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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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Graduating seniors to pursue religious life in Chicago, Notre Dame

Anna Polivka and Jack Herzog reflect on their faith journeys, future goals

While some graduating seniors may feel unsure of what their next steps are, others, enabled by their faith journey at Notre Dame, have committed to pursuing religious life after graduation.

Among other seniors still discerning their call to religious life, Anna Polivka and Jack Herzog will be answering their calls after graduation.

Anna Polivka

Polivka will be joining the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago, a religious community, in September.

“I think I began to discern the call to religious life towards the end of high school when I actually began to have a prayer life and grow in relationship with God, and I guess I felt a call to belong to God in a deeper way,” Polivka said.

Although Polivka grew up in the Catholic faith, she felt that she was missing a relationship with God, which made her want to get more involved in prayer. According to Polivka, time in college only strengthened the call she felt.

“And especially also, a call to belong to other people and serve them and to love God through other people has been really strong for me,” Polivka said. “So in the past couple years, I've more intentionally started discerning religious life and looking at other communities.”

This past summer, Polivka, a theology and history major, stayed with the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago to participate in service. 

“I wasn't intending to join them or even like to serve with them, but by the end of the summer, it felt like the Lord had moved my heart,” Polivka said. “I found their lifestyle very appealing and something that I could see myself doing, and I thought that it just felt natural for me to take the next step in discernment and then to apply to join.”

Joining the community involves a mutual discernment process with frequent meetings between prospective sisters and sisters of the community. After going through postulancy, novitiate and temporary vows for three to five years, one makes their final vows to the community.

“Right now, I feel confident that the Lord is calling me to this community,” Polivka said. “The first couple years are especially dedicated to further discernment and prayer, and I'm looking forward to taking that seriously and really growing in relationship with the Lord Jesus and seeing if he continues to call me to that community.”

The community’s apostolate of service to the poor is centered around their food pantry. The community also offers spiritual care to the poor through Bible study, evangelization and teaching religion in Catholic schools.

“I said that in high school I started thinking about religious life, but whenever I did, it made me feel sick to my stomach. Not being married and leaving my family, it was just like a really scary thought,” Polivka said. “But [by] my sophomore year, I knew several older students who were graduating and entering religious life, and then also the witness of the religious on campus has been really influential for me and seeing that this is actually a life that people live, and it's possible and its joyful was super impactful.”

According to Polivka, her time at Notre Dame immensely guided her and informed her decision, not only through the religious presence on campus but also through her study of theology and involvement in extracurriculars such as campus ministry.

“I think also the community I found here with my friends and mentors has been super influential and have drawn me into a more full participation in the life of the church and in prayer that has, like I said, formed me and guided me along the way that I think the Lord wants me to go,” Polivka said. “I'm very thankful for that. It's been really powerful for me.”

Jack Herzog

Next school year, Herzog will be a postulant in Moreau Seminary where he will complete a year of discernment and formation for religious life for the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

“The idea of the priesthood is something that I started thinking about junior year of high school, and it had just kind of been in the back of my mind,” Herzog said. “At that point, I said ‘I have enough things to figure out with college. Let's figure out college. If this is where God's calling me, it'll come back up.’”

According to Herzog, he started thinking more about what God wanted him to do after a relationship which began during his second semester of freshman year ended.

“I did Notre Dame Vision that next summer and, through that, really just started to feel this call towards discerning priesthood and religious life,” Herzog said.

Notre Dame Vision is a religious summer program for high school students mentored by undergraduates. After participating in the program, Herzog reached out to the Holy Cross vocations office and visited Old College, which he could see himself living in.

“I think, first of all, just being somewhere where the faith is so present and such a part of the culture,” Herzog said. “The friends that I made freshman year being friends that wanted to talk about the faith and wanted to go to Mass together and being, you know, great friends but also great role models in the faith, I think, played a huge role.”

Herzog said that Notre Dame has absolutely affected his faith journey. He joined Old College his junior year and lived there for two years.

“Just having a culture where this is something that people think about and talk about and do, being able to join the seminary while still at Notre Dame, there's not a lot of schools where halfway through your time, you can say, ‘I'm going to join the seminary and still be an undergrad at that school but also start following that call in a really serious way,’” Herzog said. 

Following this coming year of formation, Herzog will spend a year in novitiate in Colorado Springs. After that, Herzog envisions taking temporary vows and then vows of poverty, chastity and obedience along with receiving a masters in divinity.

“It'd be really cool to continue in math,” Herzog said. “I don't know for sure that that's what I'd want to do, but I could absolutely see myself asking to be sent to continue studying math, and I think Holy Cross would probably encourage me to go on [to] get a PhD in math and be a professor or something like that.” 

Herzog will receive an undergraduate degree in math during Notre Dame's 2024 commencement, however, he is open to many paths beyond math.

“Parish life would be super cool,” Herzog said. “Being on a college campus in any way would be cool. Teaching, you know, middle or high school math would be super fun as well. So who knows?”