As parents, we want the best for our children. Nonetheless it is a challenge for us to support a daughter when she decides to pursue religious life.
In fact, one-third of women entering religious life were discouraged to do so by their mothers, according to a 2014 study released by Georgetown University, compared to just 11 percent of men considering the priesthood.
“Parents are protective of their children and don’t want anything bad to happen to them,” says Sister Eymard Flood, the Diocese of Orange vicar for religious. “They also are anxious. Some parents want their daughters to live close by and become angry at the Church” when their daughter’s vocation means she must leave her country, state or city to join her chosen religious order.
Sr. Eymard encourages women interested in vocations to pray and research together with their parents, so that they fully understand the change their daughters can affect in the Church through her ministry.
“Religious life is not a life of penance and sackcloth,” she notes. “It is a life of joy and can be very exciting. Sisters living in religious communities laugh and tell jokes and all those things.”
So, how can parents support their daughters as they consider a vocation?
“Pray with and for her,” Sr. Eymard advises. “Pledge to go to adoration, attend Mass, say the Rosary and become involved in the discernment process.” The Diocese of Orange offers educational programs on vocations that are open to parents as well as women considering vocations, she notes.
These discernment programs provide a chance for questions and an effective way to begin the research process. “Parents inquire about whether religious life is safe and whether they can trust the Church,” she says. “We tell parents that their daughters are not losing control of their lives, but have the opportunity to grow in their faith.”
Sister Linda Buck, a licensed marriage and family therapist who runs the Open Door Center for Integrative Healing in Santa Ana, said her parents were supportive when she told them she was considering her vocation.
“At first, they just didn’t understand it,” Sr. Linda recalls. “They had the vision of the old way of living religious life. Once they got to know the sisters and saw what it’s really like they were very supportive.”
Each community’s website has detailed information about the communities, she notes, and websites such as vocation.com and vocationnetwork.org have many resources to guide for those seeking vocations.
“Families should give women a lot of space to explore their possible vocation,” Sr. Linda recommends. “Support them looking at different communities, not just one. At the Sisters of St. Joseph, we meet with women and encourage them to see if we’re the right community. If we think what they are seeking is more Dominican or Franciscan, for instance, we will help in that discernment.”
Daughters and parents must be open to the Holy Spirit’s movement, she adds, and parents must be certain their daughters are going through a true discernment process. “Supportive prayer, praying for what their daughters need, is best because too much enthusiasm can close off the discernment process and put too much pressure on the woman. Her vocation could be to marry and have a family, be single, or to become a sister.”
Each community possesses a charism, or a gift that the Holy Spirit gives them as part of life in the Church, she explains. “A woman must truly discern what charism is calling her; where she feels at home.”