In this episode of Set Apart, Rocky shares her interview with Sister Amy Hereford, CSJ. Sr Amy is a Sister of St Joseph of Carondelet, and she shares her experience of discernment, finding community, and working in vocation ministry.
Sr Amy Hereford:
I am Sr Amy Hereford. I am a sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet from St. Louis Missouri. By way of ministry, I do civil and canon law for religious communities. So, I work with a lot of communities as they are facing tough issues, facing changes in their communities, and just walk them through that change, help them understand what their choices are, and what the consequences of the choices are. So, it brings me in contact a lot of fascinating people from different religious communities, different sisters, different brothers, etc.
So, I was born and raised in St. Louis, in the rural area west of St. Louis actually. I went to two kindergartens, two grade schools, two high schools, and two colleges. So, I kind of was all over the map. For most of that, I is in and around St. Louis. I did Catholic grade school and high school in St. Louis, and then I went to college at Truman State in Kirksville Missouri. At that point, I was heading for premed. It was a heavy math science degree. All my siblings and me were pretty much a churchgoing group all the way through school, and then I got involved with the Catholic student center on campus when I went away to college. I actually had sisters in school as a kid, in grade school, and in high school. And, when I started thinking about religious life in college, honestly, I knew that I didn't want to be in any of the communities that I knew growing up, which is … I don't know if that's a great thing or not. I definitely was interested in religious life. For me, it was part of what I call a “God thing,” just very much a sense of call, a sense of invitation, and it is definitely to this thing we call religious life. But, not the communities that I knew growing up.
I actually read an article. And, it's significant [to note that] this article was sent to me by my grandmother who was always looking for vocations among her grandchildren. She had a lot of grandchildren, and she had a son who was a priest, and a daughter who was a nun. So, she thought she should have grandchildren who went into religious life. And, for a long time, nobody did. And so, when she heard I was thinking about it, she sent me this article, which she thought was about the Daughters of Charity, which was her favorite community, which is what my aunt was then. And, it turns out that it was not about that community, it's a different community, but similar name, which ended up being the community I started out in. So, it was kind of an interesting journey. I actually visited a number of communities, but pretty much once I read that article I was kind of hooked. God works in very different ways in everybody's life. And, you know, whether it's discerning married or discerning kind of a ministry path or a religious vocation, every story has that personal touch to it. I feel like every time I hear of a vocation story or one of those kind of God discernments stories, it’s sort of like touching the face of God. You just feel that sense of God reaching out into this person's life and moving in strange and wonderful ways.
I was finishing up college, and I had actually not thought of it as a younger person. I was on my career path, and I knew where I wanted to go and knew what I wanted to do. Interestingly, one of my siblings, my younger sister, wanted to be a nun and she always wanted to be a nun. And, turns out she didn't, I did. So, coming to the end of college, I got this article and it just it was really interesting because it was such kind of an overnight click, “this so fits what I’m going to be doing.” Actually, I guess prior to the article, I started thinking … this is kind of God planting the seeds ... I started thinking to myself, “Okay. So, I'm finishing up college,” I had been accepted into medical school. So, then my question was, “okay, so now what are we going to do after medical school,” obviously had not gotten in yet, although it had been accepted. And so, that was the first thing. It's like, “well, what am I going to do after medical school?” And, that's when this article came and said, “what about this?”
I entered fairly quickly. So, I finished college and entered the community that fall. I wouldn't say there were major challenges. And, some years back, I kind of discerned the call to a different community. It was like, “God still awake,” and “God still cares where I am.” And, at the same time, a challenge to think about this community that I've given 20 years of my life to and asking, “well now what next?” And, thinking of myself as a sister in a different context. It really called me, I think, to a very deep place of discernment and a place of saying, “I'm going to do what's right. People may not understand why I'm doing this. I may not understand why I'm doing this, but I know it's right.” So, it's a kind of live living through the challenges, and the peace, and turns of life, which is probably true for everybody I guess.
Fundamentally, every community, our charism is to live the gospel. Our particular kind of language around that is “working for unity of God with neighbor and neighbor with neighbor.” So, working for unity and reconciliation at all levels. We also have another phrase that we use that was used in our early documents. That is, “doing all the good work, which women are capable.” And, as you can imagine, we were founded in 1650, and the understanding of what women are capable of has expanded over time. So, really pushing the boundaries, and being pushed to the boundaries of what women are willing and able to do both personally and what society is willing and able to allow women to do. So, again, fundamentally living the gospel. And, our particular way into that is that unity and reconciliation, and then with a focus on really tapping into the richness of women's particular gift in that area. And, you know, we're we're not at the end of time. And, that will continue to evolve, which is also kind of exciting to think about. You know, historically, women religious typically were at the forefront of women's leadership in any field, and certainly women's leadership within the church. I think today; our role is not so much to be the folks in leadership, but to be … one of my favorite definitions of religious life is to be church for the church. To really try to live lives of deep faith, generosity, very intentionally living the gospel, and living that in a wider community of faith in which we're in kind of a dynamic relationship. A relationship where the wider community is a blessing to us, and we also, through our particular choice, are a blessing to them. So, I think in the past, we've been in leadership roles in the church and nothing will stop that. But, I think the critical piece today is to be in the heart of the church, to listen to the cry of the poor, the cry of the earth, and to the cry of people. I was just with my aunt and talking about, you know, how the way we articulated the faith, and the richness of our beliefs, and the gospel of life. The way we’ve articulated that is changing. And, how do we speak our truth in a way that is even conceivable and inviting to younger generations?