of the reasons for this dissatisfaction are lack of autonomy, lack of caring for others and inability to make a difference. It is little wonder why the sisters of the SHCJ report high levels of satisfaction and happiness. They have the support to continue their Foundress’ directive to “meet the wants of the age” as well as to personally discern where God is leading them. This freedom is hard to find in today’s work environments.
Contrary to the some people’s perception, doing God’s work is more than contemplation and prayer. While these are important aspects of religious life, it is translating the meaning of these endeavors into active pursuits that enables the Sisters of the SHCJ to carry out their mission and provide help to those in need. This directive has led Sisters Caroline and Eileen on a path of actively ministering to the needs of less advantaged people and communities across the United States and throughout the world. Whether in Africa, working with the local Sisters to assist their communities, or in Rome improving and developing the Society’s message, the Sisters of the SHCJ are committed to working for a greater sense of community and the common good in the world.
And for those who believe opportunities are confined to strictly religious messages and pursuits, Sr. Caroline demonstrated the scope of available opportunities. She credits contemplation with helping her better understand and direct her own talents and passions to help others. She has a strong interest in organic gardening and is an active participant in a community gardening project that teaches the value of respecting the safety of the environment. Also, she is a trained Tai Chi instructor who uses this ancient discipline to strengthen the body and minds of her students.
Vocations: A Career Alternative
Srs. Caroline’s and Eileen’s experiences hint at what we all suspect – that true career satisfaction is not derived from what we earn. While not everyone has a vocation to religious life, the calling should not be muted or discounted because of misconceptions about the life of women religious. For both Sisters, their initial interest in a vocation was influenced by their exposure to women religious. It is important that the Sisters tell their story in order to make others aware of the blessings, joys and personal satisfaction derived from their vocations.
At a time when many of their peers in the secular world look forward to retiring and putting the stress of their daily routines behind them, these women religious are excited about continuing their adventure. They are energized by their vocation and are seeking to discover how they can accomplish more. And, they are often doing this in non-traditional ways.
About the SHCJ
SHCJ is an international community of Roman Catholic Sisters founded by Cornelia Connelly in 1846. There are three provinces of the order, American, African and European. The SHCJ provides outreach to more than 8,500 individuals through education, as well as sponsored and collaborative ministries at various social service organizations. For more information about SHCJ, go to http://www.shcj.org/american/.