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Exploring religious life today: one discerner’s story

How do you know God is calling you to religious life? 

Here is a brief summary for me: I was born into the Catholic faith, but my faith really didn’t take off until I was in high school. I participated in youth groups where we did Apologetics, Eucharistic adoration and TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreats. Church became my second home and the only thing my mom allowed me to do outside of school. My faith was on fire. That helped me to decide to attend Our Lady of the Lake University where I received my undergrad degree in business. 

Stephanie in her classroom

After graduating with my bachelor’s and throughout my twenties, I just wanted to live life, have fun and put faith on the back burner. A few years ago, on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I went to church to pray. It was a hard time in my life. Everything I did up until that moment: work, friendships, romantic relationships, were not satisfying anymore. I felt that being in my comfort zone was very mediocre. Deep down a part of me knew I was not on the right path.

Being Latina and being raised by a single mom, you do not ask for help. I had to let go of my pride and ask for help, no matter how hard it would be. In doing so I finally had to give in to Jesus and let him love me. I started praying really hard. I would go to daily mass and sometimes sit there and cringe at the readings like UGHH!!! Okay, Jesus, you’re speaking to me. The most important person I had to put at the forefront was Jesus. I had to go all in with prayer, daily mass and adoration. 

After a nine-year absence, I sought spiritual direction. I knew it would help me get back on the right track of finding my true vocation. I had to really be serious about my faith. During spiritual direction, I reflected on where I find the most peace and on the Discernment of Spirits that had happened in my life. It was hard but uplifting.

Most of the hard and uplifting moments happened during my work in serving kids and adults and accompanying them along their journey. It was something I would always come back to. I just started my third year of service as a Vitae Corp volunteer at Heather’s House, a maternity house that offers aid for women. Here I accompany women in the beginning stages of motherhood and help them get on their feet. Of course, this would not be possible without my strong prayer life that I have always leaned on. Service and prayer life go hand in hand and are my gifts to give the Church.

God has nudged me in small ways and big ways. I kept seeing sisters and nuns in my dreams, on TV after I returned home from a vocation retreat and one time even at the DMV!

What calls you to the Sisters of Providence?

Well I had never heard of Sisters of Providence until a few months ago. I was introduced to the sisters by my friend who studied in Oaxaca with Sister Joni Luna. Sister Joni has reached out to me. At first, I thought “Who is this lady who keeps contacting me??!!!” She sent me a really nice packet. At first, I told her not to send me a whole lotta papers because I was in the middle of moving, but it was a nice little package.

I call them Sisters of the Woods when I mention them to my friends. The mission of the Sisters of Providence is to reach out to others who are not always included and to help those who face injustice by accompanying them and serving them in a broad range of ministry areas. This is something I have passion for and feel that I am already doing.

What have you learned about the SPs/religious life?

The following are some of the ministries SPs work in: education, social work, ecology, gardening, prison ministry. The SPs are activists of community organizing, inclusivity, immigration.

What has surprised you about the SPs/religious life?

Stephanie with Sister Dina Bato during her first in-person meeting with a Sister of Providence

I like to see people face to face and Sister Dina Bato was the first Sister of Providence I met in person. The first thing I noticed was she reminded me of how I dress, casual and comfy. I appreciated her honesty to my questions regarding diversity and white privilege in religious life now and in the future, which is something I am passionate about. Her experience in ministry as a sister in formation for many years and being a spiritual director helped navigate our conversation. I also like for things to feel natural, which I told her at the beginning of our conversation. And Sister Dina brought her “A-game.”

What is it like for you to explore religious life during the pandemic?

The best part about where I live is that there is a chapel where I can go pray and be with Jesus anytime throughout my day or night.

Most of the religious life information I look up is online, but I have to experience it in person, firsthand.

I live on church grounds, so it is nice to walk outside and be in a religious environment through nature. I love to be outside!!!

