25 ideas that worked

25 ideas that worked

By c

We asked. You responded.
HORIZON readers share their best vocation innovations.


Volunteers repaint a home during a service trip sponsored by the IHM Sisters of Scranton, PA. Service experiences were named by many vocation directors as one of their top vocation outreach efforts. The time together builds relationships, and the combination of service, prayer, reflection and communal activity exposes young people to key components of religious life.

1) Service Trip

One of the best things we do is our annual service trip, which brings together young women and our sisters for a week of prayer, community and service. The girls love staying with the sisters, and the feeling is mutual. This year 18 of us were in a poor rural town where we painted and repaired homes and yards, worked with Catholic Social Services and spent time in a residence for developmentally disabled adults. We stayed with our sisters in two convents. It was a good week, especially because it incorporated three main elements of our lives: prayer, service and community.

Sister Kathryn Kurdziel IHM

2) Improved Response to Inquires 

Just now, after all these years, we are having success after enhancing our response to women using VocationMatch.com [NRVC’s match service for those seeking the right community “fit” in religious life]. We now do a five-to-six-contact outreach starting the same day I get their names and using e-mail, phone calls, mail and sometimes Skype. One month in to this new system, we have heard back from at least four women. Using our former method of reaching out only once or twice, and not vey quickly, would have yielded no responses. I have added one staff member working on this with me. This lay woman, Melissa, changed the vocation work she was doing with us to include this new approach to inquiries. Some inquirers seem to prefer responding to her, rather than me, the vocation director. Interesting. Another innovation is that we now personalize our response by picking out something from their profiles to comment on in our first e-mail to them.

Sister Katherine Mullin, VHM

3) Posters for the Family Fridge 


A section of the poster that the Augustinian priests have successfully used.

Last year we launched a “Vocation Culture Project” for our American provinces. We created a poster with pictures, names, ages, hometowns and level of formation for the 33 men in formation in the USA. We sent our poster to our parishes and schools and gave them out on a particular Sunday in our 33 parishes. We provided a recorded homily in English and Spanish to be used with the poster distribution. Alternatively, we asked the friars to listen to the recorded homilies and give their own similar message. We ask people to take home the poster and put it on the refrigerator or some other place where it will be seen every day. We then asked them to pray for our 33 men in formation and for all young people in their parishes and families and among their friends—that they be open to a religious vocation. We also did this at our eight high schools and two colleges. I gave posters out at 19 parish missions. In total we distributed 39,000 posters. From this, two men have already come forward saying this poster and project was the “push” they needed. One is now a pre-novice and one is starting application for next year. We are almost done with this year’s poster and will do the exact same thing. If we keep creating a culture of vocation, imagine the fruits!

Father Tom McCarthy, OSA

4) Meet on Their Own Turf 

One of the best things I’ve done as vocation minister is to meet with young women on their own turf—sometimes at their homes, and sometimes at a local restaurant. Young people are candid in these meetings, and it has been a wealth for me personally, as well as for our community.

Sister Colleen Clair, FMA

5) Laity Issued Serious Invitation 

One program that really worked: I adapted NRVC’s “Keys to the Future” program to a day-long workshop/recollection for brothers and our lay partners in mission. Over 100 people attended, mostly laity. I was overwhelmed by the positive response of our lay partners. They were touched by the invitation to join us in vocation ministry. They have never been formally asked before. With brothers decreasing and those who are left having such little contact with kids, we need their help—concretely! Part of the day gave them time to come up with concrete plans. They did!

Brother Ronnie Hingle, SC

6) Home Visits 

During my years as a vocation minister, I would visit inquirers in their family homes and get acquainted with the families. I tried lots of things, but that one approach was invaluable whether a person entered or not. Developing relationships with the family— even when the woman lived on her own—still was helpful, especially when a person chose to enter.

Sister Geraldine Wodarczyk, CSFN

7) Get to Know Diocesan Counterparts 

I like to develop good relationships with staff in diocesan vocation offices. Even if they focus on vocations to the priesthood, it’s still worth getting to know them and help out when possible. I have received several great referrals because people know how I approach others and they have had an opportunity to learn about my congregation.

Sister Nancy Gerth, SCN

8) Shifting from Service to Spiritual Growth 

Christine Gabriel from Hicksville, New York (left) and Sister Lila Sciabica, IHM from Carbondale, PA take a break from their duties. Service programs are a popular way for vocation ministers to build relationships with young people and expose them to the service dimension of religious life.

Listening to young adults and shifting from service to spiritual growth has been helpful. Several years ago, we began offering a week-long summer immersion, “Walk the Extra Mile,” as an experience of praying, sharing, living in community and serving. Thanks to feedback, particularly from a core group of “regulars,” we have adapted the program a little more each year. Most of these young women have been involved with service since high school. Most of them have even had third world mission experiences in college. What they were needing, and craving, was not so much service opportunities as spiritual opportunities. They needed guided exercises and reflection time, solitude, and prayer experiences. So we got the message. We adapted the week last year, and this year offered, from the start, a different kind of week. We called it “Walk the Extra Mile: Going Deeper.” Another new learning, however, emerged from our “regulars.” “Could we have a little less meeting time together and more time on our own with God?” Who can argue with that? So I scrapped some of my lovely sessions. Next year we hope to offer more of a guided/ directed retreat, perhaps with morning prayer and night sharing and prayer. This process of listening and responding to my regular attendees has reinforced for me something I learned early on: that I need to respect where the young people are, listen to what they need, and be confident that “God gives the growth.”

