Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 12, 2001
Religious orders seek new ways to recruit
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
EDMONTON — Gone are the days when dozens of young women a year would enter into formation and begin the journey toward religious life.
With numbers dwindling, and a corresponding decline in visibility in the community, religious orders are looking at different ways to encourage women to consider a vocation to religious life.
The Sisters of Providence, with provincial headquarters in Edmonton, are hiring a communications director for the first time.
While on the surface, that may not seem to have a lot to do with promoting vocations, there is a connection, says vocations director Sister Toyleen Fook.
"Part of what a communications director would do would be to look at ways of making ourselves known, since we are not as visible as we used to be."
An expert in communications, who also has an understanding of the mission and values of the Sisters of Providence, would be able to convey that mission in lay terms, Fook says, reaching women in a way that is sometimes difficult for the sisters.
For her part, Fook is trying to increase the number of information evenings and other sessions for women held at Providence Renewal Centre.
"The evenings are really meant to help women to grow in their spiritual life. We hold one called 'Can we talk?' where women come and talk about where they go from here, about God and about their relationships, and about their own vocations, be it married, single or being a sister."
Other sessions focus more on women who believe they do have a vocation to religious life, with the Sisters of Providence providing insight into their order and a chance for women to reflect on their calling. Last year, the session attracted four women, and this year seven came.
"It's a growing thing," Fook notes. "People need to know we are here, and the more we advertise, the more people will respond."
Not all orders have the resources of the Sisters of Providence. Of the more than 30 orders of women in the Edmonton area, only a handful have their regional administration here. That makes it difficult to find the human resources to seek out women and promote vocations.
Bernice Vetter, Sisters of Charity of Halifax, says talk of "recruitment" is shifting to talk about "charism promotion" in her community.
"It's a look at our roots, at where we came from, and an exploration of the femininity of the order."
Many people still identify with the pre-Vatican II image of sisters, identifiable by their habits, Vetter says, adding "I've never worn a habit in my life!"
There's also been a fundamental shift in the notion of religious life as a form of "escape" for people who didn't want to deal with the "real world."
Vetter says charism promotion is a way to communicate the community's identity to the outside world.
Sister Gabriela Villela also of the Sisters of Charity (Halifax) has been approached by her order to take on the role of "vocation awareness" in the Edmonton area. But, she says frankly, there isn't the time to devote to it.
"If someone comes to me and says she is interested in becoming a sister, I will go for coffee and talk to her about it" as a first step, Villela says. Eventually, if the woman decides to pursue it further, she will be put in touch with whoever is responsible for formation in the order, probably somewhere in the U.S.
In fact, Villela says she has had two young women approach her recently, eager to find out more about joining the order. While she provides what direction she can, "we don't even have the facilities here for formation."
"Smaller communities are all in the same boat," Villela says. There is still interest, God is still calling women to religious life, and the focus on vocations is still there at the congregational level, but there is not enough time or sometimes enough energy among sisters at the local level to actively pursue vocations.
"It could be that this is a new chapter in the history of our order," Villela notes, adding there are different ways of reaching people, other than actively seeking recruits.
Fook says it's a matter of presenting choices.
"Part of it is we want women and men to know that there are options in life. We want to get them to think about married life, think about the single life, and think about religious life, and know that they do have options."
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