Vocations may come at unexpected times

WHITE OAK—Women find inspiration to pursue a religious vocation in many different ways.

Sister Nancy Shively, OSC, was on a spiritual retreat that led her to change communities.

For Kristin Davidson of Charleston, it was the sight of a religious sister bringing the Eucharist to an old blind man in a small village in the South American nation of Guyana.

Sister Nancy spent 28 years as a Franciscan and has been a Poor Clare for 18 years.  Davidson, meanwhile, left South Carolina to begin her new life in a convent on April 28. These two women, at different stages of the religious life, shared their stories with nine young women who attended a women’s discernment retreat held April 28-29 at White Oak Conference Center.

The event was led by Sister Pamela Smith of the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and offered the women two days of discussion, prayer, fellowship and quiet reflection to try to discern the path God wants them to lead.

It was part of an ongoing effort by the Diocese of Charleston Office of Vocations to encourage men and women to seriously consider calls to religious life.

Sister Pam led workshops on God’s calling as reflected in Scripture, prayer and other topics. Joan LaBone, the youth program leader at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, talked about marriage as a vocation.

The testimonies by Sister Nancy and Davidson effectively showed the women how God’s call can come at the most unexpected times.

Sister Nancy said she was a freshman at St. Bonaventure University when she discovered the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y., who had a motherhouse across from the campus. She “fell in love” with the Franciscan mission and the sisters’ work, even though she had not originally intended to pursue religious life, she said.

“They say God writes straight with a crooked line, and that’s how I found my calling,”  she said. During her 28 years as a Franciscan, she taught in elementary and high school, founded a retreat house, worked as a hospital chaplain and in parish ministry. She was happy in her life and didn’t intend to make a change.

Then she paid a visit to a Poor Clares’ monastery in 1993.

“I say I don’t hear voices or see visions, but while I was there I heard a voice seem to say ‘Welcome home,’” she said. At the time, Sister Nancy didn’t know that some women religious transfer from one community to another during their lives, and she spent several weeks trying to convince herself she was not called to a life of contemplative prayer.

“I knew that to be really true to myself, I had to say yes,” she said. “Leaving my old order was the hardest and best thing I ever did in my life.”

Davidson grew up in Charleston and was raised Presbyterian. She became a Catholic during her senior year at Bishop England High School after discovering the beauty of the faith and the power of the Eucharist.

She graduated from the College of Charleston, taught briefly, then studied library science in Washington, D.C. While there, she became disillusioned when she heard a professor talking about crafting a good resume and earning a good salary, and realized she wanted more out of life.

“It struck me I had never really listened to God, and in daily prayer I began to add the line ‘Grant me the grace to be open to your will,’” she said. “I started praying the rosary on the Metro, getting up early to go to Mass, and I started thinking about what it meant for God to call somebody.”

She studied different religious orders and discovered a missionary order, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. Founded in Argentina in 1988, their motherhouse is in Washington, D.C. Everything about them intrigued Davidson, down to their bright blue habits. She volunteered for a missionary trip with the sisters and was sent to Guyana.

While there, she had her inspirational experience.

“I saw the sister hold up the Eucharist,” she said. “She placed it on his tongue and  he seemed to me the most beautiful person in the world I’d ever seen. His face changed from pain to peace. I knew that was my moment of clarity. I felt God was calling me to consecrate myself to Him, to bring Christ to people just as this sister was bringing Christ to that man.”