Gone — for now — are the days when the Daughters of St. Paul would host Come and See weekends in person, like this one. In a time of COVID, the discernment retreats have gone online. Photo courtesy Daughters of St. Paul

Religious order takes discernment online

By  Bernadette Timson, Youth Speak News
  • September 23, 2020

COVID-19 has put significant roadblocks in the path of many religious communities and apostolates striving to help young Catholics discover their vocation.

Orders like the Daughters of St. Paul in Toronto have had to find new ways to reach out in a time when getting back to a normal existence seems to still be far off.

In a pre-pandemic world, the Daughters of St. Paul would now just be days away from hosting its annual in-person Come and See weekend for young women looking to discern their vocation. Each “Come and See” event staged throughout the U.S. and Canada has a unique presentation, but, generally, attendees engage in community volunteerism, fellowship over food and prayer, individual vocational guidance and day-to-day living as a Daughter of St. Paul.

These on-site events are not on the table any time soon, but this community of religious women devoted to proclaiming the Good News and offering spiritual support is finding ways to continue its outreach.

“Since the pandemic, we have had to get creative in the way we offer discernment retreats,” said Sr. Amanda Marie Petry. “We have held conferences over Zoom, created prayer guides for participants to use in their prayer and offered virtual tours of our publishing house. We make an effort to personalize the retreats by speaking with each woman over the phone about where they are in their journey with the Lord.”

Maintaining a personalized approach in this new online format is a key goal for the Daughters of St. Paul. The question of discernment is too personal for a computer to solve.

“Discernment is a process,” said Petry. “There is no algorithm where you can plug in information about yourself and get a quick answer about the plans God has in mind for you. Discernment is about the relationship, and the nuances of this relationship are unique to every person. The Lord invites each of us into this relationship with Him and journey towards growth in holiness.

“Discernment can feel confusing, especially in a time of upheaval. We tend to ask, ‘Where is God?’ at such times, but it’s important not to let ourselves feel overwhelmed by what is beyond our control. It is more fruitful to ask, ‘Where is Jesus inviting me, here and now, to know and love Him better in the situation He has placed me in?’ ”

The sisters have helped young women discern those questions through a couple of virtual Come and See retreats to date. Petry said these virtual gatherings have attracted 30-40 participants, a substantial increase over the eight to 10 attendees at the in-person Toronto gathering.

Another virtual discernment retreat is being eyed for October for women ages 18-35 discerning a religious vocation.

The exact dates are still to be determined, but interested women can follow the sisters’ Instagram account (@medianunscanada) for updates.

What can newcomers to the virtual Come and See experience expect?

“The point of the weekend is to enter into a place of discernment with the Holy Spirit,” said Petry. “The goal is not to know with absolute certainty whether or not God is calling you to be a Daughter of St. Paul; the goal is to spend time apart with the Lord and listen to how He is calling you, as an individual, into a deeper relationship with Himself. If the Daughters of St. Paul end up being part of that relationship, then praise God.”

(Timson, 22, is preparing to begin her studies at John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif.)

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