Sister Nancy Mathias, OSU
Delegate for Consecrated Life
Department of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations
Diocese of Toledo
Toledo, OH 43604-5360
Consecrated women religious by their lives witness the joy of eternal union with God. Freed from earthly cares, they more fully manifest the Kingdom of God to all Christians. The structure of the vowed life frees consecrated women religious to live entirely for God and others.
Their prayer, community, and mission speak eloquently of a wholehearted response to God’s overwhelming love and care. Through their lives of service they make the presence of Jesus visible in a world desperately in need of faith, hope, and love. They are called to be icons, transparent images of the Triune God.
“The consecrated life thus becomes one of the tangible seals which the Trinity impresses upon history, so that people can sense with longing the attraction of divine beauty” (Vita Consecrata, 20).
CENTERED ON JESUS
Consecrated women respond to the call to embrace Jesus as the center and meaning of their lives. Through their consecration they give public witness to their desire to grow more deeply in love with Jesus. Their relationship with Jesus determines every facet of their lives.
VOWED FOR FREEDOM
Women religious seek to conform their whole existence to Jesus in an all-encompassing commitment expressed in the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Far from primarily being restrictions, the vows free Sisters to live their lives solely for God and His people. Those who profess the evangelical counsels serve as a reminder and incentive for all Christians to live their common call to holiness and to strive for eternal union with God.
CALLED ON MISSION
Called by the Father, following Jesus’ pattern of life, and guided by the Spirit, Sisters continue a special presence of the Risen Lord in today’s world. Through the grace of God’s call and their generous response, their hearts expand to embrace all people and to minister to their needs. They are drawn to those places in our world and society where Jesus would be if He were humanly present today. They always have been and continue to be a vital component in the life and mission of the Church.
SISTERS IN THE DIOCESE OF TOLEDO
The identity of Sisters is rooted first and foremost in their commitment to Jesus and His mission. They live this commitment in the context of a particular community of women with whom they share a specific charism. God gifts the Church with unique communities who give witness to certain aspects of Jesus’ presence and service. Each of these communities lives in the spirit of its founder/foundress and responds to the needs of God’s people.
Most communities of Sisters profess the evangelical counsels as a personal commitment of love for God and for the sake of carrying out different forms of apostolic service. They seek to model their lives after Jesus, Servant of all, who gave His life that others might share the fullness of the Father’s love. As the needs of people change, women in active apostolic communities respond in creative fidelity in serving these needs.
Some Sisters are called to a monastic life. In living this life, they give an eloquent witness to communion with God. Prayer and conversion of life constitute the rhythm of their days. The Church is blessed through the witness and prayer of these consecrated women as they intercede on behalf of all God’s people.
In the Diocese of Toledo there are Sisters from more than twenty active apostolic communities and one monastic community. Five of these have motherhouses or centers located in the Diocese.
|Sisters of St. Francis, Sylvania
6832 Convent Boulevard
Sylvania, OH 43560-2897
|Sisters of Notre Dame
3837 Secor Road
Toledo, Ohio 43623
|Sisters of St. Francis, Tiffin
200 St. Francis Ave
Tiffin, Ohio 44883-3458
4045 Indian Road
Toledo, OH 43606
|Contemplative Order of the Visitation
1745 Parkside Boulevard
Toledo, OH 43607-1599
|Institute of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
8380 Colesville Road, Suite 300
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
|Sisters of the Precious Blood
4000 Denlinger Road
Dayton, OH 45426-2399
|Little Sisters of the Poor
930 Wynn Road
Oregon, OH 43616
|Consecrated Virgins Living in the World
U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins
300 West Ottawa Street
Lansing, Michigan 48933-1577
|The Religious Brothers Conference
233 S. Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
|Oblates of St. Francis de Sales
2043 Parkside Boulevard
Toledo, OH 43607-1597
|Society of Jesus
Jesuit Provincial Office
2050 North Clark Streetd
Chicago, IL 60614-4788
|Friars Minor Conventual
Province of Our Lady of Consolation, Inc.
