Sarah Dustman
Freelance Writer
April 15, 2020 // Diocese

New ministry allows women to focus on vocational discernment

Sarah Dustman
Freelance Writer

A new ministry is unfolding in Fort Wayne for women discerning God’s calling for their life: the Franciscan Vocation House. Women between the ages of 18 and 40 who are considering their vocation or another major life change, such as furthering their education, or a career change can apply to reside in the discernment house. Residing in the house will allow them to strengthen their spiritual life and join in community with like-minded Catholic women through volunteering, prayer and fellowship.

One of the most important aspects of being a resident will be volunteering. A woman can expect to participate in up to 10 hours of service each week. The residents will focus their service hours at their headquarters, the Confraternity of Penitents, also in Fort Wayne. A majority of the work at the headquarters is administrative-focused. Other volunteer tasks will include serving the headquarters’ gift shop and other indoor and outdoor work.

Community will also be an important aspect of living in the discernment house. Residents will join in fellowship over community dinners offered every night. Each woman will be required to attend a minimum of two dinners per week.
Women between the ages of 18 and 40 who are discerning God’s will for their vocation, their education or career can apply to reside at Franciscan Vocation House, a new community forming in Fort Wayne. Residents of the house will strengthen their spiritual life and join in community through volunteering, prayer and fellowship.

The residents will also come together in prayer. They will pray the Divine Office morning, evening and night prayers, setting times that will accommodate every resident’s schedule. Besides praying the Divine Office, the residents will participate in weekly Bible studies and monthly discernment conferences.

While the framework for the Franciscan Vocation House has been built, the discernment house is still in formation. There are hopes of it being ready to have up to four women move in on Sept. 1, with the possibility of having one or two women move in sooner.

Erin Wells

Erin Wells, 27, has been building the framework for the discernment house and will transition into the role of house parent once residents arrive. As a house parent, her role will include coordinating community mealtimes and events, moderating the weekly Bible studies, conducting the monthly discernment meetings, managing day-to-day house tasks and assigning ministry duties.

Wells first learned about the Franciscan Vocation House — originally called the Confraternity of Penitents — while visiting the Poor Sisters of St. Clare in Fort Wayne, having recently left the monastic life. She decided to join the household as a volunteer in June. This allowed her to have more time to pray about joining the Poor Clares, as well as live near their monastery.

“I never anticipated being a house parent, just a volunteer for a time, then a nun again. But God had other plans,” Wells said.

A few months after moving into the discernment house, Wells felt called to look at other religious orders. After a visit in October with a community, Wells discerned she wouldn’t be entering. Then, the volunteer coordinator for the Confraternity of Penitents approached her about becoming a house parent. She said yes. The volunteer coordinator didn’t know that Wells had been “hoping to do just such a ministry since I began discerning several years ago.”

Wells explained that the importance of a discernment house is to get women away from the social pressures that can pull them away from what God has in mind for them. Distractions such as the constant noise of the media and “money, success and climbing the career or higher education ladder” can make it difficult “to quiet down in prayer and really listen to God’s voice.” But living in the Franciscan Vocation House can help prevent those distractions through time of personal prayer and community.

“Simply being with other women who are on the same path can be uplifting and give one strength to overcome those obstacles,” Wells said.

While the women will be on the same path of discerning their vocation or life change, sharing with the residents about their discernment will vary for each woman. Their purpose in being at the house won’t be a secret, but Wells believes that there “should be a balance” of what the other residents know and what is kept personal to each woman. She said that in her own discernment of religious life, those close to her know of the religious communities she’s been in contact with — along with visits she has made or plans to make, and the result of those visits. That’s all she shares.

“If one is too open with others about her journey, she often receives a lot of unwanted advice,” Wells said.

In this situation, a woman has to “sort through the additional voices to be able to hear God’s voice.” Because of this, Wells will leave the openness of sharing a discernment journey to the discretion of each woman.

Wells is forming a book study for women interested in meeting other discerning women. The group will meet once a week to read part or a whole chapter of Alphonsus Liguori’s “Uniformity with God’s Will.” The women will have time for personal reflection and then a group discussion after the reading. Fellowship and vespers will follow the book study. Wells hopes to be able to offer the meetings virtually so women who live outside of Fort Wayne can still join.

For more information about the book study and life at the Franciscan Vocation House, visit

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