Answering God's Call

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When Sister Sarah Roy steps outside, she knows that strangers will treat her differently. Her black veil and conservative dark jumper stand out against the hip hugger jeans and North Face jackets that are the norm on campus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "I'm walking down the street and people just stare at me like I'm a freak," she says. "They're not doing it to be disrespectful -- you just don't see Catholic sisters anymore. It really catches people off guard."

A slim woman with strawberry blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, Roy, 29, says the decision to wear the traditional black veil is her own. "I could wear what a typical person my age would wear and blend into the world," she says. "But I wanted a constant reminder that every day I put on my veil, I am of God's service and I need to be about his work."

Growing up in suburban Illinois, Roy never intended to become a nun. Marriage was the plan even when she got involved at the Newman Center, the Catholic student center in college. But that changed in 2002 when she was earning her masters degree in social work at the University of Illinois. "I started thinking about religious life one day and the more I thought about it, the more I saw myself actually doing it," Roy says.

After months of praying and researching convents, Roy entered a local order, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception. She was 24. Her other sisters were older by decades and none of them wore the veil. Despite their efforts to make her feel included, age has been a challenge for Roy. "It's difficult because I feel strongly called to my community and I fear what that means for my life," Roy says. "Am I going to be the last to close my community? Am I going to watch everybody die?"

In 2005, Roy took her first vows and relocated to the University of Illinois' Newman Center, where she now lives and works as a campus minister. Part of her job includes spiritually advising 14 young women discerning religious life. To help them, Roy often attends their evening prayer group and organizes "Nun Runs," which are weekend field trips to area convents.

Roy is also earning her masters degree in pastoral ministry and is designing a program to help both young men and women better discern their life vocations--be them marriage, religious life or single life. She understands the challenge of discerning God's call, having been there only a few years ago herself. According to Roy, the way in which God calls out to young adults in discernment varies greatly and can be difficult to understand. "They may be at church praying quietly and hear God speak through scripture that they're reading at mass that day," she explains. "They may run into a friend who was talking about something they were praying about two minutes ago. The coincidences? They aren't coincedences. It's God talking to you."

With her final vows two years away, Roy doesn't have any regrets about her decision to become a nun. She is also confident that other like-minded women are not far behind. "It's a new trend for this generation that they are taking these decisions so seriously and really looking at religious life as a choice," she says. "A lot of people say that younger generations are looking for more stability in their lives. Their lives are filled with chaos. Religious life is much more stable.

"But I think, too, that young people are more interested in religion," Roy continues. "They grew up without spirituality. They're hungry for it and really looking for something to hold onto."