Sister Cheryl Rose HM


9) Listening to the Spirit 

A young woman from California came to a Come-N-See we had in the fall of 2011. Something kept telling me to reciprocate. We are a small, local community, primarily in south Louisiana. So this was a response to grace. I flew out to spend a few days with her last summer and have kept in touch. She plans on entering in the spring. I know larger communities have multiple vocation directors flying all over the country. That’s not us. But something clicked with this young woman, and you never know!

Sister Alice Abate, O.Carm.

10) Weekend Vocation Discernment Retreat 

The work I did on this retreat with other vocation personnel was a great experience, and the retreatants commented on how well we, religiousmen and women, worked together.

Sister Lucy Regalado, OLVM

11) New Vocabulary 

I found using key words like “nudge” or “tug” were helpful for a gentle call. These words resonated with young adults. When responding to the call seems overwhelming, I’ve said “God only asks you to take the next step, no matter how small.” I got feedback later that this enabled them to move forward.

Sister Kathleen Bryant, RSC

12) Parish Vocation Contact Day 

Our Joliet Area Vocation Association (JAVA) had a Parish Vocation Contact Day in February of this year. This was my first time taking part in an outreach to people who have been designated as parish vocation contacts. Three of us sisters closed our presentations with the message that we religious can be valuable resources for parish vocation programs, along with the diocesan vocation director. Our message was well received, including by our diocesan vocation director. Offering ourselves as resources opened us up to a number of invitations to present at religious education programs, as well as at parish vocation fairs. I believe letting people know we’re still around and willing to participate in their parishes made an impression.

Sister Maria Brizuela, OSF

13 ) Prayer, Youth in Theology 

Vocation ministers have found that Youth in Theology and Ministry, a program sponsored by St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, MN, has been valuable. Pictured here are participants taking part in the program.

The two best things I have done with vocations are daily prayer and working with Youth in Theology and Ministry with Dr. Jeff Kaster and the team at St. John’s Collegeville, MN. I helped with the summer program and taught the class “Meeting Yourself and Jesus at the Movies.” I love using movies as a departure point for prayer in vocation work.

Sister Eileen O’Connor, OSB

14) Never Without a Business Card 

I consider myself a vocation minister 24/7, so every pocket (sweater, jacket, vest, blazer) and purse has my business cards. I never leave home without them! I never know when I will meet someone who is interested in my life, my community, or the church itself. If I am able to strike up a conversation, I am always quick to hand a person my business card—even if it is simply to ask for prayers for more vocations to our community. My business cards have been distributed at vocation events, restaurants, social gatherings and even a few major league baseball games. You may ask, “Has anyone ever called you?” Yes, many times.

Sister Teresa Grace Baillargeon, CR

15) Grade School Vocation Day 

Parents welcomed us to one particular parish, asked us what we did prior to entering religius life, took us to the classrooms, and had us engage in questions with the students. We did presentations, had lunch and then played a game called “match the religious.” There was music and excitement in the gym. A student was picked out of the crowd and was given cards with occupations that the religious had named. The student put the occupation-card under our chairs. Then we agreed or disagreed with the match. We had fun and the students had fun.

Sister Joanne Marie Schutz, SSCM


Everyone invested

Vocation ministry thrives when done in community. The “it takes a village” principle applies to nurturing new membership, just as it does to raising a child. A religious community does best when it is engaged—from leadership who invest the community’s time, talent and treasure to vocations—to shut ins whose prayers and cards to vocation prospects provide spiritual depth and a personal touch. Vocation directors are leading a symphony, not playing a solo.


Many people reported ideas that they carried out in concert with others. Regional groups of vocation ministers can pull together events that are much broader and richer for young people than would be the case if only one community were involved. Maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with other religious communities and with the diocesan vocation office can give energy and support to your efforts.

Use resources

VISION vocation guide and “Keys to the Future” are just two of the resources from National Religious Vocation Conference that were mentioned as ideas that worked. Membership in NRVC provides a wealth of resources and personal connections that can make all the difference in new membership.

Relationships, always relationships

When he was running for president the first time, Bill Clinton’s campaign office had a homemade poster keeping everyone on task: “The economy, stupid.” For religious, a similar poster might read: “Relationships, brother.” (Or sister.) That point is obvious in idea after idea in our list of 25. What works is building relationships with people, whether it is through service programs, online outreach, retreats, car rides, selfie-sessions, or a conversation in a coffee shop.

