Making Contact with a Vocation Director

Blog Published: July 21, 2009
By Sister Julie

Every religious congregation and diocese has Vocation Directors, that is, persons whose primary ministry is to reach out to people discerning their calling and to help them see if they are called to that particular community or diocese. In religious life, a Vocation Director is there to help you get to know the community, to introduce you to and facilitate connections to other sisters or brothers in the community. She or he is also the one who gets to know you, where you are from, what your story is, what attracts you to God, to religious life, and to that particular community.

For those of you who are discerning, it can feel like a huge step to make Official Contact (begin dramatic music) with a religious congregation. I remember how terrified and exhilarated I felt the first time I made contact (yes, it felt a little like Richard Dreyfuss’s character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) with our IHM Vocation Director. It was not because she or any of the nuns were alien-esque but rather it was something happening within me. I was actually making concrete, publicly articulating this desire that was welling up in me … a desire that I still struggled to put coherent words on.

Some of my fears about contacting a Vocation Director had to do with thinking I was “signing on the dotted line”. I didn’t know that the Vocation Director was there to help me discern, give me more data for my research, help me to get to know the community. I didn’t know that she held both the community’s best interests and my best interests at heart. I was also afraid that as she got to know me, she’d find out I wasn’t all that holy or nunly (whatever I thought that meant!).

The very act of making contact was for me a real help in my discernment because I had to trust God and really believe that the Spirit was working within me. It was like my secret was finally going to be out in the open which was not only terrifying but kind of a relief. I didn’t know what would come of all that but I knew that if I didn’t respond to this nudging of God’s Spirit (no matter how crazy it all seemed to me) then I might miss something. I could never have dreamed that that little nudging would end up in the life I experience now as an IHM Sister dedicated to the liberating mission of Jesus.

I came to value and rely on the relationship that I had with my Vocation Directors (I had two, not because I was a handful … or was it? … but because one was at the end of her term and the new one was beginning). One of the most important things they did for me was to help me to get to know other sisters and to have others get to know me. That was foundational for me and to this day I continue those ever-deepening relationships. My directors and the nuns I met sustained me as I went through the ups and downs of discernment. They let me know that I was welcome and wanted and also that I was free to do what God called me to do, even if it meant not staying.

For those of you considering religious life, what’s your experience of “making contact”? or even just considering making contact? For others, have you ever had this kind of experience of “making contact” in which you made public a desire that you were still in the midst of trying to make sense of?

If you’d like more info about discernment and calling, check out Catholics on Call and Vocation Match.

The National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) is also a great resource to learn more about vocations. The mission of the NRVC is to serve as a catalyst for vocation discernment and the full flourishing of religious life for the ongoing transformation of the world. The NRVC is a professional organization that provides education, resources, research, and other supportive services that promotes vocations to religious life. 

2014 UPDATE: Be sure to also check out Sister Cheryl Rose's blog here; Discovering God's Calling.

Archived Comments

Amparo July 21, 2009 at 8:05 am

Wow! such a post! I usually don’t comment on this great blog because I feel that language is an obstacle for me, but this time I’ll do my best cause I really feel like responding. I felt so touched by your experience on making contact, I think the making contact bit was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life (and I’ve experienced plenty and varied experiences) I have a particular problem when it comes to speaking… I mean, to talking to someone about something going on in my heart, and I have a deep but loud silence which tortures me each and every time I try to ssay something. So, imagine when I found out I had to make contact with someone I didn’t know at all and had to talk with her about my deepest secret, about the one thing that no one new about.You may imagine what a task it was, but by means of prayer everything is possible, so I finally managed and asked one nun to be my vocation director, cause in many retreats I had learned how important it was if I wanted to move on in my discernment process, otherwise I’d just stay there waiting for something to fall from the sky eventually, and that was not happening, lol. I agree with you when you say that making this step was, by it self very important, I felt I had given a big step on my processes after a long while of staying still. That’s pretty much my experience. Now I’d like to ask you some questions, some things that worry me lately and that make me feel like I’m staying still again. I feel my director is not accompanying me enough, I mean she’s great and everything, I’ve even gone to the house of the sisters and stayed there for some time, but we live pretty far away from each other and when I see her she says she’ll call me, she’ll send me some files she sends for discernment but she sent me the two first and she insists she’ll send me the third one but I’m still waiting… I feel in my particular case I need someone to be much closer to me cause I find it very difficult to open my heart… even to myself… You mentioned you had two directors, you think maybe I’d need an other one? maybe a priest? or maybe I should tell my director something, what could it be? I’m kind of lost here… Thanks! Greetings from Argentina!

