Srs. Mary David (far left) and M. Consolata (third from left) are pictured with Mater Redemptoris House of Formation’s aspirants before La Crosse for the March for Life, January 2018. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“Before you can discern which particular path the Lord is calling you to, [you have] to encounter His love,” said Sr. M. Consolata, FSGM, director of the Mater Redemptoris House of Formation in La Crosse.

Established in 2000, the House of Formation collaborates with the Diocese of La Crosse’s Office of Vocations, offering retreats, vocational pilgrimages and a residential aspirancy program. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George – founded in Germany in 1869 with provincial headquarters in Alton, Illinois – direct the home and programs.

For girls ages 9 to 13, there are informal Come and See events that provide an opportunity for prayer, talks and fun with the sisters. These are also a chance to “dispel the perception that all we do is pray all day,” said Sr. Consolata.

For young women in high school, there are weekend retreats and a five-day summer event. Although not specifically discernment focused, the participants immerse themselves in a prayerful atmosphere, receive spiritual formation and interact with the sisters, experiencing their life up close.

“Vocations are out there; it’s taking the courage to step forward and actually respond,” said Sr. Consolata. “But there are so many options to serve God – you don’t have to be a sister or priest to serve.

“If I know the one who loves me, then I can trust whatever path [He calls me to] is for my good,” she said, dispelling the notion that “if I love Jesus, the only way to be holy is to be only His. The Church needs all vocations – we support each other.”

She explained the objective and subjective aspects of vocation.

While a life fulfilled in God alone does model the heavenly reality to which each person is called, the earthly goal to strive for is living the full potential of a personal relationship with God, regardless of the specific circumstances.

“The joy that each person will experience,” Sr. Consolata revealed “is if I’m at peace, it’s because I’m doing the will of Him who’s called me.” The foundation is knowing “we are beloved sons and daughters of the Father.”

Building on that truth, each person finds themselves “free in Him,” and able to respond God’s personal call. The Franciscan sister recommended avoiding a “compare and despair” model. “We’re all on a unique journey – what the path looks like for me is going to look different” than for someone else.

After encountering Christ’s love, “then it’s an openness to listen and discover how he leads me, speaks and communicates himself to me.” Hence, the need for a time and place for intentional discernment.

Besides offering spiritual mentoring, the House of Formation has two programs specifically for young women sensing a call to consecrated or religious life.

The aspirancy is a residential formation program that runs annually from September to May. As a “service to the Church,” Sr. Consolata clarified that this program is not a pre-postulancy for their order. While Franciscan spirituality is lived in the House, the young women experience the beauty of the Church by “exposing each other [to] and learning from each other different spiritualities” and charisms.

They live a structured life of prayer, spirituality classes and apostolate balanced with time for exercise and recreation. There is separation from technology which “really gives them a chance to focus on their relationship with God and what it is His will,” whether a religious vocation or not. Sr. Consolata, in her second year directing the Formation House, believes it is a “beautiful opportunity to come and be alive in Him.”

Vocational pilgrimages provide opportunities to visit various religious communities, and include visiting significant destinations in nature and religious sites to “experience of the beauty of our country and the beauty of who God is.” The sister, originally from California said, “You can find him in all things, not just when you’re in the chapel. Life is encountering Him in every moment.”
It was during one such trip to the eastern United States that Mary Busse, of Rice Lake, discovered the Dominican order in Hawthorne, New York, whose postulancy she entered in October 2017.

Women come to Mater Redemptoris at different stages of their vocational journey. Following Christ’s invitation to consecrate her life, the young woman further discerns a call within the call. Discovering the community to whose charism she is called happens through self knowledge and prayer.

Sr. Consolata offered questions that can help identify factors that can match up with a particular congregation: “What’s the way he has formed my heart? Where am I at home?”

While the House of Formation does not formally offer vocational resources to parents, they are able to interact and speak with the sisters upon request or at the start or end of an event. Sr. Consolata acknowledged the need to help parents learn about the discernment process and how to support and accompany their child(ren) through it.

She disclosed that one of the strongest deterrents for a young woman’s openness to a potential call is the lack of support from her parents.

When asked about other discernment obstacles, Sr. Consolata focused on “the fear of making the wrong choice.” The tendency to want security for the future and complete confidence about the path chosen is strong; expectations can be high for a young person to know and plan their future at a young age.

Living in a noisy world, silence is a rare commodity, but necessary to hear God’s voice. Sr. Consolata concluded, “We expect [audible, visible] answers, but spiritual life isn’t quite like that” and asserted that, whatever the outcome, there is great merit and growth in the process of discernment.

Mater Redemptoris has provided the environment for dozens of women to attentively seek God’s will for their lives. Within last eight years, of 39 resident aspirants, 10 entered religious life. In just the past year, 25 women were spiritually mentored, 48 attended retreats and more than 20 religious communities were visited by vocational pilgrims.

For more information on the House of Formation and their programs, contact Sr. Consolata at 608-788-4530 or learn more at Mater