16) Connecting with Education 

Visiting our religious education programs is especially rewarding. I do the same things as in Catholic schools, but in most cases these children do not have contact with religious sisters. For me this presence is very important. I also find that having visited the Catholic schools in our diocese over the past few years has given me a little recognition. I experience this at larger diocesan events when young people run up and give me a big hug. This is also true when I visit schools. They remember. My hope is that the seeds planted are growing and maturing, ever so slowly. When we have a vocation Mass in the school, I play, and I get to work with students who lead the singing. That’s special for them, too.

Sister Mary Gregory Munger, SSJ

17) Driving to a Retreat 

I invited some young women to a “Search Retreat” weekend and ended up driving a whole group down. Thanks to our conversations and our extended time together, I got to know these young people. I then continued follow up with two of the women, both of whom entered our community and are now in leadership.

Sister Anne Germaine Picard, SMP

18) Keys to the Future 

I am a new vocation minister, and I feel the “Keys to the Future” process [available from NRVC], which I led throughout our province, has given new energy and vitality to our vocation efforts.

Sister Anita Quigley, SHCJ

19) Bonding over Farm Work 

I went on an immersion experience with college students. I joined the students from Misericordia University in Dallas, PA during their fall and spring service trips. We went to Mercy Farm in Benson, VT and spent a week working on the farm: cleaning the goat stalls, planting seeds or harvesting crops (depending on the season), and clearing a path for people to be able to go on walks during retreats.

  • The students shared cooking responsibilities, using food from the farm or nearby.
  • Each morning we would meet as a group to set out the tasks of the day and explain why we were doing them.
  • Each evening we would reflect on our work and discuss their ecological context. Students would be led in a theological reflection, even though we didn’t call it that. We would also situate their efforts in the context of Care of the Earth, a critical concern of the Sisters of Mercy. 

This program is successful because students who go to one of our colleges and know about the Mercy charism are immersed in our ministry and our critical concerns for a week. They are in a relaxed setting and really open to integrating that charism in their lives. This is helpful, too, because it establishes a relationship with the sisters (three of us are present for the experience). It is all about planting seeds!

Sister Regina Ward, RSM

Bonding over “selfies” are Sisters Regina Fronmuller, OSU (far left) and Sister Jean Hopman, OSU (right).

20) Selfies 

One day, following reflection time with a group of volunteers, I really stepped out of myself. Two students came running over to another sister and me and said, “Let’s take selfies!!” “Do what?” I responded. And she repeated, “Selfies. Let me have your iPad.” At that she reversed the camera, held it up, told me to smile, CLICK. Told me to make wide eyes, CLICK. Crunchy nose, CLICK, and this went on for 15 minutes. We laughed ourselves crazy and a crowd grew. That really broke the ice. Later, these same girls came to me during the week with questions about religious life.

Sister Regina Marie Fronmuller, OSU

21) Multi-community “Discernment Day”

One of the best collaborative efforts I’ve been part of was a day of discernment for women held in Milwaukee. It included: SSND, SDS, CSA, SSJ, TOSF, SSSF, and SSM. The day was entitled “Threads: Exploring Your Journey of Call.” Vocation directors spoke on: What is a Vocation? What is Religious Life and Discernment? Two newer members in religious life shared their personal stories of discernment. Each participant was given a beautiful reflection booklet to use during the day and then take with her. We also had an Emmaus walk, and an art activity. The day ended with a period of questions and answers and a closing prayer.

Sister Mary Lee Grady, SDS

22) Weekend Service Retreat 

A number of things have worked well. One in particular is offering a Weekend Service Retreat. This experience allows us to be where young people are—wanting to serve. We introduce them to service sites of ours or connected with SSJ’s, and we reflect through a SSJ lens coupled with the Church’s teaching on the Catholic Social Teaching. It fits into busy teens’ and college students’ lives and gives them a taste for service with reflection; leaving them wanting for more!

Sister Donna Del Santo, SSJ

23) Online Discussions / Sister Companions 

The best thing I’ve ever done as a vocation minister is a toss-up. It’s either starting an online discerners book discussion group, or it’s having sisters companion women in discernment.

Sister Patricia Dowling, CBS

24) 7-11 Ministry Day 

An Archdiocese of Los Angeles vocation outreach brings together high school students and a priest.

One of the best programs I’ve been involved in was the “7-11 Ministry Day” held in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Young adults could choose a ministry and a religious order (if they wanted to specify one) to be a “sister/brother/priest for a day.” A few hundred young adults and religious started early in the morning with meditation, next we had breakfast, and then everyone spent a day immersed in ministry with members of religious communities.We shared meals inside the convent, rectory or monastery. In the evening we had a liturgy, dinner and a talent show put on by novices, seminarians, priests and religious. The day closed with night prayer. Participants got an inside glimpse of community and ministry, as well as the peer support of a few hundred other young adults.

Sister Kathleen Bryant, RSC

25) Hybrid Approach 

One of the best things I’ve done is move the Marianite Vocation Office to a college campus. Being a “hybrid” vocation minister-campus minister has ups and downs, but there are many more positives than negatives that have come from it.

Sister Renée Daigle, MSC


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