Sister Julie July 21, 2009 at 11:43 am

Dear Amparo, Good to hear from you! “A loud silence” — that is a good way to describe that feeling. I am proud of you for taking a step even though I know it was a difficult one for you. That is not only an act of courage but an act of faith — a response to God. I’m not sure if the director you mentioned is a Spiritual Director or a Vocation Director. Both are help people discern their life’s call, but a Vocation Director is specifically concerned about helping you discern the religious community she or he represents. When you contact a Vocation Director it is because you are interested in the community she or he represents. A Spiritual Director is similar in that they help you see how God is calling you and moving in your life, but the difference is that they are not there to represent a particular community. Anyone can have a Spiritual Director and a Spiritual Director can be a religious sister or brother, deacon or priest, or lay person. There are also Spiritual Directors across the Christian tradition. I’ll write more about Spiritual Directors soon, but just wanted to clarify because it would be easy to confuse the two (especially since some Vocation Directors are trained as Spiritual Directors).

I hear what you are saying about your director. I would encourage you to talk with her about your concerns. It can be really uncomfortable to have to do that, but it will help you and the relationship grow. Remember that the Holy Spirit is ultimately the one who guides you and if you feel that there is something more or something new you are drawn to, then you need to honor that. If she is your Spiritual Director then it is always possible to decide to move to a new one. If she is a Vocation Director then she is the person that you have to work with if you are interested in joining her community.

You can have a Spiritual Director and a Vocation Director. But you can’t have more than one of each! I had a spiritual director before I even knew that I was interested in religious life. Her role was to help me discern and listen to God’s call. When I began thinking about formally exploring and joining the IHM Sisters, I “make contact” with the IHMs official representative — the Vocation Director. The Vocation Director also helped me discern, but it was specifically about IHM life and mission. The Vocation Director’s role is to get to know the person and help the person get to know the community. She or he has to see if the person and community are a good “match”. A Spiritual Director does not do this. His or her concern is only with the spiritual journey of the individual. I kept my Spiritual Director throughout my discernment with the Vocation Director because I needed to have that regular, trusted relationship with her and to have that help in remaining grounded in God.

So I would recommend that you definitely have a Spiritual Director — the person could be a sister or priest but not necessarily. Feel free to write me back here or via email if you’d like to discuss this more. Let me know if the Sister you mentioned is your Spiritual Director or Vocation Director because that makes a difference.

Sister Pat July 21, 2009 at 2:47 pm

What a great post, Julie. Yes our primary concern is to help inquirers get to know the sisters and brothers in the community. In addition, we engage in the ministry of listening and accompanying.

Sometimes vocation directors where several hats, so if you are hoping to receive some materials, I would suggest that you drop your vocation director a note or email . . . . or phone him or her. I’ve often said, “You really have to want to do this!” I said that when I was in the discernment process and in the formation process. And after I became a vocation director, I believed it all the more. For it is the gentle work of the Holy Spirit that goes on in an inquirer’s heart that is important . . . so it is not our job to coax, but to be present.

Also, I always expect women in discernment to have a spiritual director, and meet with her or him every month. If you are feeling a little bereft of accompaniment, I think you would find that helpful. A spiritual director can help you sort out your feelings, and help you discover how God is speaking to you through the attention or inattention of your vocation director.