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Stephanie Rivas

Stephanie is of the first generation in her family to receive a bachelor's degree. She attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. There she worked for Campus Ministry, attended an immersion experience in Monterrey, Mexico, and renovated houses in the ninth ward after Hurricane Katrina. She has also served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Stephanie worked in higher education for nine years while volunteering at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on the Westside of San Antonio. In 2019, she received her master's degree in Early Childhood and has since taught first grade with the Lakota children on the Pine Ridge reservation through the Red Cloud Volunteer Program. In her free time, Stephanie loves to watch movies, listen to music, read and be outdoors by herself or with friends.

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21 Comments

  1. Marsha A Speth on July 1, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Stephanie! Sounds like God has been guiding you along, step by step!
    Hope you will visit us as soon as it is safe to do so!

  2. Diana M. Garza on July 1, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    I enjoyed reading your blog, Stephanie. I will be praying for you as you discern religious life.

  3. joni on July 1, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    It me the “lady who keeps contacting you.”
    Thank you for sharing your vocation story with us. I think that women will benefit from you story.
    I consider myself blessed to walk this sacred journey with you.
    In Providence,
    Sister Joni

    • Donna Butler on July 1, 2020 at 10:12 pm

      Stephanie, thank you for sharing your story.
      You are definitely passionate both about your prayer life and making a positive difference in this world especially for those most in need. You already are the face of God’s Providence.
      I am eager for you to visit the Woods and to meet you. May God continue to guide your life journey.

  4. Jessica Vitente on July 1, 2020 at 5:09 pm

    Hi Stephanie, I sorry that we missed you at the virtual discernment chat. I was super excited to meet you and connect, looking forward to another time. Thank you for sharing your faith journey, along with your love and passion. As I read your blog, I feel like you are one of us already =P Many of your experiences resonates, as you help me remember when I was there, from why is the vocation director keep calling me to receiving a nice packet to leaving the church and eventually finding my way back to the church. I hope when this COVID-19 pandemic ends, you can come visit the woods and we can connect. Blessings upon blessings on your journey!! Keep going! Keep seeking!! – Jessica

  5. Laura Parker, SP on July 1, 2020 at 5:35 pm

    Hi, Stephanie,

    Read your vocation story and how you were led to question your place in life; thank you for sharing where you have come from and your willingness to open yourself to a future which might include religious life. I was a single parent of a son who entered following my inquiring over a period of several years–nothing felt right until I was with the Sisters of Providence. It’s been almost 17 years that I have embraced this life and have not looked back. I know that I am in the right place and happy to be here.

    Many blessings on your journey, wherever that leads,
    Sister Laura

  6. Sister Connie Kramer SP on July 1, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    Stephanie:
    Thanks for taking the time to share your sacred journey with us. It helped me to thank God once again for the grace of a religious vocation which has been a precious gift of God to me. I pray that you will continue to follow your heart and be open to wherever your God is leading you one day at a time.
    Sister Connie SP🙏🏻😊

  7. Marikay Duffy on July 1, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    Hi Stephanie. Sounds like you have had a continuous journey through very rich cultures and diversity. I loved it. Of all of them, did you feel one calling you to a richer satisfaction? My favorite was my relational connections with the Hispanic community, which I Maintain now for some 50 years. My prayers follow and enfold you in the manta of the Virgencita de Guadalupe., as you discern your future . Paz. S. Marikay Duffy

  8. Marilyn Kofler, SP on July 1, 2020 at 8:46 pm

    Stephanie,
    As Sister Connie wrote above, “follow your heart and be open to wherever God is leading you one day at a time.” In my 67 years of religious life, I have found God in energizing surprises….I have yet to be bored! With Sister Dina and Sister Joni walking this part of your journey with you, you are certainly blessed. May you continue to live life fully and embrace the future God is preparing for you.
    Sister Marilyn

    • Paula Modaff, SP on July 4, 2020 at 6:27 pm

      Stephanie, meeting you in person when you can come to the Woods would be a real gift for me. Until then know of my prayer with you.

