By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant
DUBUQUE — “I’m very happy in my vocation,” Sister Jessi Beck said recently when discussing her call to be a religious sister.
“It’s a great life. It’s an option I think people should consider. They might be surprised what they find.” The call to religious life is one that caught Sister Jessi herself a bit by surprise. Growing up in Roland, near Ames, Sister Jessi said that though she went to Mass with her parents each Sunday, “faith was really not something that was of interest to me at all, and I never met Catholic sisters until I went to college.”
While at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Sister Jessi became acquainted with two religious sisters who ministered at St. Stephen the Witness Student Center. Sister Jessi said college was a time when her faith was growing, and the two sisters served as mentors and role models.
“That was my introduction to religious life, but probably like most people, that wasn’t something I wanted to do or saw myself doing,” Sister Jessi said. “But I think God can be pretty persistent,” she added. The idea of religious life had been planted, and through her time student teaching, and then during the year she spent volunteering after college, it “kind of stuck with me,” she said, and she eventually decided to “give this sister thing a try.”
The two women Sister Jessi knew from St. Stephen’s were members of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and while she spent time with other communities and explored other options, in the end, she too decided on the Presentation Sisters. She was drawn, she said, by their charism of hospitality.
Sister Jessi, who is in her 30s, professed her final vows with the Presentations in 2015. Today, she lives in Chicago, where she teaches technology to kindergarteners through eighth-graders and also serves as the vocations director for her religious community. In her role in vocations, Sister Jessi said she does not see herself as a recruiter; “I’m not trying to get as many people as possible,” she said. “It’s really about helping people find where God is calling them to be.”
The ministry is two-fold, she said, with one aspect being education. Sister Jessi regularly gives talks at schools and colleges, introducing the idea of vocations and sharing with young people what being a religious sister is all about. The other key piece is accompaniment, she said.
“It’s a lot of conversation and relationship building, so listening as people tell their story and wrestle with the questions.”
For anyone discerning their vocation, Sister Jessi said she has three pieces of advice.
“The first one is prayer,” she reflected. “Taking time for silence, every day, for a significant amount of time, to allow God to speak.” “The second thing,” she continued, “is to talk to people you trust. It’s asking the people who know you the best, ‘What do you see in me?’”
She also suggests seeking out a trained spiritual director. Finally, Sister Jessi recommends taking action.
“If you think you are discerning a call to religious life, you need to spend time with sisters, spend time with brothers, with priests. You need to visit religious communities. That can be so valuable.”
Sister Jessi said her work with vocations ministry has given her a positive outlook for the future.
“I’ve talked to so many amazing young adults,” she reflected. “They’re just so full of passion for living the Gospel and for living their faith. It really gives a lot of hope.