Are There Nuns Left? Female Religious Life At St. Ursula Academy

by EMILIE KILFOIL '17

At a Catholic, college preparatory school such as Saint Ursula Academy, students have myriad options to pursue in their time after high school. God calls each of us to do different things, but often girls don’t know exactly what God is calling them to do, regarding both vocation and occupation decisions. Here at SUA, we are among many dedicated religious. Sr. Elizabeth Lang says that her choice in vocation was influenced by her admiration of the sisters with whom she spent a lot of time as a child. She says that they were kind and had a balance between having strict rules and fair judgment.

Sr. Elizabeth believes that her presence at St. Ursula and her dedication to being with the students is how she encourages a vocation in the sisterhood among St. Ursula students. She notes that there were many more women taking on this vocation at the time she was becoming a sister. This branches off from the common belief that women can accomplish what sisters do as a married or single woman, she continues. Women realize that they are still able to spread God’s word as a mother, which may lead them away from becoming a sister or a nun. Sr. Elizabeth does not think that a girl should be told what to do, but encouragement to pursue a particular vocation is different from being sharply pointed in a single direction.

Because students at Saint Ursula participate in religion classes, our teachers may also influence their choices in vocation. Mrs. Caito, Religion teacher and co-campus minister, thinks that talking to girls here at Saint Ursula about becoming a nun or joining the sisterhood is very important, especially because we are an all-girls’ school. It is not a common choice of vocation compared to marriage or single life, and she believes that many young women forget that God may be calling them to a religious vocation. Another result of the current lack of women religious is that many girls have not been previously exposed to having sisters in their school or parish. Mrs. Caito is a Christian Lifestyle teacher, so she spends time talking about vocations. Sr. Eileen Connelly, an Ursuline sister, comes to speak to Mrs. Caito’s classes each year about her journey to her religious vocation. Mrs. Caito also makes sure to teach her students about the many kinds of distinctly different religious orders, because most of the education about religious life is accomplished during class time.

As a sophomore, Saint Ursula students learn about the sacraments, and although female religious life is not one of our church sacraments, it is included in the context. As a junior or senior, girls take a Christian Lifestyle course in which the topic of female religious life is discussed in more depth. Regarding the number of girls here at Saint Ursula who decide to pursue this vocation, Mrs. Caito wishes that more former and present students decide to choose a religious lifestyle because she believes that we at Saint Ursula have a lot of great women who could be doing wonderful things in our Church through this vocation. Ultimately, though, it is a vocation and a calling from God, so the decision should be up to the girl herself and God. Whether He is calling us to marriage, single life, or religious life, we each have a responsibility to follow our calling and to live out that vocation fully within our Catholic Church.