“Someone here is called” to the priesthood or religious life, Bishop Medley said that day at St. Joseph School in Bowling Green, Ky., where Stephany is a first-grade teacher. As she looked around the room, for the first time she began thinking she was the one being called.
“I put it aside and prayed about it,” she said. “Scripture says ‘If it comes from God, it will not pass away.’ (Acts 5:39) I took it that God was speaking to me. It just never went away.”
Nearly four years after that first seed was planted, Stephany officially made the request to become a postulant with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, which will happen this summer. Her time as a postulant can last from nine months to two years, and then she will have the opportunity to become a novice and officially an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph.
“It’s been a wonderful journey,” Stephany said. “God’s hand puts these people in your path. It’s humbling and inspiring. It makes me want to be the best person I can be.”
Stephany converted to Catholicism in 2005, so becoming a sister was not in her plans. Although she told no one of the vocation thoughts in her head, she kept meeting people who discussed religious life, she said. In 2011, the Sisters of Charity came to St. Joseph School to talk about their history of starting the school. One sister talked about her vocation story and said everywhere she went, she saw a priest or a sister or heard a story about vocations.
Shortly after that, Stephany took the vocation placement questionnaire online through Vision magazine and began looking at religious community websites. The Ursulines were among her top matches.
“One Sunday morning at Mass in February 2011, I just couldn’t keep it in anymore,” she said. “I happened to be sitting next to my principal and told her. She said she would put me in contact with (Ursuline) Sister Suzanne Sims.”
Sister Suzanne put her in touch with Sister Martha Keller, director of vocation ministry for the Ursuline Sisters.
“I already knew (Sister Martha’s) name because I had been to the Ursuline website and saw her picture,” Stephany said. “She answered all my questions and made me feel comfortable. I had already signed up for a retreat at the Mount on the Book of Ruth (led by Ursuline Sister Cheryl Clemons). It was so peaceful, a really great experience. It turned into a great love for Mount Saint Joseph and the sisters. Saint Joseph has been central to all this.”
She was attracted to the Ursulines because she has a desire to remain an elementary school teacher and to educate people about the Church. She has been an elementary school teacher for five years.
“I believe education is the best way to explain who God is,” she said. Many of the Ursuline Sisters are former primary grade teachers. “I love talking to the sisters about teaching first-graders,” Stephany said.
She’s learned a lot about herself during her discernment process.
“I learned I don’t have to be perfect to become a sister,” Stephany said. “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. God will give me what I need. God is calling me just as I am.”
The story of the apostle Paul is a great help to her, she said. “God changes people. I’m on this journey because this is where God wants me,” she said. “It’s a call.”
Sister Martha said Stephany ’s continued formation will need to look different. “The whole community has a role in forming her in addition to her postulant and novitiate director,” Sister Martha said. “This is so important because she does not have a classmate.”
Stephany moved a lot with her family when she was growing up, mostly between Illinois and Florida. She went to a Baptist college for her first degree and was looking into children’s evangelism as a career. She moved to Louisville for school, but when she applied, she found the program had changed.
She was teaching music and preschool in Indiana and working at a Family Christian Stores in Louisville. Her manager was from Bowling Green and Stephany moved there to enjoy a smaller town feel. The church she was attending was not a positive experience for her, but when she attended a koinonia at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, she met two people who were “the most real people she had ever met,” she said.
“It was a transformational experience,” she said. “I believed I could be something more.”
Stephany decided to go back to school to get her degree in elementary education, which she completed in 2008, and soon after she got the job at St. Joseph. One of her other passions is singing.
“It can sometimes break through the silence and bring out the joy in my life,” she said. “The Burmese sing at our church, their love of the Lord is special to me, and I don’t even understand the words.”
In her free time she likes to read inspirational novels and work jigsaw puzzles. “We always did jigsaw puzzles as a family,” Stephany said. “When I’d visit the sisters and they would do jigsaw puzzles, it was wonderful.”
Stephany’s advice to someone considering religious life is to talk to someone trustworthy and begin spiritual direction.
“Someone who knows your heart and can guide you on the steps you need to take next,” she said. “Try to keep an open mind. Be honest with yourself.”
By Dan Heckel