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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Seniors to enter religious life after graduation

Like most Notre Dame students, senior Sam Bellafiore had an idea of what his future career would be when he was still in high school. But at the time, Bellafiore wasn’t thinking about becoming an accountant or a lawyer — he was thinking about becoming a priest.

Bellafiore, who will enter Saint Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York, this September, said he has been drawn to religious life for quite a while, even though there were many times he said he wished he wasn’t.

“I started thinking about [becoming a priest] late in high school, and you don’t particularly like the idea of not getting married, or not owning very many things or having to spend every day helping other people,” Bellafiore said. “[Religious life is], on the face of it, not particularly attractive. And I kept finding that, on the surface level, even though it wasn’t attractive, there was something very deep inside of me that still kept wanting to do this.”

That part of him that wanted to become a priest grew throughout his time at Notre Dame, Bellafiore said.

“Really from the first day I was here — I met someone in my section as a freshman the first week of class, and we talked about discernment,” he said. “People are just in general more open to the idea of someone becoming a priest or religious [at Notre Dame] than you’d find in a lot of other places. So the fact that people were open with it and thought it was an okay thing to do – it makes it a lot easier to think about.”

Men that join a seminary can choose either to join an order — like the Congregation of Holy Cross — or a diocese. Bellafiore said he considered joining an order, but ultimately decided to join a diocese so he could serve the city where he grew up.

“I was really drawn to serving the people in the place that I’m from, the place that raised me and formed me and helped me become who I am,” Bellafiore said. “And I want to go back and help people there.”

Bellafiore said serving the people of his community is something he’s looking forward to most as he prepares to enter religious life. What will be even more important to him than that, though, will be the Mass, he said.

“If I became a priest, the most important thing in my life — and if I don’t become a priest, the most important thing in my life — would be Mass, when God actually continues to take flesh in the world and be with us,” Bellafiore said. “That would be the most important thing. There’s nothing more important than that. But I’m also looking forward to, in seminary and if I become a priest, just spending time with people, ministering to them, learning from them and bringing whatever I can share to them.”

Senior Christina Serena, who will join the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in August, said she is most looking forward to giving her life “entirely to God” after graduation.

Senior Christina Serena (left) will join the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in August. To her left are Sister Joseph Andrew, foundress and vocations director of the order, and two postulants.
Courtesy of Christina Serena
Senior Christina Serena (left) will join the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in August. To her left are Sister Joseph Andrew, foundress and vocations director of the order, and two postulants.

“Rather than waiting for that time to test out my vocation, I’ll actually get to live it and see it with clearer eyes than I’ve been able to so far,” Serena said.

When she first arrived at Notre Dame, Serena said she didn’t want to be a religious sister. But like Bellafiore, her love for religious life grew during her time as an undergraduate.

“Through my Foundations of Theology course and through my prayer and getting to know God better in that way, it became clear to me that God was calling me to consider [religious life],” Serena said. “The more I prayed about it, the more I learned about the Dominicans, the more it attracted me. And there just became a point where I fell in love with religious life, and during prayer one morning said, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do.’ And that’s what I’ve wanted to do since.”

By the time she was a sophomore, Serena had decided she wanted to join the Dominicans.

“I don’t think I would have been able to discern my vocation without an image of religious life,” Serena said. “And the first sisters I ever encountered were from my community, in Spain at World Youth Day. And after [God] introduced them to me it was most natural for me to begin, first of all, discerning with them. And later, meeting other religious orders, I realized that God introduced me first to the order that was right for me. It’s a matter of the heart, so I can’t say exactly why I’m called to them.”

Serena said there are many reasons she loves the order.

“I love the Dominicans' commitment to study,” Serena said. “I love that they’re the order of preachers, because I think that’s so important, especially with all the people in our culture today who don’t recognize Christ. They’re also very monastic. I love all the traditional ways of praying, and they wear the traditional Dominican habit. But they’re also very young and joyful; their average age is 30 and the average age of those who enter is 21.

“So I’m already over the average. One of the pre-postulants was asking me how I felt about being old,” she said with a laugh.

To those discerning their vocation, Bellafiore said the most important thing he has learned throughout the process is not to be afraid.

“Fear is not something that comes from God,” Bellafiore said. “He always speaks through peace. There’s also no reason to be afraid because He’s totally good and totally in love with you and wants nothing but what’s good for you.”

Serena agreed.

“I think oftentimes when people are trying to figure out God’s will, they think of it as something that God knows and He won’t necessarily tell them unless they do everything perfectly, or they really think about it and obsess about it,” she said. “But the vocation is something that God has already implanted in you through baptism, and He actually desires for us to know our vocations more than we do ourselves. So as long as you’re staying close to God through the sacraments and through prayer, He will reveal your vocation to you at the right time.”