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In the United States, National Vocation Awareness Week is celebrated each November, this year from November 7-13, 2021. It is a time to highlight and promote vocations to ordained ministry and consecrated life, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these vocations.

National Vocation Awareness is annual celebration is dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) North American Vocation Team (NAVT), consisting of five SSND, serves the congregation in the U.S. and Canada by engaging and inspiring other sisters and supporters in a common and shared vocation ministry. “Inviting young women to vowed membership after many conversations and experiences…happens with the grace of God inspiring the efforts of many people such as associates, educators, families, students, volunteers and vowed sisters,” said Sister Bridget Waldorf, vocation director and member of the NAVT. In addition to sharing vocation resources and providing support, the NAVT participates in many activities, both online and in person, to educate and inform young women of their choices and how to discern the direction God is calling them. They partner with schools, parishes, dioceses, youth and campus ministers, Serra Clubs and others to connect with young adults in this discernment stage.

There are many steps to becoming a sister. After a few years of taking a closer look at religious life through a period of inquiry and companionship, the postulancy provides two years of growing in faith and discernment of God’s call. Then the novitiate provides two more years of initial formation in SSND life, mission and charism, including a deepening relationship with God and integration of Jesus’ example in one’s life. Since 2016, the SSND congregational novitiate for all provinces has been located in Rome at the Generalate.

At the conclusion of the novitiate experience, a temporary, or first, profession of vows marks a full entrance into the SSND life and mission. Three to six years, or more, follows as a time to discern God’s continuing call and to respond to God’s grace through on-going reflection, discernment and ministry while being supported by community life.

After completing the time of temporary vows, and through mutual dialogue and discernment to a life commitment as SSND, temporary professed sisters are invited to profess their perpetual vows. This is a public, permanent commitment. The vows of consecrated celibacy, gospel poverty and apostolic obedience express the fullness of a commitment to God and to the members of the SSND international congregation to, “direct our entire lives toward the oneness for which Jesus Christ was sent.”

Eight of the nine new SSND who made their first profession in Rome, July 2020.

In July 2020, nine novices made their first profession in Rome. Seven of the newly professed sisters were from the Province of Africa, with one each from the Hungarian Province and the Province of Latin America and the Caribbean. There are currently 10 novices at the congregational novitiate in Rome, including women from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Hungary. They range in age from 27 to 32 years old.

The Province of Africa, currently has nine postulants. Since the arrival of SSND in mission to Africa in 1970, students have been eager to emulate their young SSND teachers. It has been the “new frontier” for the congregation; the education and empowerment of girls and women in these developing countries, many of which are predominantly non-Christian environments, have resulted in multiple vocations since the first novitiate was opened there in 1989. Now, the sisters born in Africa outnumber those who originally were missioned to Africa from the U.S. and other countries. Apostolic religious life in community offers opportunities, support and the joy of helping others reach their full potential.

Sister Gail Patrice Graczyk took her final vows as a School Sister of Notre Dame on Saturday, May 8, 2021. She is signing her vow document.

In 2021, two sisters in the U.S. professed their perpetual vows. Sister Gail Graczyk celebrated her final vows on May 8, at Notre Dame of Elm Grove (NDEG) in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. The Central Pacific Province provincial council and a small group of friends were able to attend the last vows to take place at NDEG. Due to the pandemic, Sister Joan Pikiell, in the Atlantic-Midwest Province, delayed her profession a year until it was safer for her large family and international community to be present for the occasion. Her celebration on August 7, was one of the last to take place at Villa Notre Dame in Wilton, Connecticut, where SSND have resided since 1958.

This photo is of Sister Joan Pikiell, (eft) who maked her final vows in Wilton, Connecticut on August 7, 2021 in the Atlantic Midwest Province.

Vocations to SSND in North America peaked in the 1960s. Since then, opportunities for women in church and society have become increasingly more prominent, offering them many ways in which to answer God’s call to continue the mission of Christ. A decline in religious vocations parallels a decline in baptisms, marriages and other sacraments; there are fewer practicing Catholics, and fewer people overall making life-long commitments.

In March 2020, the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) released the results of a study created by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) on “Recent Vocations to Religious Life.” According to the study, the average age of those entering religious life today is 28, with 73% of those in initial formation being between the age of 20-39. However, 70% of new entrants at least considered religious life before age 21. They identify their primary reasons for coming to religious life as a sense of a call, a desire to deepen their prayer and spiritual life, and a desire to live and work with others who share their faith and values.

Today, the NAVT works to promote a culture of vocations, with an understanding that we are all called by God to continue the mission of Jesus in some particular way. To assist in this discernment of God’s call, they share with others a glimpse into the life of prayer, ministry and community that shapes a religious vocation. They also communicate what is unique about SSND, so that a young woman who does feel called to religious life can best discern what congregation is the right fit.

Beyond the work of the NAVT, all sisters have a role in engaging young adults to discern their vocational call, “We recognize that we are all vocation promoters, personally and communally.” (You Are Sent, C 43, 44) Our lay partners can assist in this important work simply by sharing their connection to SSND with young people and asking them, “Have you ever considered that God might be calling you to religious life?”


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