By Whitney Schieltz
This weekend marks the two-year anniversary of one of the most pivotal moments in my discernment journey. It was the Come & Serve discernment weekend at the House of Charity in New Orleans, which is hosted every year by the Sisters of Charity Federation for young women considering religious life. I had enjoyed my time getting to know the Sisters and other discerners, and our trips around town had been fun; but at the end of the weekend I still didn’t know if I was leaning any further toward religious life or where I should go from there.
Then everything changed.
On the morning of my last day at the House of Charity, I got a message from my mom saying there had been an accident. My aunt, who lived in New Orleans, was in the hospital and they weren’t sure if she was going to make it. I rushed to pack my things, hopped in the car, and Sister Monica drove me to the hospital. Wandering frantically around the hospital, we eventually bumped into my cousins, who shared with us the grim prognosis. After spending a few brief moments by my aunt’s side and sitting with my cousins trying to explain why I was even in town, I continued to the airport to catch my flight back home to Dayton, Ohio.
A few days later, while I was on the phone with Sister Monica to inform her of my aunt’s passing, I proposed an idea that, while perhaps impulsive, felt like the necessary next step. I asked her, “What do you think about me moving to Cincinnati?” In the preceding days, I had spent a lot of time reflecting on the impermanence of life, and I didn’t want to watch my life pass me by as I waited for some clear sign that I should or shouldn’t pursue my vocation. The only way I would know one way or the other was by moving forward.
Two years later and here I am as an Affiliate with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. I think of that fateful weekend often, and I was especially reminded of it last month while I was participating in the Catholics on Call Young Adult Conference in Chicago. At the conference, I had the privilege of listening to many inspiring speakers and mentors and building new friendships with other young adults who are discerning a call to service in the Church. During a free afternoon, I joined a group that was going to a beach on Lake Michigan. As I dipped my feet in the water, I remembered my time spent by Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans reflecting upon various gospel stories of Jesus inviting his disciples to follow him.
Although the two scenes were very similar, the experiences were significantly different for me. I am still—and will always be—in discernment, but in Chicago I took on a new role: the elder. Since I am the newest and youngest woman in formation with my congregation, I have always been looking up to those ahead of me for support and advice. At Catholics on Call, however, I was the only person in the group who has already entered religious life, which put me in the unfamiliar position of being the one “going before.” I am confident that someday I will fill this role within my own congregation, as well, and share my experiences with those who will follow. I have great hope for the future of charity, and I’m glad I took those first steps into the unknown to become a part of it!