By Barb Arland-Fye
“Feels Like Home: A Single Catholic Woman’s Guide to Religious Life in the U.S.” By Susan Flansburg. 2023. 111 pp. $12.99. CatholicSister Guide.com
Davenport-based writer Susan Flansburg has devoted 20 years (and counting) to telling the stories of women religious and promoting religious life around the country. She conveys her passion for this topic in an engaging, slim book titled “Feels Like Home: A Single Catholic Woman’s Guide to Religious Life in the U.S.”
The inspiring stories of four women religious told in this guide demonstrate why the call to religious life will continue in this hyper-secular era and beyond. While the book’s target audience is “the discerner/inquirer who feels she might be called,” the stories that Flansburg weaves in this tapestry of religious life should fascinate all readers. She takes readers on the paths of four women religious — one each from an apostolic, missionary, monastic and cloistered community.
You’ll read about Ana in an “Apostolic Love Story … with a twist.” Ana, who said farewell to a romantic relationship to enter the Dominican Sisters of Peace, observes “Religious life is not bland. It’s rich and amazing.” In a story titled “From Atheist to Missionary,” Julia tells Flansburg about her incredible journey from unbelief to serving as a Maryknoll Missionary sister in East Timor in Southeast Asia.
Carmella reflects on being drawn to monasticism, which led her to religious life as a Benedictine sister of Sacred Heart Monastery. “I saw how the Benedictine Sisters loved each other. They seemed happy to be together. To be doing things together. To helping each other,” Carmella says. Jen explains how she chose a cloistered and contemplative abbey in which to enter religious life. “A tidal wave of grace got me here. It helped my family to be overall very supportive of my discernment decision.”
Readers will learn why a discerner/inquirer needs a vocation director, tips and clues about where they may fit in and how the women religious portrayed in the book handled unexpected challenges in their discernment. Other topics include the habit, next steps, and resources for information and inspiration.
“Feels Like Home” is the fruition of an idea that took root 20 years ago when Flansburg became communications director for the Benedictine sisters of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois and fell in love with the sisters. In her work with the Benedictines and other religious communities, she quickly discovered the need for a guide for single Catholic women feeling God’s nudge to look into religious life. “The urgent desire to bring the information out to the women who need it grew, and the result is this book,” she says in the introduction.
“I have immense respect and affection for all Catholic sisters. They are the prophetic warriors, caring for people by advocating for the dignity of all life and that includes all creatures,” Flansburg said in an interview with The Catholic Messenger. Sisters “affirm the dignity of all of God’s creatures and how we are called to care for all of creation.”
Flansburg acknowledges that “religious life is not for everybody. But women are still being called.” The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University would agree. Its “1964” research blog of Aug. 2, 2022 rebuts a national media report that religious sisters are headed for extinction in the 2040s.
“CARA surveys religious institutes annually asking for a list of new entrants. We then survey these men and women entering religious life annually. In 2021, for example, 136 women entered religious life. Their average age was 28 (median age of 25). Between 2015 and 2021, 1,279 women entered religious life and had, at the time of entry, a similar age profile to those entering in 2021. The average size of an annual entrance class during this period is 183…” (https://tinyurl.com/bdfdsmbe).
“We’re not getting the information out to the women who are feeling the call,” insists Flansburg, who hopes her book will provide the impetus. “Religious life is alive and vibrant and available to those who are called.” You can find her book on Amazon (CatholicSisterGuide.com).
(Barb Arland-Fye is editor of The Catholic Messenger.)