Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 7, 2000
Taking time to discern
Some need more time to find what God wants for their lives
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
The feeling, as close as Louise Lohmann can describe it, was like leaving your shoes untied.
"I was comfortably numb," says the 38-year-old novice with the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis.
Until five years ago, Lohmann was living in Banff. She had a fulfilling career, a busy schedule and was involved in a serious relationship. But she felt something was missing from her life.
So, at the age of 33, she began her journey to religious life. Although her first experience with the pre-novitiate of another order didn't work out, today she is more settled, confident and happy with where she is.
"It's hard to explain something that's inside you.
"For me, this is just a broadening and deepening of the call to serve we all have by virtue of our Baptism."
Born and raised a Catholic, Lohmann was active in her parish, enjoyed sports and had a full social schedule. But the "zest" was missing. She decided she wasn't going to spend her life wondering "what if?"
The reaction from her family and friends was mixed.
"There are some members of our family in religious life, so it wasn't a big stretch," she says. But there were those who wondered about her choice.
"I think part of it was they felt I was giving up who I was and what I liked to do, to become something else.
"But it isn't about what I'm giving up. It's more about what positive choices I'm making, what options I'm choosing."
Lohmann is one of a growing number of women who are entering religious orders later in life. And to her it makes sense.
"I don't think it's any different than people who are choosing to be married when they're a little older. My impression is people are taking a little more time to discern what God wants for their life."
Sister Toyleen Fook, vocations director for the Sisters of Providence, agrees.
"Women entering now are more mature; they've worked and had careers, and they're entering in their late 30s and 40s, some even into their 50s.
It doesn't mean they are more dedicated or stronger in their faith than those who answer the call earlier in life, she says.
"I see the sisters here who entered religious life at a very young age and are now in their 70s and 80s - their dedication is so strong. It is a privilege and an inspiration to be with them."
It's more a question of choice, Fook adds. "Women now are experienced, they've travelled, and they know the choices they are making."
Fook herself was in her 30s before she answered the call to a religious life. She left Hong Kong looking for work in England, and eventually came to Canada. While here, she became involved with her parish, and met a member of the Sisters of Providence who encouraged her to explore that option.
"It was providential that I came to Canada," she says with a smile. "There is an isolation here that helps you reflect - it's not the constant busy lifestyle I was used to in Hong Kong.
"I felt a restlessness, and a drawing to a relationship with God."
As vocations director, Fook has been visiting parishes around Edmonton, sharing her story with women and inviting them to explore religious life.
As part of her plan to be "proactive" in promoting religious vocations, she is holding a series of one-evening retreats at Providence Renewal Centre for women contemplating religious life, beginning in mid-February.
Response has been good, she says.
"I firmly believe that there are many women and men being called to religious life, but there may be many things distracting them from pursuing and answering that call."
One factor may well be fear, she says, along with a lack of understanding about what religious life is like.
Lohmann would like to change that.
"I'd like to invite people in, to come and see our way of life, because it's not an easy thing to try and discern."
When she was contemplating her own call to religious life, Lohmann talked with friends who were members of religious orders. But she admits that if they hadn't been there, she may not have been as persistent as she was.
"The lack of visibility is a concern, particularly in rural communities. It's out of sight, out of mind. If you don't have sisters in parishes, it's not seen as easily as an option."
With the number of religious diminishing, especially in North America, it's difficult to maintain that presence.
Fook knows the importance of visibility and promotion.
"We have to do our share. But it's God who gives us vocations.
"If we only have seven sisters, and we believe in the charism, and it's meant to be, we will flourish."
In the end, Fook says, a religious vocation "is a call, and the response has to come from the person. That call can come at any time in life."