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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
The Observer

Seniors entering religious life discuss discernment and ‘the call’

For many seniors, the past four years have been a process of discovery and refinement that is anything but straightforward. For seniors entering religious life, the process of discernment and self-discovery is no less complex. Fr. John DeRiso, the Vocations Director for the U.S. province of the Congregation of Holy Cross, emphasized that entering the first couple of years of a religious order is not a final decision.

“It’s a decision to continue one’s discernment in that intentional, intentional space because we need the men to enter into the spirit of intentional discernment in the right way, which means living a life and being open to where God might lead them while they’re living that life,” DeRiso said.

Senior Andrew Copp, who will enter the Congregation of Holy Cross’s one-year postulant program in August, reiterated the importance of being open to God as part of his discernment and said his conversations with his Keough Hall rector, Fr. Brogan Ryan, have been particularly formative.

“Something Fr. Brogan said that was really helpful was to pay attention to the little moments in your life and, you know, an offhand comment here could be God trying to point you in this direction,” Copp said.

Though Copp has been considering religious life since his pastor and his boy scout leader both mentioned the possibility to him in high school, he said his major in environmental engineering offered another strong influence on his future plans.

“Going through scouting, having many opportunities to go out and spend time outdoors and getting to understand just how amazing the earth is has made environmental engineering just a wonderful major for me,” Copp said. “The first two years of college, the whole discernment process for the priesthood waned a little bit. I still felt really in tune with my faith, but going through the courses for environmental engineering made me really want to be an environmental engineer and take the opportunity to give back of myself to the natural environment after graduation.”

Because the Congregation of Holy Cross is focused on educating in the faith, Copp said, the order offers him the opportunity to live out both of his callings.

“I’ve seen where God has taken me through college and how important environmental engineering is still to me, but also, I believe he’s calling me to this other life as well,” Copp said. “I think Holy Cross has a really unique blending of being able to become an educator while also living a life in Holy Cross.”

Senior Brennan Dour, who is entering the Jesuit order’s two-year novitiate program in August, said the idea of “the call” as being a straightforward command masks the agency involved in the decision to enter religious life.

“I think sometimes the ‘call’ narrative can kind of ease off the fact that it is ... making a decision in response to something in your heart,” Dour said. “Oftentimes, what people describe as ‘the call’ isn’t something so immediately clear. It's kind of an inclination towards something and then you try to investigate it or figure out how you can respond to it.”

For Dour, his informal and sometimes unexpected encounters and conversations with Jesuits over the past few years have been helpful in showing him the Jesuit lifestyle and mission suits him. 

“I kind of see discernment as being like a process of a lot of baby steps and at a certain point, you can’t get any farther without either entering into seminary or a religious house,” Dour said. “But even just that step is itself just another small step, as you’re progressing toward that, like a larger real life commitment.”

Whether those entering religious orders decide to remain or leave after the first couple of years, DeRiso said entering a postulant or novitiate program is a valuable opportunity to reflect deeply on oneself.

“I’ve never met a man who has left formation who has said that it was the wrong decision,” DeRiso said. “Even for the men who leave, they feel like they grew from the experience, they are glad for it and it has given them some clarity about their vocational path.”

Ultimately, DeRiso said discernment is discovering how to live life as a “gift to be given.”

“It’s a real privilege for me, to accompany that discernment, to listen to vocational stories, to listen to how God’s at work in their lives, how grace is at work in their lives and to — in my small way — provide some guidance and help in that discernment,” DeRiso said.