CHICAGO – At the age of 25, a month into her novitiate, Julia Walsh fell from a cliff, breaking so many bones in her face the nurses lost count. It’s a story of brokenness and healing that runs through her new memoir, “For Love of the Broken Body: A Spiritual Memoir” (Monkfish Book Publishing, March 26, 2024). What does it mean to exist as a broken body? Why would a young woman dedicate herself to the Catholic Church — as a Franciscan sister — while others are leaving churches in droves?

The number of women choosing to enter religious life across the U.S. is shrinking rapidly, so Sr. Julia encounters a lot of curiosity about her choice. She writes candidly about being torn between an irresistible call to religious life — the pull to be part of something larger than oneself — and the normal desires of a formerly “boy crazy” (as her friends called her) college student for a boyfriend and fun nights out with friends.

Though she wrestled with the idea of a celibate life, she finds freedom in it: “Freedom for me to not cling to people, to love anyone who comes into my life, to be broadly available to serve and to care.” Sporting a tattoo of a loaf of bread that reflects her belief that Jesus “really is the bread of life,” Sr. Julia says “I continue to give my life to God as a consecrated celibate, as a Franciscan sister because I deeply love the broken body of Christ, the church — as complicated and messy as commitment and love can be.”

Sr. Julia is a member of the La Crosse-based Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and part of her congregation’s formation team, serving women who are discerning their vocation. A former retreat presenter at Marywood Franciscan Spirituality Center in the Diocese of Superior, she co-founded The Fireplace, an intentional community and house of hospitality on Chicago’s southside that offers spiritual support to seekers, artists and activists.

She has a MA in Pastoral Studies from Catholic Theological Union and is a spiritual director and secondary teacher. As a creative writer, educator and retreat presenter, she is passionate about exploring the intersection of creativity, spirituality, activism and community life. She hosts the Messy Jesus Business blog and podcast, and is on Twitter and Instagram as @JuliaFSPA.

Sr. Julia Walsh (Photo by Tad Meddaugh)