103 St. Francis Boulevard
Mount St. Francis, IN 47146-9000
|Missionaries of the Precious Blood
431 East Second Street
Dayton, OH 43402-1764
|Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
Province of Baltimore
7509 Shore Road
Brooklyn, NY 11209
A vow is a sacred promise or commitment made publicly with the approval of the Church. Through her vows, a Sister responds with her whole life to God’s invitation to love Him completely and without reserve. This free response is a fuller expression of her baptismal call and is, for one who is genuinely called to the consecrated life, a means to greater holiness. All Christians are called to live the virtues of chastity, poverty and obedience; these vows provide for a purification of heart and spiritual freedom that uniquely mark the life of the consecrated woman religious. Living these vows enables her to focus her entire being on God and His people.
While all women religious profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, some communities take an additional vow. Some monastic communities profess a fourth vow of stability by which the monastery they enter remains their home for life unless they are called to be part of a new foundation. Other communities take a fourth vow of hospitality or service to the poor.
The vows of consecrated life are means by which a woman religious seeks to be more closely configured to the One she loves. Living these vows draws her into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. She embraces a transforming love who gives meaning to all suffering and sacrifice.
CHASTITY (Consecrated Celibacy)
A woman religious cannot help but respond with a total life gift to the God who has first loved her. When a woman religious falls in love with Jesus Christ and commits her life to Him completely, this determines the other facets of her life. Her choice to make Jesus the primary relationship in her life calls her to live a celibate lifestyle. The vow of celibacy means so much more than “not getting married.”
As a woman religious pledges her life in spousal love to God alone, her life of celibacy mirrors the beauty of the union alive in the Trinity. It is a reflection of intimate love to the point of giving one’s life for another.
A genuinely happy woman religious knows the joy of true intimacy. Intimate union with God gives meaning and credibility to her lifestyle. An ever deepening prayer life is essential to growing in knowledge and love for the One to whom she has pledged her life. A woman religious is drawn to give priority to prayer and communion with God.
The witness of genuine friendships with others both inside and outside of her religious community and with both women and men is one of the many gifts a woman religious can offer to the Church and society today. In a culture that teaches that the meaning of life depends almost exclusively on sexual activity, a woman religious points to the importance of a deeper level of relating.
Celibacy is not about self-absorption and selfishness. One who lives a life committed to Jesus Christ will come to know, love, and serve Him in the people she encounters each day. Rather than turning her in on herself, celibacy expands the heart of the woman religious and frees her to love everyone with a generous love.
The call to live a chaste and celibate lifestyle is a strong affirmation of one’s sexuality. A woman religious does not deny or repress her sexuality. She lives her womanhood deeply and fruitfully by nurturing life wherever she goes, by developing rich and intimate relationships, and by being drawn out of herself in service, friendship and family.
The vow of poverty professed by a woman religious is a radical call to freedom. Unrestricted by the accumulation of wealth and material possessions, she is free to focus on relationships and service.
The vow of poverty does not mean a woman religious is called to live in destitution. God desires that she live simply, living from her needs rather than her wants. Keeping her life simple helps eliminate distractions that could draw the woman religious away from God. A woman head over heels in love with God does not fix her attention on material things.
Called to serve those most in need, the woman religious recognizes the face of Jesus in those who are poor and less fortunate. She responds to the call of Jesus in the Gospel, “Whatever you did to the least of my people, you did to me” (Mt 25). Her service goes beyond a condescending charity and stretches her to live in solidarity with those she encounters.
This solidarity with people who are struggling challenges the woman religious to an honest and humble awareness and acknowledgment of her failings. She recognizes that “in power, weakness reaches perfection,” and she trusts God to use her personal poverty to share His message of salvation and redeeming love.
All creation is from God and the good things of this earth are to be celebrated and enjoyed. A significant part of the profession of poverty is care for the earth and all that has been given to us. The woman religious respects all of creation realizing these gifts are not hers to possess but to care for and use in service of others.
The recognition that all is gift helps the woman religious understand that she owns and is entitled to nothing. She is grateful she has what she needs for life and ministry and seeks to share these gifts with others. This sharing begins in her own religious community as she shares not only material goods but her time and talents with her sisters.
The vow of poverty invites the woman religious to focus her entire life on God and God’s people. Because she is unencumbered with material possessions, she is able to go wherever she is needed. This availability for mission calls her to live in a spirit of trust and abandonment, following in the footsteps of Jesus.
In her vow of obedience, a woman religious strives to live her life in a stance of listening and response to God’s will. This listening is a daily call to take on the mind and heart of Jesus as St. Paul writes: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2: 5).
