Over the past several decades, the number of professed religious men and women in the United States has been in a well-publicized decline. Some have characterized the decreasing number of religious as a “vocation’s crisis.” But the real crisis is a crisis of discernment. In our fragmented society, few take the time to discern God’s will in their lives. To address this problem, Catholic Studies, with the help of St. Thomas’ Lilly grant project, Beyond Career to Calling, has taken steps to create a culture of discernment for undergraduate men and women.
By integrating intellectual development with opportunities for faith formation and fellowship outside of the classroom, Catholic Studies helps students listen to and reflect on a call to a particular vocation and, more specifically, a possible call to religious life. The results speak for themselves. Since the undergraduate program’s inception, 30 alumni have been ordained priests, another 30 or more are in major seminary formation, and 10 have joined religious orders.
Two recent opportunities for discernment have been formed for men and women who are not officially part of a seminary or apostolate program: the Catholic Studies men’s homes and the Myriam Companions. Undergraduate men who opt to live in one of two men’s homes, on-campus houses owned by the university, share a common life grounded in morning and evening prayer and daily Mass. They also often gather for meals and fellowship even as they pursue their individual academic coursework. Men’s home directors, Father Michael Keating, a Catholic Studies faculty member, and Brian Green, assistant director of Beyond Career to Calling, meet with the students every Tuesday night for dinner and a lecture focused around the theme of maturing in Christ. Modeled on religious communities, the homes create an environment that enables men to explore the possibility of religious life. So far two former residents have decided to join St. John Vianney college seminary to discern a call to the priesthood.
The Myriam Companions takes an active approach to helping undergraduate women consider a vocation to the religious life. The group regularly hosts members of various women’s religious orders who spend time with them in prayer, meals and conversation. These visits also serve the purpose of exposing the St. Thomas community at large to some of the fastest growing religious orders in the country, including the Sisters of Life, Nashville Dominicans, Community of St. John, and Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. In addition, the Myriam Companions organizes annual “Nun Runs,” which provide opportunities for students to visit religious communities around the country. Fourteen women participated in this year’s trip, held during spring break. Traveling by van over the course of a week, the group visited nine religious communities in six states, including the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Michigan, the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Indiana, the Passionists in Kentucky, the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (known as the Pink Sisters) in Missouri, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George in Illinois.
Discovering their vocation in life is one of the most difficult challenges college students face. Through initiatives such as the Catholic Studies men’s homes and the Myriam Companions, Catholic Studies is committed to providing opportunities for young men and women to reflect on their future lives in the light of God’s call.