In my three years at Cardinal Ritter High School, I was able to work with a lot of amazing young people! I walked away from Ritter most days being completely inspired by the perseverance, holiness, determination, and saintliness of the young people that I worked with.
One such inspiration was a young woman named Laura Zetzl. Tomorrow morning, Laura will get rid of her cell phone, delete her Facebook and Twitter accounts, and fly to New York and enter the Sisters of Life, cutting most ties with the outside world. Laura will be spending most of the next 8 years in prayer and formation, discerning whether Christ is calling her to Himself to be his bride forever.
The Church talks about “white martyrdom” as being a “death” that is suffered by those who leave everything behind and enter religious life. Laura’s being will endure, but she is preparing tonight to spend the next 8 years discerning “dying” and rising as Christ’s bride.
I asked Laura the following questions, and received her permission to share her answers here. Thank you for your witness and inspiration Laura! Know of our prayers, and keep us in yours!
1) what did you imagine yourself doing with your life when you were in high school?
In high school, my dream was to become a neonatologist and work with newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit. I wanted to be an awesome wife and mother of as many children that God wanted to give me (but hopefully at least ten!) I also knew that I wanted to serve God and the Church in some way, but I mostly just thought of myself as doing that by living as a faithful Catholic and spending time volunteering and serving others where I could.
2) how did you view religious sisters when you were in high school?
I didn’t know any habited Sisters until I went to college, so in high school I had a very limited view of religious sisters. I knew several of the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, and I saw them as holy women who loved God and wanted to serve Him and others. However, they were all roughly my grandparents’ age, so I generally didn’t think of religious life as something that young people lived anymore.
3) when was the very first time you had the first inkling that maybe God was calling you to this?
I think the seeds of my vocation to religious life were planted in a conversation I had with you, Father, after my high school boyfriend told me he was considering a vocation to the priesthood. I was a little upset about this, which is embarrassing to admit now, but at the time I thought that someday we would be married, and this was messing up my plan! Anyways, you talked me through it, and at the end of the conversation you said that one day I would look back on this and laugh- either we would be married and have a few kids, or we would be married to different people, or maybe he would be a priest and I would be a nun. On that day, I brushed it off as something that was not a possibility for me, but that little thought that maybe I was being called to be a nun or a sister kept coming back to me over the next few years, and eventually my boyfriend and I broke up, so I knew it was time to do something about it.
4) what did you do in order to pursue this inkling? Did you do research online? Talk to a close friend? Talk to a religious sister?
I talked to several priests about this before I told anyone else. I think really I was just hoping that one of them would tell me that I wasn’t being called to religious life so that I could go back to working on my own plans for my life, but that didn’t happen. Each of them told me that God was probably calling me to be a religious sister, and that I should continue to pray about it and look into different communities. So I did that, and eventually learned to start to surrender my own will to the Lord’s. When I finally got to a place where I could say, “Ok Jesus, if this is what you want from me, I will give you nothing less”, I was filled with a joy and a peace that I had never known before. I knew that this was really what God was asking of me, and after that I just kind of dived in. I started telling my close friends and family about it, and really began to prayerfully look at communities and ask the Holy Spirit where He was calling me to be.
5) how did you find the sisters of life since there are so many religious communities out there?
There are a LOT of religious communities out there! I started out by looking online- I found this website called vocationnetwork.org, and took a quiz on the website that was intended to match you up with a community whose charism and lifestyle fits your personality, interests, and values. It was a good place to start, but it gave me 50+ results, and none of them really pulled at my heart. So then I went to talk to one of the Dominican priests at our Newman Center at IU. I told him a little about my life and why I was feeling called to religious life, and he told me that he had the perfect community for me. He pulled up the Sisters of Life website on his laptop, and it was like love at first sight. I went home from that meeting and read everything on the entire website, and I just kept thinking, “this is my heart!” over and over again. So I really didn’t have to look at any other communities after that- I knew the Lord was calling me there.
6) what are you most excited about?
Can I say everything? I am so excited to live in community with the Sisters. Every experience I have had of true Christian community with my friends has felt like a little taste of heaven, and I know that it will be difficult at times, but it will be so rewarding to live with the kind of love and joy and peace, centered in Him, that our Lord intended us to have from the beginning. I am also really excited to live in poverty, to rid myself of the distractions of the world (no phone or facebook!), and to die to my own will and live for Christ instead. It sounds crazy to so many, but it is extraordinarily freeing to give up all of the unnecessary things that fill our lives and instead live outside of yourself for the Lord and for the person in front of you. That is a life of joy!
