What is this Volunteer Program I keep hearing about?
By Sarah Burns
There has been a merry band of new faces emerging over the last year or so – the AVI volunteers. The program currently holds three young women who are seriously discerning the call to religious life as lived out through the charism of the Apostles of the Interior Life.
The program is an intermediary step between living in the world and fully entering the community. As a volunteer, we participate in the life of community prayer, apostolate, community time, help with any projects the sisters are working on, and begin our studies of Italian and philosophy, all while also maintaining some of our own free time and independence. We live with host families who are close to the community. The program is on a semester basis and generally lasts from 6-12 months.
You might ask, if you have young women seriously interested in religious life, why not snatch them up and have them apply immediately? After all, vocations don’t grow on trees! Well, while the volunteer program is not a necessary step for all women discerning the charism, it is a way to step out of the distractions of working full-time or going to school into a space in which we can really discern the truest and deepest desires of our hearts in freedom. Living the tension of having both the beauty of spending a lot of time with Jesus in prayer and with the sisters in community, as well as having the flexibility to spend time in the world with other friends and interests helps reveal to us where our hearts are really drawn. “What do I want to choose, what am I actually choosing?” Are questions that I, as a volunteer, have sat with a lot. It gives a lot of ownership to the direction of one’s discernment. In my own experience, it has been particularly helpful to me in providing a level of stability and peace in taking the next steps as I see how much more I desire the life of the community than the other interests or desires in my life. This approach can also be more gentle on a young woman’s heart – if she discerns that the AVI is not her charism, it is easier to part ways after 6 months or a year of volunteer work than it is if she has been living in the community. Conversely, if the discernment is positive and the young woman enters, the stability and peace in her discernment that comes with the additional exposure to the charism and life of an apostle can help her persevere during the inevitable tougher seasons that come and go during formation.
What do the Volunteers have to Say?
Samantha White, Texas A&M grad and former FOCUS missionary, started her first semester of volunteering with the sisters at Texas A&M this fall. When I asked Samantha her thoughts on her first few months of volunteering, she shared that it is helping her to “better understand the desires of my own heart. Through prayer and participating in aspects of the sisters’ life I am experiencing what their life looks in a special way. I am very grateful for this time with the sisters and excited to see what God has in store.”
Elizabeth Vishnefske graduated from the University of Kansas this past May – but decided even before graduation to participate in the volunteer program with the sisters at KU starting this fall. Elizabeth shared that “[the volunteer program] has been so fruitful for my personal relationship with God, and has helped me get to see what the life of an Apostle really looks like. I had a desire to see an order’s authenticity and spirituality up close. It is important for me to feel truly known by the community and for us to grow in relationship. As my attraction to the AVI charism grew, I felt so much peace and comfort knowing that I would be welcomed into their lives as someone who was intentionally discerning, but also as someone who needed to grow in spiritual and mental maturity before making the next step to begin official formation. Unfortunately, growing up in a secular world, many of us do not receive guidance on how to properly discern our vocations, or grow in an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father through a deep prayer life, so this volunteer program is giving me the time I need to grow into my identity as a daughter, and uncover how He is calling me to make a gift of myself through my vocation.”
Sarah Burns, the author of this piece, is a graduate of Washburn University. I have been working in the world for several years post-graduation and found the volunteer step to be a very helpful way to ease myself out of the independence of my lifestyle towards the bigger gift of self that is required in entering community life. I started volunteering with the community at KU in April, and it has been revealing to me of how what I am living as a volunteer is so good and beautiful, but I still want more! I have recently been accepted into the community and I enter formation on October 7.
Kate Cropp, Volunteer Emeritus and in her first year of formation with the AVIs, shared that “my time as a volunteer allowed me to own the desires I had in my heart with greater conviction and certainty. It allowed me to exercise my freedom in making choices between two beautiful and good things. In the past I would have used my free time to be with friends or to go to different events, but now I wanted to spend that extra time with the community or in prayer. I was able to see that the Lord offers so many wonderful things to us in life, but that He was inviting me into something even more with Him, particularly through the Apostles of the Interior Life.”