It’s a running joke among some Sisters of Christian Charity that there must be something in the water in the Lehigh Valley to attract so many young women to their congregation.
AD Today spoke with six Sisters of Christian Charity, all of whom are graduates of Allentown Central Catholic and Bethlehem Catholic high schools, about why they became sisters, about their lives, and about their advice to others who may be considering a similar path.
In Tenth Grade at Allentown Central, Sister Elizabeth Kovacs had a Sister of Christian Charity as her theology teacher. “I just started to wonder about her life,” she said. “I wanted to know more about her, what she did after school, where she lived.
“While my friends were thinking about what college they were going to,” said Sister Elizabeth, who works as a nurse practitioner in an emergency room, “I was Googling different religious communities at night after my parents went to bed.”
Sister Maria Angeline Weiss, who works as the community’s Vocation Director, had a similar experience with a Sister of Christian Charity as a teacher at Allentown Central. “Her example of joy was something so tangible, I knew that I wanted what she had,” she said.
The sisters credit a variety of things for encouraging them as they discerned their vocations: their Catholic education, their early contacts with sisters of various congregations, supportive parishes, the availability of faith-based activities and retreats, and the “generous priests” of the Diocese of Allentown.
“There was a pro-life group at Bethlehem Catholic, and in that group I found a really good community of friends who were supportive, good, and wholesome,” said Sister Chiara Marie Stimpfle. “That was really helpful to me.”
Sister Elizabeth recalls the many opportunities for faith-based activities, as well as her parish youth group, at St. Thomas More, Allentown. Sister John Paul Thorley, a high school math teacher, said the regular Vocation Prayer at Notre Dame Parish, Bethlehem, was helpful for her, and for her father who needed a little time to adjust to her decision to become a sister.
Life in a convent has both joys and challenges, the sisters said. “We have a chapel here, and knowing I am living in the same house as the Blessed Sacrament – under the same roof as Jesus – is a huge gift,” said Sister Chiara Marie, who teaches Fifth Grade. Another joy, according to Sister John Paul, is living with sisters who have been in the congregation for many years. “They are always willing to share their experience and their wisdom.”
Some of the challenges, Sister Chiara Marie said, are no different than those in other walks of life, including “overcoming my own selfishness, giving of myself in community and ministry, and seeing where I fall short in that.” There also are the normal conflicts and personality differences you might find anywhere a group of people live together. “I try to see that as a call to see Christ in the other,” she said.
“I am extremely proud of the religious witness and sacrifice of these young women,” said Bishop Alfred Schlert, “and for the excellent example they set for those in younger generations.” He encouraged all young women in the Diocese of Allentown to be open to a call to religious vocations.
Asked what they might say to someone considering a vocation to religious life, the group was quick to answer:
“Be open to it.”
“Have personal prayer time, because clarity truly does come.”
“Don’t be afraid of the sacrifices involved, because if this is your calling, Jesus has your deepest joy in mind, and He will give you that joy.”
“Don’t be afraid to come and visit. No one is going to keep you from leaving when it is time to go home!”
National Vocations Awareness Week is Nov. 7-13. For more information about the Sisters of Christian Charity, visit their Instagram @sistersofchristiancharity or website, www.scceast.org.
In the photo above are (clockwise from upper right) Sister John Paul Thorley, Bethlehem Catholic ’09; Sister Chiara Marie Stimpfle, Bethlehem Catholic ’09; Sister Elizabeth Kovacs, Allentown Central ’03; and seated together left to right, Sister Josephine Wagner, Allentown Central ‘14; Sister Maria Angeline Weiss, Allentown Central ’07, and Sister Marie Jose de la Rosa, Allentown Central ’07. Not pictured are Sister Bridget Harakal, Parkland High School, ’07; and Sr. Mary Amata Reifsnyder, Bethlehem Catholic ’06.