It was sixteen years ago that I entered religious life. And while it’s not always easy, I recognize that life itself is not easy, whether one is married, single, or a religious.

I can still say, “I love being a sister!”

Sister Julie July 21, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Thanks for your words, Sister Pat … good to hear from someone who actually is a Vocation Director. And ditto, I love being a sister too!

PaxChristi July 21, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Great post, Sister Julie! The first time I “made contact” with a vocation director, I completely freaked out! Sending an email to her was easy enough – it felt kind of like inquiring about a job or a school or a volunteer program – but once that reply email was in my inbox, I had a bit of a brain explosion. I remember sitting in Starbucks with my laptop, feeling completely crazy that I was reading an email from a REAL LIVE NUN. And I immediately started to question the decision to email her in the first place, calling to mind all of the reasons I was sure I would make a horrible nun or sister, which I was certain she’d see right away once she got to know me. It took me a few days to actually respond to her email, but once I did, I realized that it wasn’t really a big deal. I think I had some of that fear of “signing on the dotted line” too (which may have been prompted by the fact that when I mentioned to my friends my plans to visit with some sisters, one of the first reactions I got was: “Don’t sign anything! They’re looking for bodies!” I guess that’s something I can laugh about NOW…) One of the greatest blessings in my discernment has been the realization that no one within religious life is going to pressure me to join, least of all vocation directors. I am so very grateful for the wonderful women who have introduced me to their communities and helped me to understand my own calling more fully!

sarah July 21, 2009 at 3:07 pm

My experience with making contact is that I get nervous but at the same time I am excited. I have only done it once but I didn’t have any questions until after I was done talking to her. She had called me. Now I want to call her but I now I have to wait 3 years before considering coming on a retreat, so I haven’t. I became Catholic at the Easter Vigil but felt called before I even started RCIA. I have emailed vocation directors and have had gotten some good advice. All them want me to come on a visit. It is just that my parents won’t allow it for awhile. They are apposed to me even thinking about a religious vocation. They did not want me to become Catholic for that matter. I was thinking today, Mary was also the one who brought me to the Catholic faith. I haven’t talked to them in awhile because they want me to come visit but I cannot. what should I do? I feel God is trying to tell me to let go of it and to fully depend on him for my vocation. Thanks for this post.

eily246 July 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm

“It was like my secret was finally going to be out in the open which was not only terrifying but kind of a relief. I didn’t know what would come of all that but I knew that if I didn’t respond to this nudging of God’s Spirit (no matter how crazy it all seemed to me) then I might miss something.” — YES!

I had been going on retreats held by the 2 vocation directors for almost a year before I finally told one of them. They invited me to a dinner/discussion with a girl who was doing a live-in week and a few of the younger sisters. As I listened to their vocation stories, I felt like each one was speaking about a part of me. The next day I met with one of the directors because I was freaking out about everything. During out talk, I finally managed to get out, “Well… or even… religious life.” I couldn’t even look at her, but I breathed a sigh of relief. She then told me that she had figured that I was thinking about religious life for a while. Of course she knew. I had to tell her/someone because I felt like if I didn’t give it a chance that I’d be missing something. And that’s where I am right now. still discerning and figuring it all out and, yes, still freaking out. Thanks Sr. Julie for this post!

Sister Julie July 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Eily246 — A big for you! “Freaking out” is definitely how I felt during that. I was pretty sure I was going to pass out when I first uttered the words to my Spiritual Director! Then when I actually wrote to the Vocation Director — a hand-written letter — I felt sick all day and finally had to just seal the letter and let it go in the mail box where I couldn’t reach in and retrieve it! I was a mess! Yet in it all, I felt urged to move forward and go with it. It’s remarkable how we can totally freak out and at the same time have a feeling (however small) of peace. I am proud of you for hanging in there, Eily246. My prayers are with you.

