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Director adapts vocations to COVID

Director adapts vocations to COVID - (03-09-2020)

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The small office tucked away in a corner of the monastery is cluttered in a fun kind of way. The kind of way that offers a glimpse of the person who inhabits it.

Green, purple and gold Mardi Gras decorations are displayed all year long, a nod to her New Orleans upbringing. There are photos of smiling family members and cuddly cat posters. Boxes of vocation materials fight for space with stacks of books devoted to discernment and spiritual direction. Some scattered notes are translated from Spanish, the language she first spoke in Argentina before she moved with her family to the United States.

This warm and comforting space is where Sister Maria Victoria Cutaia, OSB, vocation director for the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri, spends a large part of her day.

And she couldn’t be more thrilled about it.

“I really enjoy what I do, working with people who are considering their life choices,” she said. “Not just religious life. There are so many choices a person can make. I help them learn how to deepen their relationship with God and help guide them to where God is calling them.”

After working in vocations for the BSPA monastery in Tucson, Arizona, for a couple of years, she was named vocation director for the entire congregation four years ago. She also offers spiritual direction to men and women around the country.

“Ethically, I can’t be vocation director and spiritual director at the same  time for someone who is seriously considering being a part of our congregation, but there are some tools that cross over,” she said. 

Before COVID-19 struck, she spent part of the year traveling to discernment conferences, meeting people from all walks of life who desire a relationship with God and who are searching how to incorporate that relationship into their everyday lives. She’s a tech savvy younger Sister, so social media is considered a valuable tool to reach out to people rather than something to be avoided or cursed.

She created a digital newsletter for discerners and often spends time on Zoom-type meetings learning from and sharing with other vocation directors around the country. She was busy arranging monastic experiences and welcoming discerners to spend time at the monastery to learn more about religious life.

Then a pandemic hit.

While her mission never wavered, Sister Maria Victoria had to figure out how to change direction in order to follow through with it.

“People don’t have the same things to distract them,” she said. “They have more time.”

So she went to work and explored additional ways to connect with people remotely. One of those projects was hosting the congregation’s inaugural Virtual Monastic Experience in July.

The free, three-day event drew eight women from all corners of the country, from many backgrounds and walks of life. Sister Maria Victoria’s assessment of how things went? In a word: “great!”

“The women who attended enjoyed the virtual monastic experience,” she said. “While it’s always better to attend ‘in person,’ this experience gave them a chance to see our way of life from the comfort of their own homes without the hassle of traveling. They were able to share with other women who are also interested in discerning religious life.”

Participants enjoyed a virtual video tour of the monastery that showcased the grounds, the Sisters’ prayer life and their works. They were offered spiritual input, one-on-one time with Sister Maria Victoria, received tips on discernment and prayer, and met Sisters who shared their own vocation stories.

Since participants registered in advance, Sister Maria Victoria took the time to match them with Sisters who had similar stories or backgrounds.

“Each vocation story is unique within itself, but sometimes there are similarities and it’s nice to be able to draw on those,” she said. “It’s helpful to pull something relatable from a Sister’s vocation story.”

Shortly after, she hosted a second monastic experience for women who had visited the monastery and wanted to stay in touch. The experiences went so well that Sister Maria Victoria found herself assisting vocation directors from other communities on how to host their own virtual experiences.

At the end of the day, whether it’s in person or online, it’s all about helping people listen to where God is calling them, Sister Maria says. And to understand that the journey is rarely a quick one and often full of twists, turns, delays and new paths.

“I think people are hesitant about entering religious life because they think once they do, that’s it. They won’t be able to leave,” she said. “I tell them that discerning doesn’t end when you enter or take vows. It’s actually the beginning! Discernment is ongoing. It’s about learning how to listen, how to tune into what’s happening and how to allow the spirit to work in them.”