Magnificat House of Discernment is taking applications
It was Stephanie Roca’s 23rd birthday, and fellow residents at the Magnificat House of Discernment for Women made it special, celebrating with Chinese food and cake. But, before they sat down to eat, they prayed evening prayers and sang in the Uptown home’s chapel.
Roca has lived in the house, exploring the idea of being a nun, since January 2014.
“By coming here, I’ve seen if I was still interested in this,” Roca said about religious life, a notion that first struck her in college. “It’s been an in-between place where I could figure out where I was going.”
Roca said not having the rigors and environment of college threw her for a loop initially in the house. She thought she would instantly find answers and erase the uncertainty she discovered after college graduation.
“I’m trying to learn about how life is. Who I am? What do I want to do? What do I believe? Who is God to Me? I still wrestle with the questions – my inner student doesn’t like not having answers in black and white.”
During her stay at Magnificat House, Roca said her faith has been challenged. It forced her to have a different kind of openness with God. When she had questions, her mentors, including current mentor Sister of Sacred Heart Cecilia Dimaku, guided her and suggested books to read.
After 1 1/2 years living in community at Magnificat House – where college-educated women are invited to discern from six months to two years – Roca leaves in July to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She will work with the homeless in California while figuring out her future.
“Maybe I will become a sister, maybe I won’t,” Roca said. “I feel I don’t know myself enough yet to make that decision.”
Varied path to religious life
Melissa Fisackerly’s journey was different than Roca’s yet still led to Magnificat House.
Fisackerly, one of four children, has always found comfort as part of something big. Currently a physical education teacher at St. Rita New Orleans, she said her immense capacity to love directed her beyond being a wife – loving a husband and family – to sharing her love with many more.
She’s considered being a nun since fifth grade, having been around Dominican nuns in elementary school and as family friends. During college at Southeastern Louisiana University – where she was part of the Catholic Student Association – she met several Marianite nuns and discerned religious life with them after earning a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. Living with the Marianites strengthened her prayer life, but she left after her second novitiate.
“I got to this house through the grace of God,” she said, mentioning how the Marianites suggested she try Magnificat House before totally abandoning religious life.
Knowing who she is
Magnificat House gave Fisackerly a better sense of community living with peers and provided her with a spiritual director who helped her define “who I am. It’s always important to know who God is for me, and who I am to God.”
She found her niche at a “Come and Serve” weekend with other young women discerning a religious vocation at the House of Charity in New Orleans and will join the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, this fall.
Six young women have lived in community with others in the house of discernment since it opened in August 2012. Daily prayer together and in private, shared household responsibilities and meals and expenses, spiritual direction and encouragement from each other have helped each find a personal calling. So far, three have chosen religious life.
“The primary thing of this house is to model religious life,” Sister Cecilia, who became a community mentor in August 2014, said. “It’s living and being yourself in community. The beauty of it is (it) lets discerners witness the different charisms of the religious mentors who live there.”
“Even though we come from different (religious) communities, each of us tries to live with one understanding – how we can relate to God through each other and our ministries,” said Congregation of St. Joseph Sister Theresa Pitruzzello who came as a mentor in January.
Sister Theresa also is pastoral care director at Wynhoven Health Care Center.
“Fundamentally, everybody is striving toward holiness to God. That’s the best gift of religious life. You are with others on that journey – that focus, that desire to love and grow in God.”
“I love seeing them in ordinary life, coming in with the laundry – the ordinary beauty of life,” Roca said.
Sister of Mount Carmel Beth Fitzpatrick, archdiocesan Office of Religious vicar, also lives in the house.
“I’m very pleased (with Magnifcat House),” Sister Beth said. “A huge gift it has provided is the peer support that women need when they are exploring the possibility of a religious vocation. They need to know there is somebody in this with them, like a cohort. ... To have those young people together and the energy they bring to one another and to us, I feel I am receiving support. Their zest for living augments my own. Their obvious love for God and holding open the possibility of this way of life that has meant so much to me.”
In addition to the opportunity to live with religious, residents bond at weekend retreats approximately twice yearly and at days of prayer. Magnificat House heralds its ministry at frequent Mmmm nights of Mass, meal and a talk and participates in the annual vocation day “Calling All Fifth Graders.” Magnificat House also is using the summer to get feedback from younger women in ministry on how best to reach their demographic.
“The word is out (about Magnificat House),” Sister Beth said, with inquiries nationwide on how to start a house of discernment.