Suzanne July 21, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I called a vocation director pretty early on in my discernment, but I was very nervous about it because I didn’t know how the conversation was ‘supposed’ to go. I actually phoned a random vocation director, who was in a totally different part of the country from me and part of a community that I didn’t feel called to at all, so that I could hang up and pretend it never happened if I bungled the conversation or asked stupid questions. I was anxious that I would sound dumb for misusing vocabulary (for example, I couldn’t figure out when it was appropriate to use synonyms like ‘order’ versus ‘community’ versus ‘congregation’ versus ‘religious institute’) so I figured that it would be sort of practice run for when I talked to the sisters I really felt called to. Now it seems silly to have worried so much! Vocation directors are happy to talk to everyone, including people in the earliest stages of discernment, and vocabulary certainly has nothing to do with it. Besides, once I got over those initial butterflies, I settled into the comfort of knowing that discerning with a vocation director isn’t about making an impression… it’s just about looking into the hopes of God in life.

After that initial random call across the country, I had enough confidence to ask to go on a retreat with the sisters in my city with whom I really felt I shared a charism. That’s the first time I met the vocation director, and it was really great. There were four or five of us on the retreat, but the vocation director took the time to talk to each of us individually a few times during the weekend. It was a really nice opportunity to ‘check in’ on a more individual basis, share my sense of where I was with God in discernment of religious life, pray together, and basically have the opportunity for the three of us – God, the vocation director, and me – to be on the same page about how we were all feeling about the discernment. It was all very open and honest and reasonable, and I was very glad that I met her and the other sisters in person. As someone said above, one of the most important things the vocation director did was introduce me to her other sisters and now I have spent a lot of time with them and I really feel that I know them. I’ve known the sisters for two years now. I need to finish one more year at college to graduate, but then I hope to apply and enter.

Sister Julie July 21, 2009 at 7:14 pm

What a great story about the test-run phone call, Suzanne! You hit on a very important point in “making contact” … that fear of not knowing how it is “supposed” to go. I remember saying something like, “I’m not sure why I’m here, I just know I’m supposed to be here.” I prayed to God that she would know what to say or do because that’s all I had. But like you said, the Vocation Director was happy to talk with me. They understand that this is a big step for discerners and they honor that in each person. They know that we’re going to be all discombobulated but they look beyond that to the desire that you are expressing.

My prayers are with you as you continue to grow with your community.

Susan July 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm

As a Lutheran seminarian, my experience with “making contact” was a little different, but the feelings it engendered were the same. I had been playing with the idea for years, but my life circumstances did not permit pursuing it. Finally I got up my nerve and told my pastor, who connected me with the assistant to the bishop who handles vocations. I was so scared to talk with her! Here I was, making my first “public” step along the path and I wasn’t at all sure I was ready. But she was marvelous, talking to me like this was the most natural thing in the world–which is just as it should be. She let me know I wasn’t crazy, that receiving prompts from God was to expected if He was calling me, and that it was OK to be uncertain. She confirmed for me that I wasn’t too old, that God’s timing is perfect. All of these things were a relief to me and I practically danced out of her office. It’s been 3 1/2 years since then and I am finally on the road. I worry all the time that I’ve read God’s call wrong, but I receive continual affirmation of my call from those around me. It is amazing and humbling–and I am so glad God uses people like vocation directors to speak to us in His name!

Sister Julie July 22, 2009 at 6:42 am

Susan, how wonderful! I like how you said, “I practically danced out of her office.” What happens within you after you “make contact” is important information about yourself. Though I still felt I was going to be sick, I felt lighter than a feather! I felt a tiny shift in myself — didn’t know what to make of it or if it was “real” — but still I knew I had been true to myself and to the nudging within me that was God. Had no idea how it was going to turn out, but I knew I was being faithful to God and in the end that’s what matters.

