Laurie Nick, 19, a member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, said attending the Women’s Religious Vocations Retreat at the Diocese of Little Rock is essentially a date with her destiny.
“Before you get married, you date people to find out who you’re going to marry,” said Nick, who has attended the retreat twice before. “You can’t do this unless you look.”
The Jan. 8-9 retreat at St. John Center in Little Rock was introductory, allowing women to learn about living a religious life in the Church. The annual retreat, which started about four years ago, was the last retreat held within the Year of Consecrated Life, which ends Feb. 2.
“It is special because we’ve spent the year giving a lot of focus to the Year of Consecrated Life in the parishes. So we were hoping that the message was heard and that young women would want to come and see what it is we’re talking about,” said Sister Joan Pytlik, DC, diocesan minister for religious. “My greatest hope is just that those attending will have open hearts to what Jesus wants to say to them.”
Though the far-reaching impact of the Year of Consecrated Life is tough to measure, this retreat had the most participants, with 33 women, ages 17 to 32.
“A large number are coming from Dardanelle, Danville and Russellville. They’re coming from all over the state, but I think the fact they have the young sisters, I think that helps to engage young people,” Sister Joan said, referring to the three sisters from Mexico in the Catholic Teachers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who came to Arkansas in April through the U.S.-Latin American Exchange Program launched by Catholic Extension.
“Right now, I’m stuck in my discernment,” said Estephania Oliva, 23, a member of St. Andrew Church in Danville, who has attended the retreat three times. She said the sisters have been inspiring. “I just want to open my heart to what God really wants for me.”
The retreat included speakers from seven religious orders around the state, a question-and-answer session and a discussion about the types of religious communities: monastic, apostolic, contemplative and variations of consecrated life.
Mary Kate Bertalotto, 17, a member of St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville and a junior in high school, said Nick has been a helpful mentor. Nick said she is leaning toward monastic life once she graduates from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
Going to college is a step Bertalotto also has decided to follow before hopefully entering religious life.
“I’m looking forward to spending time with different orders to find ones that fit with what I’m looking for,” she said. “It’s a really great opportunity to come and search and learn.”
For retreat volunteer Juliane Pierini, 24, the event is a great way to learn with no pressure.
“I would say it’s on my heart still,” said Pierini of Little Rock on religious life, but the college graduate is not actively discerning. “The sisters are fun, they’re not holier than thou, but they lead that lifestyle. It’s easy to talk with them.”
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