Thursday, September 23, 2021 9:39 AM
BEAVERTON – A woman who grew up on a farm in Oregon that supplied milk to the Sisters of St. Mary in Oregon has long been a leader of the Catholic vocations movement in the United States.
Sister Charlene Herinckx, who joined the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in 1967, serves in Chicago with the National Religious Vocation Conference, an association that supports vocation directors.
Superior General of her religious community 2010-2020, Sister Charlene worked for the conference before 1999-2005.
Always passionate about vocation work, she has blossomed so much in religious life that she wants others to know it.
“I think it is vital for the church that religious life continues and flourishes,” she said. “And it’s really great fun working with vocation directors. They have a lot of hope.
The number of nuns has declined in recent decades. But in the United States, there are still more nuns (about 44,000) than priests (about 11,000 religious and 25,000 diocesans). There are approximately 4,000 religious brothers in the nation.
Sister Charlene has worked in vocations for decades. From 1988 to 1995, she was not only director of vocations for her community, but co-director of the vocations office of the Archdiocese of Portland.
She was part of a team that started vocations gatherings in western Oregon, focusing on children aged 11 or 11. Research has shown that these are two crucial points in the development of young people.
Now she wants to help vocations directors nationwide become more effective. “One of the things we’re really working on is orienting new directors to be competent and confident in what they’re doing,” she said. Recruits need courses in canon law and psychology, for example.
It’s easy for vocation directors to feel isolated and overwhelmed, said Sister Charlene, presenting the association as a remedy. “It’s helpful to hear what other people are doing. It is very invigorating.
Sister Charlene explains that good vocation directors are more guides than recruiters. The goal is not really to get big numbers, but to help the young person discern what God is asking for. For example, when Sister Charlene was leading vocations efforts in her community, she required that young women also visit other religious houses.
Sister Charlene has three councils for vocation work.
First, the director of vocations must have a strong link with the superior of the community, or the bishop in the case of a diocese, and have a constant dialogue on expectations.
Second, the director must have a clear idea of his role and what remains to be discerned. Crossing the line can spell disaster, said Sister Charlene.
Third, keep reading about vocations and current practices. The National Religious Vocations Conference has a magazine called Horizon.
Sister Charlene and other vocations workers know that the Internet has had a major impact on the way women explore vocations.
By comparison, as King’s daughter, young Charlene was educated at St. Francis School by the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, who also taught her parents. She remembers the women in coats walking down the road to the Herinckx family farm, asking to buy milk, which her father tended to give them for free. She then attended St. Mary of the Valley High School – now called Valley Catholic – and her calling blossomed.
“I never thought of another community,” said Sister Charlene. “These are the ones I knew. These are the ones I loved. “
However, such relationships between nuns and girls are relatively rare. Young women who have an idea go online to find communities.
After digital presentations, Sister Charlene explained, relationships need to be built. It was difficult during a pandemic. Online sessions have replaced face-to-face meetings. But prayer, retreats, music, images and above all video testimonies have contributed to communication between religious communities and discerners.
“The vocation directors have been so creative,” said Sister Charlene, adding that the times call for both innovation and hope.
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