Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, crouched at the bottom left, is a vocation director for the Daughters of St. Paul, which are holding their annual weekend vocations retreat Nunapalooza Aug. 1-3 in Chicago. Photo courtesy Sr. Helena Raphael Burns

Sisters invite young women to the ’hood

  • July 11, 2014

Young women from Toronto are heading to Nunapalooza this summer to check out the Sisterhood. 

On Aug. 1-3, down the street from the famous rock music festival Lollapalooza in Chicago, the Daughters of St. Paul are holding their annual vocations discernment retreat for women age 18-35. 

“If God is planting a charism in you to the order or religious life, when you hang out with nuns, you are going to feel that, you are going to feel a sense of belonging or not,” said Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, who, along with fellow vocation directress for her congregation, Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis, has worked in vocations most of her religious life. 

Starting Friday night and lasting all day Saturday and Sunday, the weekend retreat can be intense because of the short time frame, she says, but it will provide young women with the tools to make a good discernment and the opportunity to realize they are not alone in this discernment. 

“We try to remove all of the obstacles,” said Burns, adding that a lot of young women come to the Pauline Sisters confused about the discernment process. 

“Our method is simple,” she said. “Sometimes people get stuck in their discernment process. We really like to help people get unstuck.” 

The retreat is designed to help women deal with the blocks that prevent them from discerning properly. For example, young women may be thinking about vocations in an incorrect way or may be confused by the advice they seek from far too many sources or may expect a quick answer to their prayers. 

The most difficult kind of “stuckness” is “getting young women in touch with the deepest desires of their heart,” said Burns. 

“A lot of times, a young woman can’t articulate what her own desires really are.” 

She says that a lot of young women are also in denial. 

“They want something — whatever it is — but they don’t think they can have it. So they cover it up and they get to the point where they don’t even know what they really want. And God cares about what we really want. It’s not all about what He wants. It’s a two-way street and God has already put desires and talents in our hearts, not to frustrate them, but to fulfill them.” 

Discernment isn’t easy, can take up to two years from when a young woman is aware she’s beginning and can be a foggy process, says Burns. But the level of difficulty needs to be there because “God wants us to know when we look back in the future, you know when times are tough or we’re dealing with some crosses and we start to doubt our vocation, we’re going to know, I made a good discernment,” she said. “And then what we do is we solve all of our problems, our vocational problems within our vocation rather than I made a quick and hasty decision and now I’m in the convent and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be here.” 

She warns that young women are afraid because they don’t see a lot of commitment in the world around them. But she reminds them that even when they first join the convent, they are still discerning because they have yet to take their vows. 

Essentially, the Pauline Sisters try to help young women be more in touch with God and rely less on outside help to discern their vocation. 

“We really hope that they would walk away with tools. We would hope they would walk away with an experience, a really strong experience of God meeting them,” said Burns. “When they put everything down to come to this retreat, He’s going to answer in time, He’s going to see how serious we are and how committed we are to knowing His will. He’s not going to leave us at the same place when we do something like that and go all in.” 

Nunapalooza is free to attend if participants pay for their transportation to Chicago. But from Toronto, Burns will be driving and can accommodate a few young women. For more information, call or text her at 1-617- 850-5584 or find her on Twitter: @SrHelenaBurns

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