Book notes: Vocation guide proves trustworthy

Book notes: Vocation guide proves trustworthy

By Sandy Piwko


WRITER SUSAN FLANSBURG has worked with Catholic sisters for 20 years and has written for both VISION and HORIZON. Her book, Feels Like Home: A Single Catholic Woman’s Guide to Religious Life in the U.S. (independently published in 2023, CatholicSisterGuide.com), brings her wisdom and practical insights to women who are trying to find their “right home,” especially those who may be called to religious life. I accompany many young adult women in my position as director of vocation promotion and postgraduate volunteer ministry with the Religious of the Assumption Sisters, so I was excited at the prospect of this new book. I now plan to add it to my ministry resources.

A strength of Feels Like Home is that it provides much of the information one needs in a short, concise book; it could be described as a handbook for discerners. Feels Like Home has four parts, each containing four focus topics. Throughout the book, we hear stories, advice, and recommendations from a variety of sisters who share their honest experiences of the discernment journey. I appreciated the many quotes and the authenticity of each person. It is evident how important it was for each vocation director interviewed for the book to assist women who are trying to discover their vocation. Their genuineness will inform and inspire those on a discernment journey.

The first section of the book focuses on the vocation stories of four sisters, each from a different type of religious order: apostolic, missionary, monastic, and cloistered/contemplative. I appreciated Flansburg’s exploration of the many possibilities available for living out religious life. This might be new information for some discerners, as often people have the wrong assumption that religious communities are all the same. Each story contains the sister’s “day in the life” schedule for readers to grasp entirely what a typical day involves. The quotes provide personal insights into the individual’s feelings about their daily commitments, prayer, and community life. After each story, Flansburg provides reflection questions to ponder and answer. These questions give discerners an opportunity for deep reflection on what they have just read and how it might resonate in their own experiences.

The second section, “Is Religious Life for You?” might be the most important part of the book. Here again, we have numerous quotes from sisters sharing personal experiences of their own discernment or of working with inquirers. This section highlights what each discerner should consider when beginning this weighty process: accepting personal invitations to Come and See events, seeking out a spiritual director, developing self-knowledge, taking time for deep reflection on what community or congregation one is attracted to, trusting one’s deepest intuition, and finally being patient. God will not be rushed in such an important life choice. In this section, the reflection questions are very direct and may challenge the reader. One can see throughout these sections how Flansburg, through her wise experience, and systematic proposals, encourages the discerner to go deeper into her personal life and beliefs.

Tackling doubts and hesitations

It’s important while a person is discerning to be fully aware of the ups and downs that come along with taking that final step, or not, to enter a community. In the third section of the book, the reader absorbs down-to-earth stories and recommendations for those ups and downs, doubts, and hesitations. I found it striking to note the process by which sisters chose one community over another. This honest sharing is an important aspect of the book. One sister states, “Falling in love is key … seek out spiritual direction and visit communities.” This type of candor will be appreciated by the reader. Other topics in this third section include choosing an order that attracts a person, habit or no habit, and eight practical next steps if one is ready to commit to religious life.

The fourth and final section of the book contains a variety of resources for discernment, from what to read and watch to scriptural passages for reflection. Flansburg names trusted NRVC resources such as VISION Vocation Network and does an outstanding job of providing an assortment of 12 books from a mixture of religious authors and laypersons: Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B., Margaret Silf, Father Mark-David Janus, C.S.P., to name a few. Also included are 10 recommended memoirs and biographies, including those of Sister Simone Campbell, S.S.S, Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., and Brother Casey Cole, O.F.M. Other topics for reading include the history of religious life, life inside a community, and religious life today. She ends the resource section with a selection of videos and films.

I highly recommend Feels Like Home to all vocation directors who work with women, and I hope it will be added to their discernment toolkits. The many questions found in each section will provide rich jumping-off places for deep discussions between a vocation director and inquirer. Also, the book could be used in a variety of discernment settings, supplementing other tried and true resources. It could work in group discernment settings, Come and See events, or as a gift to a new inquirer for personal reading. Also, copies could be made available in community for all sisters to read. The insights will be useful for striking up conversation when encountering women in ministry or other situations.

I am thankful to the author, Susan Flansburg, and the many sisters who contributed their stories and wisdom. Clearly they hope to help vocational inquirers to discover their true desires for their lives, not simply what society or others might think they should be. This handbook can be an integral part of the discovery of where God is calling them. Whether called to religious life or not, this book will enrich the life of the reader.

Sandy Piwko is the director of vocation promotion and postgraduate volunteer ministry with the Religious of the Assumption Sisters in Worcester, Massachusetts. She is also the Member Area Coordinator for the NRVC in New England. In addition to six years in her current work, Piwko ministered in religious education for 12 years.



Published on: 2023-10-31

Edition: 2023 HORIZON No. 4 Fall -- Vow of celibacy


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