“No matter how much I gave away, it was never enough.” With these words, Kelsey Wicks, 26, described her calling to religious life. Although she had been studying at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado and working as a campus minister, she always felt called to something more.
Now, Wicks is preparing to enter the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia on August 10, pursuing a vocation that she describes as “a beautiful challenge.”
The idea of a vocational crisis has been a concern within the Church for years. Both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spoken of this crisis, highlighting the importance of prayer and fostering the conditions favorable to vocational development.
But while other religious orders are struggling to stay alive, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, better known as the Nashville Dominicans, are thriving. With 230 sisters serving in 34 schools in the United States, as well as starting a ministry in Australia, the order is truly alive and flourishing.
Founded in 1860, the Nashville Dominicans are preparing to celebrate 150 years of service to the Church. Marked by their full black-and-white habit, their teaching apostolate, and their charisms of joy and fidelity, they are an order that continues to see abundant new vocations in modern times.
One of these new vocations is Wyoming native Kelsey Wicks.
Wicks said that she had thought about the possibility of a religious vocation as a young girl. Those ideas continued to develop over time, in a discernment process that Wicks says is still continuing to this day, even as she prepares to enter the convent. “I wish more girls understood that you can go to a convent, and you continue your discernment there. It’s less scary that way,” she explained to CNA.
According to Wicks, immersion in the Sacraments, the assistance of a spiritual director, and a strong prayer life were crucial components in the discernment process. “You really need to spend time talking to God and getting to know Him,” she said. “And then falling in love with Him. It’s an amazing experience!”
In addition to these elements, her advice to girls who are discerning their vocation is to spend time in silence. “It’s so easy to miss the small whispering of God if your life is clouded by the noise of the world,” she said.
Wicks said she was particularly attracted to the Nashville Dominicans by their profound charism of joy, as well as their deep prayer life and spirituality. “It was such a beautiful thing to watch 100 nuns doing their daily prayers,” she said. “There is this twinkle in their eyes. You can just see that they really know the Lord.”
The Dominicans currently have 45 sisters in their initial formation program and are preparing for a large class of postulants to enter the community in August.
Sister Mary Emily, Vocations Director for the Nashville Dominicans, told CNA that she has seen “a steady increase in the interest in religious life and a great openness to considering it.”
“Many young women are attracted to this life that includes a strong prayer life, a strong community life, a single apostolate of teaching and the witness of a religious habit,” Sr. Mary Emily explained.
Wicks agreed, saying that the witness of the Dominicans is deeply attractive because they are truly alive in the Lord.
“If young people are going to give up their life, they want to give it up for something that is both challenging and beautiful,” qualities that she sees being lived out by the sisters. “They are faithful to Christ. They are fully habited. They are truly visible, living witnesses. And that witness speaks to the heart.”
Describing the beauty of watching the young women entering the community, Sister Mary Emily added, “They could have successful careers and if called, would make beautiful wives and mothers. These women are healthy, wholesome, bright and idealistic. Yet they have heard the call to follow Christ and they are answering it…These young women are women in-love.”
This is certainly true of Wicks, who expressed her excitement to enter a life of total dedication to the Lord, saying, “Before, I would be leaving prayer to go to work. Now, I’ll be leaving work to go to prayer. When those bells ring, you drop everything and go to the Chapel.”
Upon entering the community, Wicks and the other women joining her will spend one year known as the “postulant year,” during which they will be immersed into religious life, learning the daily life of the community and participating in all community prayers, duties and activities. They will also learn about the Dominican spirituality, history and charism, as well as receive spiritual guidance. In addition, they will take classes in philosophy, theology and secular subjects in preparation for their teaching apostolate.
“It’s so special to be able to be set aside for the Lord in such a complete way,” said Wicks. “And to have a schedule and lifestyle that fully revolve around Him.”