#28. Diocesan Women’s Discernment House
One of the most immersive vocational-discernment experiences currently in existence, the diocesan women’s discernment house is a Catholic household experience exclusively for women who are interested in discerning their vocation while living in community.
Discernment houses make this possible by exposing their live-in members to various religious communities and a structured formation program. They can be molded to fit the needs of a specific diocese—for example, they can host programs of varying length (typically either for one year or for one summer) and they can be directed by either a professed woman religious or by the local vocations office.
Indeed, it should be noted that discernment houses are labor-intensive and capital-intensive entities, since establishing such a house requires the acquisition of either a single-family house or a multi-family dwelling (such as an old convent). Anyone intending to establish a women’s discernment house would be well-advised to make careful, detailed plans in concert with the local diocese as they go about establishing the house.
If properly executed, women’s discernment house programs can provide perhaps the most realistic, immersive, intentional vocations-discernment experience possible for women feeling a call to the religious life.
- Preparatory work:
- Find a house that will be fit for use as a women’s discernment house
- Find a nearby religious community or available priests who could be spiritual directors
- Find a woman who could serve as the house leader
- Application process
- Distribute applications to the program on a diocesan website, via links within diocesan social-media posts, etc.
- Advertise the program through videos posted to website and social media platforms, via printed posters displayed in churches, etc.
- Conduct interviews
- Require a deposit fee for accepted candidates in order to secure their spot in the program
- Host an orientation meeting for accepted candidates
- Reach out to various religious communities, inviting them to meals at the discernment house
- See if there are vow ceremonies or retreats at local convents / women’s religious communities that the discernment-house members can attend during the program
- During the course of the program
- Have different religious communities attend dinners to share their mission and get to know the women in the house
- Check in regularly with the house leader
Serrans can help defray the costs of participation (e.g., rent and groceries) for the women who wish to participate in the program. Serrans and/or other volunteers can also help furnish and decorate the house in which the program takes place. Serrans or other Catholic organizations could create a prayer card with a house photo to help the faithful remember to support the women in prayer. The volunteers could be invited for a tour of the house or invite participants to share their experiences at a club meeting.
Program History, Development, and Additional Resources
A diocesan women’s discernment house is a Catholic household experience for women who are interested in discerning their vocation while living in community. Overall, they give women the opportunity to see if Christ is inviting them to be His bride as a religious-order member and to become more rooted in their identity as a daughter of God.
This unique vocations program is modeled on the Bethany House, which is located in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. There, two specific options are offered: 1) a school-year-long program sponsored by the diocese with formation given by the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus; and 2) Home for the Summer, which is an 8-week, summer-only program.
Discernment houses allow for women to formally discern their vocation in community via exposure to various religious communities and a structured formation program. They can be places for women unsure about their vocation to take an intentional season of discernment—or, they can serve as a place where women who have already discerned a calling to religious life can finish college, complete the process of paying off debt (such as student loans), or even go through a season of healing and counseling to prepare for entering religious life.
Any given discernment house can be uniquely molded to fit the needs of a specific diocese. For example, it can be a year-long program or a summer-only program. A women’s discernment house may be directed by a specific community of sisters or simply lead by a person under the direction of a diocesan vocation office.
As to infrastructure needs: an old convent or a rectory close to a parish works well for a women’s discernment house. Even a neighborhood home close to a parish would work. Rent for the home and household expenses are usually shared by the discerning women. Serrans or other volunteers could help furnish and decorate the house.
One of the discerning women in the house is usually designated as the house leader. This person is appointed by the vocations office and reports to the office. Her responsibility would be scheduling and arranging for religious community visits and leading weekly household meetings. The leader would also be responsible for creating schedules (prayer-leading, cooking, cleaning, etc.) and helping to maintain a healthy environment for the program’s members.
Women’s discernment houses include communal prayer times and meals, a formation program, and regular spiritual direction. They also can regularly host presentations from different religious communities.
Daily life in a women’s discernment house usually includes Mass, a holy hour, and praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Different pairs of women share planning and cooking duties for community meals.
In-house organizers should be detailed to schedule nights for the discernment house members to host various religious communities for dinner and discussion. This gives the women in the discernment house exposure to various charisms and an opportunity to talk to professed women religious. For a summer program, this could happen weekly. For a yearlong program, this could happen monthly. By way of example, a weekly formation night would include presentations backed up by discussion materials. (This could come in the form of a weekly book study using volumes like Discerning Religious Life by Sr. Claire Matthias or And You are Christ’s: The Charism of Virginity and the Celibate Life by Thomas Dubay.) Each week, a different member of the house’s community could lead the book study and discussion. Furthermore, the community could schedule trips aimed at the house members building good relationships. These trips might comprise visits to pilgrimage sites or a nearby convent for a retreat led by professed women religious.
Women entering the discernment house may already have their own spiritual directors. For women without spiritual directors, the suggestion would be to look to a women’s religious community or priests in the area as sources.
Staying at the discernment house would come with certain levels of obligations: there would be a commitment to an intentional dating fast for the duration of the program and also a commitment to participating in house events, prayer times, and chores. Participants would pay for rent and community groceries, as well.
Application Process for the Program
- Women could request an application for the program on the diocesan vocations office webpage
- A preliminary phone conversation as well as a follow-up interview from the vocations director or an assisting sister could help determine if the candidate is a fit applicant
- Questions for the application and interviews could include the following:
- FAMILY: Please briefly share about your family.
- FAITH: Have you always been a practicing Roman Catholic? If you experienced a reversion, what year did you return to the Sacraments and a vibrant living of the faith?
- SPIRITUAL LIFE: What is your normal daily schedule of prayer? (daily Mass, adoration, Scripture reading, etc.) Do you have a spiritual director?
- VOCATIONAL DISCERNMENT: Please share about your vocational discernment. Are you open to / currently discerning religious life? Have you visited religious communities? Why do you desire to be part of the program?
- HEALTH: Do you have any food allergies, chronic illnesses (physical, emotional or mental), or history of drug/alcohol/tobacco use? If so, please explain.
- COMMITMENTS: What other commitments will you have throughout your time you may be at the discernment house? Will you have a job?
- OTHER: Please feel free to share more about any other thoughts, questions, or concerns you have about the program.
- REFERENCES: Please provide the names of three people who know you well and are willing to act as a reference for you. One of your references needs to be from your pastor or a priest who knows you. Before you give their names, please ask their permission. Their reference information and comments are strictly confidential. We will follow up directly with the reference persons listed.
Sample Weekly Schedule
|5:40 a.m. to 6:40 a.m.||Holy Hour with Morning Prayer|
|6:45 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.||Daily Mass|
|6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.||Community dinner (M/W/TH)
Visit with guest sisters (W)
Book study (TH)
|9:00 p.m.||Night Prayer
From Vianney Vocations:
The “Home for the Summer” program is a Catholic summer household experience for women from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis AND other Diocese’ who are interested in discerning their vocation while living in community for 8 weeks.
A description of Bethany House, a discernment house for young women sponsored by the Office of Vocations for the Diocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.