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Graduating seniors look to explore call to religious vocations

Tori Roeck | Wednesday, May 16, 2012


After a long discernment process, several graduating seniors will explore the call to religious vocations after their time at Notre Dame. 

Fr. Jim Gallagher, director of the Office of Vocations, said some students will enter the Congregation of Holy Cross, while others will join diocesan seminaries in their hometowns or different religious communities. 

“The call isn’t ever going to be a solid sense of ‘Yes, this what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,'” Gallagher said. “It’s more a sense of, ‘I think there’s something there, and I want to go and give at least a year or so to figuring it out.'”

Senior Chris Brennan said he has been discerning whether God is calling him to the priesthood since high school, prompting him to join Old College his freshman year. 

Brennan said his time in Old College cemented his desire to become a Holy Cross priest.

“It’s the community, the community support and the familial bonds that you make,” he said. “My best friends are in Holy Cross, and we’re as close as brothers.”

Living in Old College while still being a normal Notre Dame student helped in the discernment process, Brennan said.

“Being able to have the structured prayer life in college while still taking classes with other students was a great balance,” he said.  

Brennan, who lived in Moreau Seminary his senior year, said he will travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., for his novitiate year in the fall.

“I’m looking forward to growing in my spiritual life but also growing in self-knowledge and humility,” he said. “To have that time to be on a mountain and hike and be in the beauty of nature is a very unique opportunity. It’s a gift.”

Although Brennan said he is excited to pursue religious life, he is nervous about being asked to give spiritual advice.

“It’s scary … [to face] your own unworthiness,” he said. “You’re going to be telling people to do something that you yourself struggle with, and constantly being aware of your own sinfulness while still having to try to help others through that, even though you may know that they’re holier and better people than you are yourself.”

Despite his anxieties, Brennan said he is confident in pursuing a religious vocation.

“I look forward to being happy, being hopefully a joyful priest that inspires other people to love Christ,” he said. 

Senior Laura Thelen said she is returning to her hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., to enter a semi-cloistered Dominican convent.

As a biochemistry major, Thelen said she wrestled with the decision to go to medical school or become a nun.

“I did the whole MCAT thing and almost applied to medical school,” Thelen said. “I decided I just didn’t feel confident enough about that … Deep inside, I don’t know how to explain it, but I really feel like God wanted me to explore [religious life]. Not that I think I’ll be there forever, but that this is where I think He wants me to be for next year.”

Thelen said the Dominican community she is joining is young and active, and most of the nuns teach high school.

“My community is really young and really fun and really crazy,” she said. “They play sports all the time … and they were on ‘Oprah.'” 

Joining the convent will be a formative experience, Thelen said.

“I’m really excited to get deeper into prayer,” she said. “I really want to do what I feel called to. … There’s something that keeps pulling my heart onward.”

Thelen said she is most nervous to be separated from her family and friends.

“It’s scary to lose family and friends. I’ll still see them, of course, but a lot less,” she said. “It’s scary being separated from the real world.”

Gallagher said he advises those seniors entering religious life not to expect to discern their calling quickly.

“My advice is not to get too wrapped up in figuring out too quickly if this is what they’re supposed to be doing,” Gallagher said, “Enter into the year and let the rhythm of religious life help them develop their sense of self, their relationship with the Lord, and through that they’ll gain a better sense of whether this is something that they’re called to do.”