Discernment enlightens Sister Sarah Heger, SCJ
By Fr. Kent Bowlds “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” – Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ
For Sister Sarah Heger, CSJ, the poem above was an instrumental piece in a process of discernment which began just before her sophomore year of college, and has resulted in her current assignment in Ripley, Miss., working at St. Matthew Church and at the public high school.
Coming to her decision was not quick or simple. “I thought I would grow up and have a big family, just like my own.” (She is the oldest of seven children.)
Toronto World Youth Day, 2002, was another important moment. “They had a vocations room, with lots of information about different religious orders and I told God, ‘alright, I’m going to walk through here, and if you want me to keep thinking about this, then you better give me some sort of sign,’ but I don’t think I really wanted to see one because I walked in and out of there as fast as I could!”
But the idea of a religious vocation remained – “something I woke up thinking about everyday”– and she found herself searching for music and readings which fed her spirituality, along with having regular discussions with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ), who sponsor Fontbonne University, St. Louis, Mo., where Sister Heger earned her undergraduate degree.
“Without telling them I was interested, I would ask them all sorts of questions about their lives and how they ended up where they were. The sisters were really wonderful.”
It was during one of those talks that a sister asked what she planned to do after college. “And it was the first time I ever said out loud what I was discerning, but as soon as I said it I knew how real and right it was. And she suggested I pursue it sooner rather than later.”
Their conversation took place on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. “The Mass readings and homily were about Mary saying ‘yes’ without knowing all of the answers – a theme that continues to carry me through to this day.”
Her friends were excited and supportive, though her parents were not sure exactly what to make of Sister Heger’s decision at first, because they had grown up with nuns who were trained in a more strict and cloistered style.
Her parents eventually became much more supportive – “once they realized I was happy and can still be with my family and am still the same person – doing the things I love to do.”
Her graduation from college was followed by a year of volunteer work, a one year candidate period, then a two-year novitiate. Last year Sister Heger (now 27) began the period of temporary profession, which continues for three to six years, leading eventually to final vows.
Asked what drew her, she replied, “There is such a life and an energy in the Sisters of St. Joseph, and in most sisters I know. Age is irrelevant; it’s amazing to see with the sisters who are much older how this life keeps them energized for mission and ministry.
And they are all willing to speak out for social justice – wherever people in the world need a voice. I was drawn to the type of work they do, their passion for it, and their prophetic, radical way of being, living, and challenging the world and the church. It was inspiring to me.”
One of the hardest things about her decision was giving up the possibility of having children of her own, but she says, “I realized that though having that experience was something I desired, being a religious sister was the life I wanted to lead.
“And it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to fall in love; all the sisters warn me that it will happen. But every day, every morning, you chose again whatever life you have chosen, so I’ll deal with that when it comes.”
Acknowledging it is difficult to discern a religious vocation when sisters are relatively scarce, Sister Heger advises young women in high school and college to be curious and explore options when thinking about their futures.
“When discerning, I talked to married women, sisters, and just about anybody I could about their lives in general, their hopes, why they did what they did, and what they loved.
Sometimes people are nervous about talking to a vocation director; they think they will get roped into something, but it’s not like that at all. It’s just an opportunity for someone to walk with you as you try to figure out where God is calling you. I was still discerning when I entered, especially up to the point of temporary vows.”
“At one point I told God, ‘Look, Mary got an angel and St. Paul go knocked off his horse, so you have to give me some sort of definite sign!’ (laughs) But eventually there was an internal peace and joy that was undeniable – more real to me than if I had seen some angel, the reality of which I would have questioned. And that peace continues to last to this day.”
(“Hearing the Call" is a monthly series of interviews with people who "have welcomed Christ’s call . . . to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world" (Catechism, par. #3). To submit ideas or comments contact Fr. Kent Bowlds, Vocation Director, website: jacksonvocations.com, 601-944-9844.)