Vocation visioning weekend

Vocation visioning weekend

A process for involving membership

By c

ONE IMPORTANT GOAL of vocation ministry is to involve membership in the process of inviting, welcoming and sustaining new members. In this article I will outline the process used by the Institute New Membership Office (INMO) of the Sisters of Mercy to animate our sisters in the St. Louis Region to be involved in vocation ministry. Our weekend-long process was successful, and the process, with revisions, is going be used across the Institute. I believe the weekend tapped into some criteria necessary for encouraging involvement in vocation ministry: leadership involvement, reflection on personal experiences, recognition of the need to either invite or die, and reasons to hope in the future of religious life. In outlining the process here, I hope to show how each of these criterion worked within the program.

A primary reason our “Vocation Visioning Weekend” succeeded was the collaboration between leadership and the INMO. Leadership had received a request from the St. Louis Regional Community Assembly held in July 2006 to make vocations a priority for the community. Mercy leaders contacted the INMO, and we vocation ministers developed plans for a weekend that would animate community involvement. We envisioned using a contemplative process, allowing time for input such as sharing of experiences, as well as time for sharing the needs and resources of the local vocation minister. Presentations and reflections would be done by the INMO ministers, a member of the Institute leadership team, and the local vocation minister.

We brought the proposed process back to leadership for a review prior to the weekend. Leadership invited the St. Louis Region to participate in the weekend and arranged for a place to hold the event. Leadership was also present during the weekend—a visible sign of our leaders’ commitment to work with the community in encouraging new members.


A total of 34 members attended the Vocation Visioning Weekend. The process began by tapping into the lived experience of each sister’s call. We used the song, “In the Name of Love,” by Jennifer Corlett, OSU since it focuses on calling and how we move through the seasons of our lives. Following the song each sister was asked to reflect on and then tell the story of her vocation to the others in her small group. The sharing energized participants, many of whom had lived with one another and yet had never shared the story of their call to Mercy. A large-group sharing followed on the common elements of the stories. We then invited sisters to share their individual stories with everyone. This reflection and sharing set the stage for the weekend and was an instrumental part of the process that animated participants.


Our Saturday morning prayer focused on the question: “Why do we want new members?” Table sharing was a part of the prayer, and each sister present was invited to use one of her answers in a litany. Some of those responses were: “The world needs women committed to working for peace,” and “I love being a sister and want others to be able to experience the joys in this life.” Table by table the reasons for inviting women were read, and the sisters responded, “Help us, oh God, to welcome, invite and sustain new members.”

Prayer continued with a Scripture reading from the book of Ruth. We reflected on Naomi and the challenges of inviting new members, such as losses of community members, ministries and institutions that don’t lend themselves to such invitations, changes in our way of life and what had shaped our identity, and a lack of enthusiasm for newer members because of the changes members need to make. Having the challenges out in the open allowed sisters the opportunity to acknowledge them and choose to move forward. Challenges may be overcome if there is a willingness to work through them. Our reflection and table conversation allowed participants time to discuss which challenges resonated with them and name any other challenges they were experiencing.

The second reflection of the morning was based on Ruth and hope. The story of Ruth choosing to stay with Naomi and journey with her is the story of women choosing to stay and journey with us. Presenters named some signs of hope, including the openness of young people to church vocations, young people hungering for spirituality, religious being invited into the lives of young people, the awareness and acceptance of diversity, and increased involvement of religious in sharing their stories with young people. Women in the process of incorporation also added their reflections to this presentation.

Sisters who have not interacted with young people were surprised that there were young people looking for direction in their lives and open to the call to religious life. Participants reflected on the hope they see for new members and what hopes resonated with them. It was affirming to reflect on a younger sister in community, looking at why she is willing to stay. Yet it was also challenging to the sisters to ask themselves how they could be supportive. In using the process of challenges and hopes, the sisters had the opportunity to choose how they wished to live and respond.

In the afternoon we tackled some substantive topics. Our topic was “Identity, Vocations and the Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy from the Fourth Institute Chapter.” Our questions were foundational: “Who are we?” and, “Who do we stand with?” The question of who we are led to a sharing on the hospitality of Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. Her unhesitating hospitality calls us to open our doors, set aside our suspicions of why someone wants to enter, offer comfort, and create space for each woman to fulfill her true calling. The question, “Who do we stand with?” elicited reflections on the need to stand in solidarity with those in need, engage in the transformation of structures that cause social ills, recognize God in the face of people who are poor and be evangelized by those who hope. Reflection and table sharing added a richness to the afternoon as sisters recognized their belief in Mercy life and mission.

We finished the afternoon with a new membership presentation on the messages our community wants to convey to women who are inquiring or discerning religious life. These include messages such as, “The Sisters of Mercy want to walk with you as you explore, inquire and discern,” and, “We acknowledge the importance of faith in your life,” and, “Connecting with Mercy helps you use your gifts for God and others.” These messages were created by professional communicators and approved by Mercy vocation ministers as the crux of what they hope to share with prospective members. A PowerPoint presentation, including pictures of women who are in the process of discerning, brought the reality of faces and names to participants. The membership’s responsibility to take these messages out to others was a key point in the presentation.


Sunday morning prayer connected the themes of the day before. We played the song “In the Name of Love” and read from John’s Gospel (John 1:38-40). We reflected on the questions, “Who am I in Mercy, and how does that affect those who want to come and see our community?”

