ORLANDO | “I was terrified to come to this. I didn’t know what the Lord was going to put on my heart and that scared me,” explained Julia Oswald, one of 16 women attending the Fiat retreat. The annual event is hosted by the Diocese of Orlando Vocations Office for women discerning a call to religious life. Oswald said she felt a “huge sense of relief” when she walked in the door at the University of Central Florida Catholic Campus Ministry Center and greeted the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Oswald traveled from Christ the King Parish in south Tampa. The University of South Florida student has been “hanging out with the sisters” and fellow discerner Abby Spalding, a member of Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs, for two years, “getting immersed in the Catholic culture.” She’s been “toying with this idea of discernment for a while” so she accepted the Lord’s invitation.
“Super convicted” by Assistant Vocation Director Sister Gianna Grace Perino’s talk on the different dispositions for missionary life, she found guidance in her desire to become a FOCUS missionary. FOCUS is a Catholic collegiate outreach whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the gospel with college and university students. “Seeing all those (options) laid out was very helpful,” she said. Some ideas were familiar while others opened her eyes to new possibilities.
Emily Hernandez, from St. James Cathedral in Orlando, has discerned a call for some time. As youth minister at the Cathedral she works closely with Bishop Moore Catholic High School. Sister Kristi Bergman and Sister Perino invited her to the Fiat retreat. “I felt the Lord was putting it in my life to, come check this out.”
The most helpful topic for her was Sister Bergman’s talk on practical tips for discernment. She offered realistic questions to ask yourself. “Asking Jesus, is this the right time for me to be doing this?” Hernandez explained, “It’s like asking, Jesus, is this your will, but you’re looking at it from a different angle… Is this what you’re calling me to right now?”
Hernandez says she is open to what the Lord desires of her. She first discerned when she worked with LifeTeen a few years ago and thought perhaps the Lord was asking her to discern again. She was happy the talks were not focused on any particular religious order so much as general discernment of a vocation. “Before, that was a wall for me in discerning. How do you know you’re discerning right?” she wondered. The practical topics and delivery “exceeded” her expectations.
The day was filled with talks, mediation, prayer, time for reflection and one-on-one conversations with the sisters. Sister Maria Acosta called it a “beautiful experience” and because of better turnout, one day retreats may remain at UCF in the future. “They’re here because they are feeling something and they don’t know,” said Sister Acosta. She noted all are at different stages and the retreat allows them to inquire, learn, and discern. “It’s been very enriching for them and for us.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, April 27, 2021