What’s in the Letters?

Oct 6 – 12, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 34
What’s in the Letters?
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
Religious women and men discuss why they chose their communities

PVMI, OCarm, FSC, CSSF, SJ, OSF, LSOSF, MFIC, CSJ.

When one is called to a religious vocation, just how does the individual negotiate the alphabet soup of orders that proliferate throughout the Catholic Church?

According to Father Daniel Mulhauser, SJ, there are three paths that one can take to respond to a call to vocation: historical accident, college association or an attraction to the charism or philosophy of an order.

Father Mulhauser was the director of vocations for the Jesuits in New York for two years and now resides at Le Moyne College.

His decision was a gradual one. After five years of deliberation, Father Mulhauser entered the Society of Jesus in 1951.

Father Mulhauser had spent some time at a Benedictine Monastery, Conception Abbey in Missouri, but the contemplative, prayerful life didn’t magnetize him.

“I’m more of an active person,” the Jesuit priest said.

When he began considering a religious life, he did so with a desire to help build the church.

“I wanted to throw my two cents in with the church,” Father Mulhauser said.

The pivotal moment for Father Mulhauser was the traditional 30-day retreat. When a prospective novice asks him how best to know whether or not he is fit to be a Jesuit, Father Mulhauser recommends such a retreat, called the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Society of Jesus also offers an associate program, which helps young men understand what they’re getting into.

The ecumenical and liberal character the order took on in the 20th century also appealed to Father Mulhauser.

“To me it’s been a very fulfilling vocation,” he said.

For Sister Eileen Derrick, OSF, her quest began with what Father Mulhauser might characterize as a historical accident. While she wasn’t educated by the Sisters of St. Francis, Sister Eileen Derrick grew up near them in Elmira, N.Y.

Sister Eileen entered the order during her sophomore year in college. She was drawn by the sisters’ aura of joy.

“As soon as I saw them, I saw a very happy spirit and they were warm and welcoming,” she said.

She believes that the “accident of history,” however, was divine in its design. v “I think God was looking down on me,” she said. “I felt called and the things were there to help me become what God called me to be.”

The process was even more direct for Sister Mary Melanie Jawarski, CSSF. Sister Melanie grew up on the west side in Syracuse attending the Sacred Heart Basilica and attending Sacred Heart School where the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice taught. From the time she was in fourth grade she knew she wanted to join the Felician Sisters.

Sister Melanie was attracted to the Felician Sisters because of their example, their dedication and their faithfulness.

“They were models for me and I wanted to be a part of them,” Sister Melanie said. “The thought was always there.”

She entered the order at the age of 17 shortly after graduating from high school.

It is worth noting that the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice is a Franciscan order. They are named for St. Felix of Cantalice because their founder and her early community would take the orphans they cared for to pray at his shrine in Warsaw, Poland. Observers then began to call them the Sisters of St. Felix or the Felician sisters.

Sister Maria Catherine Iannotti, PVMI, a Brooklyn native now based in Rome, was drawn back to the church by the example of St. Francis of Assisi. Since her formative years, Sister Maria had been interested in joining the religious community, but distractions pulled her away from the church.

She was inspired by St. Francis’ commitment to going out into the community in order to help others in their relationship with Christ and to bring those who are outside the church to Christ. She also wanted to find an order that privileged prayer.

“I wanted a community of sisters that spent much of their time in prayer,” she said.

The Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, then, were a perfect fit. The Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate were founded in 1920 under the guiding vision of Mother Mary Teresa Tallon. She considered the sisters to be “contemplative missionaries.”

“We go to the homes of people in the community helping them with Christianity,” Sister Maria said. “If they are non-Catholic we invite them to come to the church.”

While attending Our Lady of Pompei school on the north side of Syracuse, Sister Rose Bill, MFIC, had grown up around the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

She was impressed with the sisters’ spirit and joyful countenance.

“They were just so joyful and I think it rubbed off,” she said.

She was impressed with the sisters the first time she encountered them in church.

“We went to Mass and saw the sisters. I asked my mother what they were and she said, ‘They’re people who give their life to the Lord,’” Sister Rose said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”

She was also drawn to the service the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception engaged in working with the poor. The fact that, as an international community, she might have opportunities to work abroad was also intriguing. The Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception minister in 10 countries around the world including Italy, Canada, Peru, Australia, Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, England, Ireland, Egypt and the U.S.

“That was appealing to me as a high school student,” she said.

Despite the fact that the order seemed to be a natural fit, Sister Rose still investigated other orders. She wrote roughly 200 letters and spent two years looking into other orders before concluding that the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception was the order she was called to.

Father Joseph Neville, SJ, was just 17 when he joined the Society of Jesus while attending Fordham Prep in the Bronx in 1947.

“They just made sense to me,” he said. “They were real people, they were alive. I liked their spirit.”

Like Father Mulhauser, Father Neville said the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius were pivotal in his determination to the join the Society of Jesus.

“I entered on Sept. 27 and on Sept. 29 I went on the 30-day retreat,” Father Neville said. “I just loved it. God taught me how to pray.”

He said joining the order was the pinnacle of his life.

When talking to a prospective member, Father Neville says, “I tell them the best thing I did with my life was become a Jesuit. I live with a group of men who love Jesus, who love people, who love prayer.”

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