Sisters of St. Joseph welcome first new Sister in 12 years

  • September 8, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - It was the most unexpected place to find God’s love. But newly professed Sr. Nida Fe Chavez, CSJ, says her ministry at a women’s maximum security prison helped affirm her call to religious life.

“Some of them said they found God in prison, through the people who talked to them, listened to them and brought God’s word to them,” she told The Catholic Register.

Chavez, 49, was a novice at that time with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto and had been volunteering at a prison in Framingham, Mass.

On Aug. 15, she made her final vows of chastity, poverty and obedience as a Sister of St. Joseph of Toronto, the first woman to do so for the order in the last 12 years.

The decline in religious vocations for women in North America has been a worrisome trend. According to a 2007 Canadian Religious Conference document, there were 18,410 women religious in 2004 compared to 44,127 women religious in 1975. In January, the Vatican launched an apostolic visitation for U.S.-based women religious institutions, looking into why there has been a drastic decrease in vocations over the past 40 years.

As for Chavez’s prison ministry, she recalls how Mass at the prison was simple yet powerful. In a bare room, without even a candle due to security restrictions, inmates gathered with Chavez, her fellow sisters and the priest.

“We all came there to experience Jesus in the Eucharist,” she said.

It was a sense of connection with God, through this experience — “something like falling in love with God,” Chavez explains — which reminded her of the first time she felt God’s call.

The former bank loans administrator said she first heard her vocation call after returning from a trip to Greece 12 years ago. Chavez felt “restless” and was searching for more meaning in her life.

After meeting a Sister of St. Joseph, Chavez, then 38, inquired if it was too late to explore religious life. When the answer was “No,” she began attending prayer meetings with the Sisters. In 2001, she quit her job, a year after entering the novitiate. She made her first vows in 2004 and renewed them three years later.

Chavez said she finally found a sense of peace, joy and love. The attraction to the congregation was its charism of unity and reconciliation.

“There’s so much brokenness in the world and I think (their) charism is something I would like to live,” Chavez said.

One of Chavez’s longtime friends, Sr. Sue Mosteller, CSJ, said given the increasing rarity of the vocation to religious life, Chavez’s profession of faith is not only a gift to her community, but also to the universal church.

Chavez is the eldest of five siblings. She came to Canada in 1988.

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