To All, If you are thinking about your life, how God is moving in your life, or maybe you are wanting guidance in growing in prayer, I recommend you check out a Spiritual Director. If, in addition to this, you are attracted to a particular community, then discuss this with you Spiritual Director. You might eventually choose to make contact with the Vocation Director of that community and if so, keep your Spiritual Director. If your Spiritual Director happens to be the Vocation Director for that community (or another for that matter) then consider finding a new Spiritual Director so that you can keep the roles and relationships “clean”. It’s not that it’s not possible, but in general I think it is a healthy, good decision for all concerned. I’ll write more on Spiritual Directors soon because I’m realizing with all your good comments that it’s a necessary complement to this piece on Vocation Directors.

lourdesgirl101 July 22, 2009 at 4:50 pm

I went to something called Fiat Days in my diocese (it was actually this week). We met a lot of Sisters from different congregations. One of the IHM Immaculata Sisters, Sister Rose Bernadette, was there. She said she met you back in 2005, Sister Julie. Anyway, in regards to the retreat: It definitely changed your mind from the usual sense of how you think of Sisters. I go on Vision Vocation Match sometimes. Interestingly enough, a lot of the congregations I was matched up with were there.

It was nice for me, because the Sisters that would go to my church were mostly older. They are all retired now. The convent is no longer a convent. I got to know some differences of the congregations and different prayers that I’ve never known before.

If someone has something like this in their diocese, go for it. Ours, though it dealt on the topic of religious life, it talked about following your vocation whether it was to become a religious sister, single, or married. It was really nice. I am definitely going to remember my time for a very long time.

Sarah July 23, 2009 at 7:27 pm

It was actually the internet that helped me make the leap. I too enjoyed Vision Guide. The internet allowed me to explore religious life anonymously. I remember staying up most of the night because I didn’t want my roommate to see what I was reading. I found a lot of answers to my initial questions.

It also allowed me to discover different “Come and See” weekends and that was usually the way that I would make contact with the Vocation Director. It seems easier for me to ask to come and visit them to say that I was interested in Religious life.

But in the end, God had other plans. I ended up moving to a different city and I was looking for a place to live temporarily. It was then that I met the community that I am now with. I lived with them for 6 months before officially entering. But even then I had to make the leap and tell the vocation director that I may be interested in joining the community.

I believe that the Lord has all sorts of ways to help us find our path.

paz July 25, 2009 at 8:33 am

@susan You are stating that you are a lutheran seminarian and that excites me, because I am one as well and also thinking about a possibly living my life in a community and not becoming a minister after all, but I am still on the road. So I would really love to hear from you, from your way and so on, if you would like to share Since there are not so many protestant discernes around I always find it encouraging to meet one! Why don`t you join the vocation forum here on sister julies site and come and talk to me there? (My name there is paz as well) and you can send me a message there.

@topic I totally agree that it is something so scaring… I have a “contact” sister at “my” community, since there is no one “offically” as vocation director. But lately she has discussed several things (with my permission) with the novice mistress who has more “insight” about all this. But I really do “like” to talk to my sister, since she is still quite young and it has not been too long ago that she herself went through everything I went through. But at the same time I am confidend that she asks for help when she feels that he “authority” has reached her limit. But it is really helpful that she gets me through all this, because I do not feel timid or scared by her, because she is nobody “official”.

She was also the one who encouraged me to get a spiritual director. By chance I ran into a wonderful catholic franscian sister in my university town (which is like 800 km from “my” community”) and that is the perfect match, because she has enough insight about spiritual and religious life, but still I am not scared to be “recruited” by her, so I really can talk freely.

So I am really happy to have both now (I have had “my” contact sister for 2 years now, but the other one just for the last half year) and can see how much that has helped my discernment the last six months already.

Jeannie August 6, 2009 at 7:48 am

Wow, great post Sister Julie. I am currently considering religious life and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have friends I could talk to about this. I have a few friends who are also discerning and some sister friends in different communities whom I go to for advice. I haven’t talked to a vocational director yet, I feel that I am not ready for that. Perhaps once I have finished my studies next year, things will be more clear. Thank you so much for this blog. It has helped to answer a lot of my questions. Jeannie

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