We followed prayer with necessary practical information. Now that sisters were energized to reach out and invite women, the question of how needed to be answered. We discussed resources available to sisters in the various ministries of school, hospital, social services and parish work, including resources from both the local and Institute level. The vocation minister for the St. Louis Regional Community talked about how sisters could assist her. We allotted time to discuss how the sisters would use the resources and time to brainstorm ideas for getting involved in vocation ministry. This was done in the large group in order to help all participants get ideas and energy from others.

Some ideas included: having the new-employee orientation for the local Mercy-sponsored hospital take place in the convent, inviting young women from a parish young adult group to come to the convent for evenings of prayer, putting on a full week of vocation promotion in a parish setting, sisters wearing their Mercy crosses and identifying themselves as sisters in various gatherings, creating opportunities for students to visit the convent and interact with the sisters, and including vocation ads in materials the Mercy Sisters publish.

The closing prayer began with a story of how Catherine McAuley, as she was dying, wrapped her shoes in paper and gave them to a sister with instructions that they be burned. The responsibility to follow her footsteps and to invite others to join us is that of every sister. Therefore we ended with each participant making a concrete commitment. Participants wrote on a two-part card a concrete step they would take for vocation promotion. Each sister kept one half of the commitment card, and the other half was presented to leadership during a missioning service. Each sister was blessed with the words, “May you continue to be a joyful witness to Mercy.”



Friday evening

5:30 Dinner

7:00 Introductions

7:15 Prayer, reflection, and sharing. How did you come to be Mercy?

8:15 Closing blessing



8:00 Breakfast

9:00 Prayer, sharing. Why do we want new members? Reading, Ruth 1: 11-18. Naomi, Challenges of Today. Reflection and table sharing.

10:15 Break

10:45 Ruth, Hope for Today. Reflection and table sharing. Large-group sharing

12:00 Lunch

1:00 Identity and our Critical Concerns: Who are we? Who do we stand with? Hospitality and the Charism of Mercy.

2:15 Break

2:30 Process, walk around, large- and small-group sharing

3:30 Break

3:45 Who do we invite? Inquirers, discerners? What messages do we wish to convey? Large-group sharing of ideas.

Closing prayer

5:00 Liturgy

6:00 Dinner

7:30 Social



8:00 Breakfast

9:00 Prayer. Who am I in Mercy and how does that affect those who want to come and see?

9:30 Strategies for vocation promotion, Resources available

10:30 Break. Distribution of materials

11:00 Large group sharing of ideas for the use of resources

11:30 Closing prayer, commitment, missioning


Prayer and ritual


Song “In the Name of Love” by Jennifer Corlett, OSU,PowerPoint of lyrics. Psalm 139, Nan Merrill, Psalms for Praying

Reflection questions How did you come to be Mercy? Why did you come to this meeting?

Large group sharing What are the commonalities that have been heard? Is there a vocation story that the whole group needs to hear?

Blessing May the Blessing of God rest gently but firmly upon us; may it stir us to passion and new life. Amen.

May the wisdom of God lead us to solidarity and cooperation, illuminating our minds and beckoning our hearts to a generous response. Amen. May the gifts of God encourage us to truth telling, tenacity, faith and vision for what is unknown to us, and is yet to be. Amen

May the grace of God penetrate the depths of our being, leading us to listen and speak in unity and diversity as the Spirit prompts and challenges. Amen. May our individual and collective yes bring praise and honor to our God who has called us to this journey in Mercy. Amen.



Song “Gather us O God” by Monica Brown

Reflection question Why do you want new members?

Litany Table by table, each person gives one response After each table, all respond, “Help us, oh God, to welcome, invite and sustain new members.”

Scripture Ruth 1: 11-18, Morning presentation and sharing all done in context of prayer.



Song Psalm 85: “I will Listen to the Voice of the Lord,” and “Candled Seasons” by Notre Dame and Gethsemane Abbey Choirs. Ending with Liturgy for Sunday.



Song “In the Name of Love” by Jennifer Corlett, OSU. Psalm 1, Nan Merrill, Psalms for Praying

Scripture John 1: 35-39

Reflection question Who am I in Mercy and how does that affect those who want to come and see? Sharing in dyads.

Petitions Light of the World, we celebrate this Advent with hearts full of longing for your coming. (Response: Come and do not delay.)

In the darkness of our world, give us courage to search for the truth.

In the darkness of our world, give us insight to recognize the needs of our neighbors

In the darkness of our world, give us passion to create a more just society.

In the darkness of our world, help us to bring hope to those in despair.

In the darkness of our world, send us women to minister with us in Mercy.

Jesus, it is the hour for us to wake from the sleep of selfishness and doubt. Help us greet this new day with eager longing for your message and confident hope of your future coming. This we ask with confidence in your promises. Amen.

Closing ritual Reading “Catherine’s Shoes” Distribution of Commitment Cards. Sisters fill out cards and bring them to leadership for missioning.

Blessing “May you continue to be a joyful witness to Mercy.” Followed by closing prayer.

Patricia Donlin, RSM is a Sister of Mercy of the Mid-Atlantic Community. She has been in New Membership Ministry for 8 years. Currently Sister Patti is a co-minister in the Institute New Membership Office in St. Louis, MO.

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