Sister Miriam Mark Eddy, Julia Sauter and Sister Daleen Larkin.

At a time when the future of religious life has become increasingly uncertain, stories of young discerners like Julia Sauter stand out.

As a woman in her 20s, busy with graduate school at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA, Julia was struck by the warm relationships her roommate was developing by spending time with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. There were shared meals. Phone calls. Supportive conversations.

The idea of that kind of belonging was very appealing. Julia became immersed in Berkeley’s vibrant local Catholic environment. When graduation came, she moved back to her hometown of Palm Springs, California. Missing her faith community, she began to visit St. Anthony’s, a culturally diverse Catholic church about two hours west in San Gabriel, California. That’s when the Holy Names Sisters came into her own life, and she was drawn into relationship with them thanks to the immense hospitality she experienced.

While her college roommate chose to become a candidate for vowed religious life, Julia sought another form of belonging – the Associate relationship, which gives her a way to interweave her life with that of the Holy Names Sisters while remaining a lay person. Encouraged by Sisters Miriam Mark (Minnie) Eddy, Daleen Larkin and others, Julia began her formation as an Associate. On Oct. 7, 2017, she made her initial Associate promises.

“I think I decided to become an Associate particularly because Sr. Minnie was very supportive during a very challenging period in my life,” says Julia. “She definitely exemplified the commitment to hospitality that the SNJMs have. There is a lot of enthusiasm and genuine support that I think is unique.” 

But after a few years as an active Associate, Julia faced another difficult transition when she accepted a position in the Development office for the Glenmary Home Missioners in Cincinnati, OH. Despite the thousands of miles that now lie between them, she and the Holy Names Sisters have found ways to keep their ties strong.

“When I moved, the Sisters in Southern California wanted to know how to remain connected and available to support me,” she says. The solution was to become one of the first Associates to attend meetings virtually. Every month, Julia connects with her fellow Associates and Sisters back in Southern California via video chat, participating in the gatherings and continuing her relationship to the community as if she had never left. Phone calls, emails and cards also help bridge the distance. “You feel like you’re there, even though you’re not physically in the same space.”

Now 31, Julia values the ability to maintain relationships with women whose charism, mission and vision she hopes to carry into the future. “There is something special about the Associate experience and the SNJMs. We’re not loosely connected but a vital part of their ongoing life and future.”

Being connected to the Sisters has given her insight into the future of religious life and informed her ministry interests. Julia is especially involved in promoting religious vocations and supporting people with disabilities, as she herself is a religious discerner living with mild cerebral palsy. When she’s not working, Julia moderates several online discernment groups to promote dialogue around religious life, and she advocates for people with disabilities and mental health conditions through conversation, writing and social media.

Julia sees the beauty in what lies ahead for men and women religious and believes that with more creativity, transparency and flexibility, religious life will continue in a new, invigorated form. “It’s going to look different,” she says. “It’s not going to be what it was in years past, but I think there is definite potential here. There are a lot of young people who are serving and searching for community, but they don’t know where to find it. I find that with other discerners that I correspond with, we have a lot of ideas and enthusiasm for the Catholic faith and vocations, but we want to find ways to share our experiences and ideas.”

Living with a disability influences her viewpoint. It’s not uncommon for people who have medical challenges to be told – and even start to believe – that they would be a burden to a religious community and to find themselves dismissed in the discernment process.

“It’s unfortunate,” she says, “because many times we could be successful… We are enthusiastic about the future of religious life.”

For that reason, Julia has a special place in her heart for the foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Names, Blessed Marie Rose Durocher, who was passionate about welcoming the vulnerable and creating paths for people on the margins to be involved in religious life. As a young woman discerning her vocation, Marie Rose was rejected by several religious orders due to her health struggles. But with great faith, passion and spiritual fire, she started her own congregation, which carries on her passion for the poor, marginalized and disenfranchised.

 “Some people forget they were vulnerable; they get their spot and then they forget to hold open the door for others,” Julia reflects. “But Mother Marie Rose didn’t forget her experience, and I see the Sisters today continuing to follow the example of that story.”

The future of religious life may remain uncertain – but Julia believes that with open doors and an open mind, exciting possibilities lie ahead.   

By Heather Rockwell, Communications and Events Coordinator