Laughing and learning filled the motherhouse a couple of weeks ago as my community put on two camps for girls. One was a leadership camp for middle school girls, and the other is called BFF camp - or Best Franciscan Friend camp--for 10 and 11 year olds. High school young women come and assist with the camp, and everyone has the opportunity to learn about our charism. In addition to assisting with the camps, I also hosted a 17 year old whom I'd only met through e-mail. She was interested in learning more about religious life. The 17 year old flew almost 1,000 miles because she wanted to visit the place I affectionately refer to as "Nunville." We stayed at the motherhouse and she also helped with the camps.
The younger girls (10 and 11 years old) have usually had no experience of Sisters before they attend the camp made some of the following comments about what they learned about Sisters:
"They are not all prayerful and boring. Their food is good."
"They like kids, and they like meeting new people."
"If you were 60 years old you get to be awesome."
My community began with a camp for the younger girls, but those who'd attended repeatedly begged for another camp they could attend. They wanted to come back, and this is why we have two camps now.
The 17 year old discerning religious life is, of course, too young to enter, but not too young to ask thoughtful questions or to learn about charisms. She wants to be a doctor and wanted to know how that might work with formation. She wanted to know more about different kinds of prayer. She wanted to spend time with Sisters. I took her to two other religious communities in the area so she could get additional perspectives and also to get a glimpse of how younger women religious relate to one another today. She was a delight. I believe it is very possible that she's genuinely called to this way of life.
It was in the middle of this week of camps and hosting a teenager that I read Sandra Schneiders' talk on "The On-Going Challenge of Renewal in Contemporary Religious Life" given in Ireland in April. After describing the contrast between the religious life she entered and the changing reality of religious life today she drew some conclusions. One of the most startling to me was that communities should not focus their vocation efforts on women younger than their early 30s. The contrast between Schneiders' conclusions and my own experience this past week is stark. While what I've shared is anecdotal and the results of the camps and attention given to young women in their teens remains to be seen (vocational or otherwise), I can't help but see value in the commitment to girls and young women I described here. How can a person consider religious life if they have never heard it? Forming relationships with women and girls at every age is important for the future of religious life.