This configuring oneself to Jesus Christ affects all aspects of one’s being. A woman religious comes to know that everything she is and does flows from her striving to pattern her life after the One who calls her. No aspect of her life, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can be excluded from her obedient response.
The role of prayer in a life of obedience is central. It is in nurturing an ever deeper relationship with Jesus that the woman religious comes to take on His mind and heart. Daily, she comes before God asking in the spirit of John the Baptist that she “might decrease and He might increase.”
The woman religious also comes to realize that a fully embraced obedience involves not only what she does but the motives and intent behind her actions. The call for a lifelong process of purification and renewal allows her to leave behind selfish attitudes and motives and entrust her whole being to the God who calls her.
In obedience, the woman religious listens for the way she can best use her God-given talents and abilities to serve the needs of today’s Church and world. Contrary to the prevalent culture, obedience calls forth a selflessness and desire to live for others. At times, this may necessitate going above and beyond her own desires and interests. The grace of obedience supports one in doing this and is reflected in a graced growth in her life.
The role of the community is integral to the obedience professed by a woman religious. Far from being a “blind obedience” in which one simply does what she is told, the obedience of a disciple stretches her to take an active role in sifting through the various influences and calls in her life. Together with the community, she looks reverently at her gifts and talents as well as the needs of the world and strives to know how God is calling her to respond. Truly, the grace of community in this process is to have an extra set of ears with which to hear God’s call and invitation in the broader context.
In obedience, the woman religious daily comes with open hands and an open heart, begging to be formed as a disciple that she might better serve others. She recognizes that her vocational call is never given for herself alone but for the good of the Church and the world.
Consecrated life is a fuller expression of the baptismal call shared by all Christians, but there are certain characteristics that mark the life of a consecrated woman religious. Prayer, community, and mission serve as fundamental pillars helping sisters to remain grounded in their consecrated identity.
CENTRALITY OF PRAYER
By her human nature, a Sister is called to be a person in relationship, one who falls in love with another. There is a yearning deep within her that is answered only when her emptiness or lack is filled by another. Prayer is such a relationship and an essential component in the life of every woman religious. Prayer puts her in direct contact, in a direct love relationship with God who first loved her.
As in any relationship, prayer demands that a Sister spend time with the One she loves, even though at times it will feel that she is “wasting time.” Sometimes there will be conversation, a dialogue requiring that she both speaks and listens. At other times, she will simply enjoy being in God’s presence and He will delight in being with her. In all of these times, she is coming to know and love God and allowing herself to be loved by Him.
There are certainly many “types” of prayer that may be helpful as a Sister grows in her relationship with Jesus. The Mass will always be the perfect prayer through which she unites the offering of herself with Jesus to the Father. It is in the Mass that she encounters Jesus – body, blood, soul, and divinity – and asks the grace to be transformed into Him.
Celebration of the Sacraments also leads a Sister to a deeper love for her God who longs to be close to her. Regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be especially fruitful in helping her grow in self-knowledge and awareness of God’s forgiving love.
Spending time becoming familiar with Sacred Scripture and the life of Jesus is invaluable as the woman religious grows more deeply in love with Him. The more she knows about Jesus and His life, the more she can become like Him. The many events and characters in Scripture can serve as a road map for her own spiritual journey.
Most communities of women religious also make a commitment to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. The sisters join their voices in morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer for the needs and intentions of all God’s people.
No one knows the heart of Jesus better than Mary, His mother. The rosary and other Marian devotions can guide the Sister in her reflections on the mysteries of Jesus’ life. Mary is eager to be her companion as she comes to know Jesus.
Both personal and communal prayer are essential components in the life of a woman religious and distinguish her relationship with God and others. How wonderful it is to spend time with the One she loves!
GIFT OF COMMUNITY
Just as Jesus gathered the disciples together, women religious come together in a unique way in their response to God’s call. One of the most distinct characteristics of the consecrated lifestyle is community life. “Community” can refer to our day-to-day living together with other Sisters and it can also refer to the congregation or group to which we belong. Consecrated women religious recognize the unique interdependence and support among members of their religious community.
Closely related to the living of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, community living challenges the woman religious to “cast her lot” with others who embrace similar desires and values. While her primary commitment is to God, she also pledges faithfulness to the community of which she is a member.