7) what are you most nervous about?
I am mostly nervous about the unknown that comes along with this type of life change. Even though I have visited the Sisters several times, I don’t know what it’s like to actually live religious life, to be so far away from friends and family, and to be so disconnected from the world. But I think in some ways that’s also the best part- trusting in Jesus and allowing Him to lead you wherever He will is truly an adventure!
8) what have been the reactions of your family? Friends? Any negative reactions out there?
Most of my family and friends were pretty shocked when I told them I was being called to religious life, but I totally understood that reaction because I was a little shocked, too! After the initial “What? Why? How did you know?”, they were generally very supportive and excited for me. Of course there some sadness to all of this, because we all know that this means I will not be around for much of the rest of their lives. I will get to visit yearly, but I’m moving across the country and won’t just be a text, email, or phone call away. But we know that there will be grace enough to sustain us through it all, and so for the most part, they have been really happy for me.
I have been met with some negative reactions; the most common negative that I hear is something along the lines of “What a waste- you could do so much more with your life. You could have discovered the cure for cancer!” I understand that response on some level, but mostly it just tells me that they don’t understand religious life or the power of prayer, and so it becomes an opportunity for me to talk to them a little bit about that, and to pray that God will touch their hearts and give them understanding.
9) how long until you are fully professed?
It is almost eight years until profession of final vows. Formation for the Sisters of Life includes nine months of postulancy, two years of novitiate, and at least five years in temporary vows before final profession.
10) what if you decide it isn’t for you?
If I discern that the Lord is not calling me to move forward in formation with the Sisters, I can leave at any time during postulancy or novitiate. After I make temporary vows, I can leave at the end of the vow period if I feel called to do so. The first temporary vow I would take is a three-year commitment, and then that would get renewed twice for one year each before I would profess final vows. After final profession, I would need a special dispensation from the Archbishop of New York in order to leave. But that is part of the reason it is such a long process until final vows- you definitely know what you’re getting into by then!
11) if you become fully professed what would do all day?
First and foremost, my life would be a life of prayer and contemplation. The Sisters spend about four hours each day in prayer (not all at once), and they know that all of the work they do is dependent on and flows from the graces they receive in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. In between Mass, prayer times, and meal times, they work in their apostolate, which varies based on which convent they are living in at the time.
There are two Visitation convents, which serve women who are pregnant and need help. Basically any woman in crisis can come to these convents, and the Sisters just shower her with all of the love and material and spiritual support that she needs to choose life for her child. They walk with her as long as she wants them to from there. There is one Holy Respite convent where pregnant women can live with the Sisters, bringing along their other children as well. The Sisters provide them with a safe place to live, meals, and a loving community. The mothers can live there throughout their pregnancy and then about six to eight months after the birth of their children, and the Sisters support them through this transition period and help them find work, childcare, and housing before they leave. There is also a retreat center convent, where the Sisters give retreats for young women, men, and married couples. One of the most important parts of this apostolate is the Hope and Healing mission, in which the Sisters give retreats for and walk with women who are suffering from abortions in their past. They help them to experience the unsurpassable love and mercy of God, and to rebuild their lives on that foundation.
The Sisters also have daily recreation, which means they exercise and play! And they have one day each week that is completely dedicated to prayer. They don’t answer the phone or do any work on Fridays, and instead spend the day in silence, with extended hours of Adoration and time to take a walk, read a book, etc. It is a most beautiful day of rest and allows the Sisters to recharge, to receive from the Lord the grace that they need to grow in holiness and to love and serve each person they meet.
12) any advice for young women out there?
First of all, I would say do not fear! It takes a lot of courage to answer a call to religious life, which can seem very scary and like so much of a sacrifice at first. But obviously God’s plans for you are so much greater than anything you can imagine, and He knows what will fulfill the deepest desires of your heart because He made it. Once you learn to trust Him and surrender to His will, He will fill you with joy and peace unlike anything you have known before. And His grace is more than enough to see you through the trials and help you to make the sacrifices for love of Him that maybe you never thought you could.
On a practical note, I would advise you to start going to daily Mass and spending more time in Adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Allow Jesus to speak to you heart to heart, and He will make His will known to you. Talking to a priest about this and finding a spiritual director will also help tremendously. And then dive in and talk to some Sisters! Go on visits to a few communities, and see where your heart feels at home.
Through it all, let the Lord love you and form you into the Saint He created you to be!