  9. S. Carol Nolan on July 1, 2020 at 9:56 pm

    Stephanie, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. Your ministry experiences certainly demonstrate your desire to serve! You are wonderful.
    I studied at MACC for some months back in 2002, and I remember the issues on the south side, COPS, etc.; this was a priceless experience for me. You are very much in my prayers, Stephanie. Providence never fails, and things will work out the way they are supposed.
    Much love and prayers, S. Carol Nolan

  10. Barbara Reder on July 2, 2020 at 6:59 am

    Stephanie, thank you for sharing your story. It seems God has been leading you gently in the direction of service among God’s people. It reminded me of how much good is done each day by persons we do not know. May your continuing journey be peaceful. My prayers for you as you discern your future.
    In Providence, S. Barbara Reder

  11. Beth Wright SP on July 2, 2020 at 9:35 am

    Hi Stephanie – Thank you for sharing your journey so far. What an adventure life can be! My vocation story began before I was ever a Catholic! The presence that holds everything in existence is full of surprises, invitations and possibilities. You are so open to the promptings of the Spirit within you, as well as, listening to the promptings of the Spirit through others.

    Enjoy the adventure and come to the Woods once it’s safe to do so. We would love to meet you in person!

    Love and Light,

    Beth Wright, SP

  12. S. Mary Tomlinson on July 2, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Stephanie. Thank you for sharing your story. You have a rich history of giving of yourself in service of others. That speaks volumes of you commitment to those in need. Continue to embrace the Spirit as you discern the future. Be well. Know of my prayers. S. Mary Tomlinson

  13. Sister Barbara Bluntzer SP on July 2, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Stephanie, I was so touched by your experiences with persons in need! There were several special ways I felt as if I were connected with you: I have a dear friend in the Providence Community in San Antonio and you may have met her! Then, your ministry among the Lakota children touched me, as I try to help a group in that area. And then….you like to listen to music as I do, too! What style do you like? Finally, both being from South Texas is the “final connection” at this point. You are a special person, and I hope you continue to use your gifts for the benefit of others.
    May the Spirit enlighten you as you move along on your journey.
    With love and prayers,
    Barbara Bluntzer SP

  14. S. Carolyn Bouchard on July 2, 2020 at 11:42 am

    Stephanie, thanks for your willingness to share some of your life and discernment journey. I’m glad you got to meet Dina Bato. I met Dina while ministering in a Parish in Virginia. I know God will help you figure out the who, what and where ‘s. I know God has your and your ear. Mother Theodore told us grope along slowly — Trust Providence and you will be well supported. Come visit we daughters of the Forest soon as it is safe. I will pray for your continued openness to ways of Providence.

    Peace ,
    Carolyn Bouchard S.P,

  15. Sister Carol Meyers on July 2, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Stephanie. Since I have been a Sister of Providence for 60+ years, believe me I have heard a million stories of how God has called each unique person into Religious life. What a treasure we have as a Community. It sounds like you would be another “gem” to add to our treasure. However, we realize that all we possess is to be poured out for others through ministry. It sounds like you already share that life goal with us.

    I will pray for you.
    S. Carol Meyers, S.P.

  16. S. Dina Bato on July 2, 2020 at 5:46 pm

    Stephanie, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your discernment journey so far! It was a pleasure to meet up with you and get to know you! You are the one who brought your A-game, with your honest and thoughtful questions. Please know that during my retreat time, I hold you in prayer. Be open, honest, and willing day by day. I pray that for you and all of us along this Providence journey. We definitely need to connect again!

    Peace in Providence,
    Dina Bato, SP

  17. Sister Mary Montgomery on July 3, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Hi, Stephanie!
    Thank you very much for sharing your discernment story. I am so inspired by the extensive service you have been a part of for many years. Thanks for your witness and generosity!
    You have been in my prayer since I “met” you in Sister Dina’s blog. 😉
    I look forward to meeting you at The Woods when possible in the future.

  18. Maureen Abbott, SP on July 5, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Stephanie… are you worn out reading all these messages? Seems like we all feel like friends even before we meet. It seems like Jesus is casting a wide Texas net as I grew up in Robstown so have a sense of that unique South Texas flavor. Siempre adelante!

  19. Editha Ben on July 31, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Stephanie, thanks for your courage to share your discernment story. I wish we could meet in person. I live in Northlake , IL , just south side of O’hare airport and are you in Des Plaines? Let’s try to connect by phone at least. Stay safe and know you’re in my prayers.

    Sister Editha Ben, SP

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