Members of her community are more than a pseudo family, simply replacing the relationships she has sacrificed through the vow of chastity. Rather, a woman religious companions her Sisters in adult-to-adult relationships intricately bound up in their faith journeys.
Through her vow of poverty, a woman religious promises to share all things with her Sisters in community. This commitment to give and receive all she needs for her livelihood calls for a deep spirit of trust and abandonment. While knowing the community will care for her needs, she also assumes responsibility in doing her part to care for and contribute to the assets of the community.
Every woman religious can define her mission as an extension of the mission of Jesus. Each community, however, has a specific charism and spirit that allows its members to reflect a certain facet of that mission. This charism can be influenced by the type of ministry a community offers the Church, but it springs even more from a deeper level of identity. Based on her relationship with Jesus Christ and the call she has experienced within, a woman religious comes to resonate with a particular community’s spirit and manner of being in the world.
The community becomes the context in and through which the woman religious witnesses to Jesus in the world as she reaches out in ministry. Likewise, the ministry in which she engages brings a life and vibrancy to her relationships in community and thus keeps her and her Sisters from becoming isolated or insular.
As with the vows professed by a woman religious, the community lifestyle is to serve as a witness to the world of the possibility and value of living with others in harmony. While day-to-day tensions and frictions will exist, the members of a religious community witness the blessing of reconciliation to a world in great need of healing.
The life of a woman religious engages her on several levels of community. She experiences daily community with the sisters with whom she lives. There is also the broader regional or province community of which the Sister is a member. Some communities are international and extend beyond the boundaries of a particular country and some remain in a smaller geographic area.
Community life encompasses aspects of a Sister’s life: prayer, mission and spending time together. Times of prayer together keep a community focused on the One who gives meaning to their lives and simple fun together helps the members of a community from becoming overly serious.
IMPORTANCE OF MISSION
Women religious are called to live as disciples of Jesus and to make Him and His message the center of their lives. While all Christians are called to live the mission of Jesus, the woman religious has a special call to live this mission in a radical and complete way.
The mission of the woman religious is bigger than the ministry in which she takes part. Everything she does and everything she is needs to proclaim the love and life of Jesus. She is to make Jesus present by who she is and by who she allows Him to be in her.
Consecrated life is the vocation entrusted to the woman religious. One of the aspects of this lifestyle is the ministry or “job” in which the Sister engages. Sisters in different communities and in different parts of the world serve people in many and varied ways. There are Sisters who are teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, and pastoral ministers. They serve the young, the old, and those who are marginalized and poor, those who have no one else to care for them. While anyone can do what a Sister does in her ministry, not everyone is called to share in the consecrated lifestyle that provides the background of mission in her life.
A Sister’s ministry is always in response to a need in the Church or the world. Her ministry is to see Jesus in each person she encounters and to bring Jesus to each person. She takes to heart the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty…” (Mt 25: 35). By serving Jesus in these people, she strives to live in solidarity and compassion with those most in need.
Sisters in active apostolic communities are called to companion those in need on a day-to-day basis, while Sisters in contemplative communities serve others through a ministry of prayer. They stand in the presence of God and place before Him the needs and longings of all people. These sisters may engage in a work to sustain their livelihood, but their primary ministry is prayer. Some contemplative communities make altar breads, vestments or various food products in order to support themselves. The work is always one that will not distract them from their mission of intercessory prayer.
While a woman religious may reach an age or state of health that necessitates her leaving active ministry, she never retires from mission. Even on her death bed, she shares in the mission of proclaiming to others that God loves and cares for all His people.
Discovering who God is calling one to be in life is an exciting and grace-filled adventure! God calls each person to be her very best self and offers her a life of fulfillment and happiness. Each person is called to remain open and to embrace wholeheartedly the invitation God offers her.
While each person’s discernment is unique and personal, some characteristics are common.
BE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST
Develop a life of prayer, not just in times of crisis, but regularly. No relationship develops between persons unless they listen to each other. You must learn to listen to the Lord in prayer and not merely ask Him to listen to you. You need to spend time with Him, listen to Him, be honest with Him, and occasionally be willing to wait on Him.
Prayer is a highly personal response to a personal love that God has for you individually. Because you are unique, your prayer response is going to be unique. Don’t hesitate to experiment with various forms of prayer until you find those which best express your relationship with the Lord.
Look for traces of the Lord in nature, in circumstances of your life, in other people. He is active in all. The better you get to know Him, the more you will be able to perceive His activity.
Know your likes and dislikes, your fears and dreams, your hopes and interests, your abilities and limitations. Get to know how you work under stress, what kind of leadership you respond to, how much structure you need in your life.
See how others view you in work situations, under stress, and at leisure. Reflect how you view others. Are you able to accept others for who they are, to work with them?
You might keep a journal to record your feelings over a period of time. Going back over this journal and reflecting on changes in your feelings and ideas will give a picture of the person you are.
Another road to self-discovery is to develop a relationship with a spiritual director or someone else whom you trust and who can be objective with you. If you are open and honest with this person, self-knowledge will increase.
THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
As you become more in touch with yourself and with the Lord, prayerfully gather the facts about your decision. Consider alternatives. Write out the pros and cons of each alternative. Try to project what effect each alternative will have on you five and ten years from now.
In considering consecrated life, search out information about various religious communities, their works, their lifestyles. Consider other lifestyles which might suit you. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Talk to priests, sisters, brothers and to people in other walks of life. Visit religious houses, if possible. Try to see yourself as a sister ten years from now, and as a wife and mother with a family ten years from now. To which is God drawing you? Speak to the vocation director of the prospective community.
As you gather the facts about the alternative life choices open for you, be particularly attentive to your feelings. If you have been open and honest with yourself, you can trust your feelings. Choose what appears to be best for you and what appears to be God’s will.
CONFIRM YOUR DECISION
After you have made your decision, spend time in prayer for an extended period to see if the decision still seems right. If it does, there should be a continuation of inner peace and satisfaction. This period of confirmation should go on for an extended interval, several weeks or more, to be sure the peace you feel is true tranquility and not simply the relief that follows a difficult decision.
You can also be confirmed in your decision by sharing it with your spiritual director or someone else with whom you have worked throughout the process.
After much prayer and reflection, you may come to a point of asking “What do I do now?” If you believe God may be calling you to consecrated life, there are some things you can do to help clarify your call.
- Continue to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through a life of prayer.
- Become involved in parish activities and ministries.
- Speak to a vocation director or sister who can answer some of the questions you may have.
- Visit web sites and do other reading that will answer the questions, fears or doubts that are very real and normal.
- Visit religious communities and spend time with sisters in prayer, community and ministry.
- Engage a spiritual director who can help you walk the path of discernment.
In the end, after prayer and discernment, if you truly believe God is calling you to this way of life, try it. A very important thing to remember is that you do not make a lifetime commitment the day you enter a community. Many years of formation and life with the community help you and the community to determine if this is really the life to which God is calling you.
Sr. Marcia Faustina Boes
Home Parish: Transfiguration of the Lord, Upper Sandusky
Community: Sisters of St. Francis, Tiffin
Home Parish: St. Rose, Lima
Community: Society of Jesus
Home Parish: St. Jerome, Walbridge
Community: Society of Jesus
Bro. Simon Hermann
Home Parish: St. Michael, Findlay
Community: St. Meinrad Archabbey
Home Parish: St. Clement, Toledo
Community: Oblates of St. Francis de Sales
Home Parish: St. Patrick, Providence
Community: Society of Jesus
Bro. Dominic Mary
Home Parish: St. John, Delphos
Community: Order of Preachers
Home Parish: St. Thomas More, Bowling Green
Community: Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
Bro. Mathias Meyer
Home Parish: St. Mary, Bluffton
Community: Abbey of Gethsemani
Home Parish: Blessed Sacrament, Toledo
Community: Society of Jesus
Sr. Erin Nagy
Home Parish: St. Rose, Perrysburg
Community: Franciscan Sisters T.O.R.
Bro. Felix Mary O'Donnell
Home Parish: St. Joseph, Fremont
Community: Franciscan Friars, Connecticut
Sr. Kathryn Press
Home Parish: St Michael, Findlay
Community: Apostles of the Sacred Heart
Home Parish: Holy Trinity, Bucyrus
Community: Society of Jesus
Home Parish: St. Thomas More, Bowling Green
Community: Society of Jesus