Nun Run bus tour helps 20 participants explore religious life
July 28, 2023
Benedictines, Franciscans, Poor Clares, Carmelites, Daughters of St. Paul.
Who are the women who join these religious congregations? What are their lives like? How do they pray? What makes them special?
Twenty young ladies from the Archdiocese of Omaha hopped on a chartered bus and went to investigate, capturing a glimpse of life in five different religious communities living or serving in Illinois and Missouri during a weekend “Nun Run.”
They have been organizing such trips for young women since 2009, in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Omaha Vocations Office and local Serra Clubs.
The July 21-23 adventure “was amazing,” said one participant, Kaylin Gaughenbaugh, who is 17 and will be a senior at St. Mary’s Catholic School in O’Neill.
“Just getting to be around people who are also discerning their vocation and truly pursuing God’s Heart, getting to meet sisters and be able to get a view into what their life is like.
“I definitely have a better understanding, and I’m able to more accurately and openly discern my vocation now.”
“I really enjoyed it,” said Gretchen Foss, 15, who’s a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion and will be a sophomore at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha. “We were able to visit five different convents, which I thought was really cool.”
The group met first the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, who are based in nearby Alton, Illinois, and serve the elderly in St. Louis.
Then the group visited other St. Louis-area congregations: the Poor Clares at the Monastery of St. Clare of the Immaculate Conception, an order of cloistered contemplative nuns; the Daughters of St. Paul, who proclaim God through books and media; and the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, who live a contemplative life of prayer yet also serve the elderly in assisted living and children in child care.
The last stop on the tour was in Gower, Missouri, to meet the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles. The community gained fame recently after the discovery that the body of its founder, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, appears to be miraculously preserved four years after her death.
Foss said she liked meeting and talking with the sisters from the different religious orders and worshiping with them at Mass and as they prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily prayers of the Church.
During the bus rides, the young women talked, played games, ate snacks, prayed, sang and listened to Father Scott Schilmoeller, archdiocese vocations director, share his own vocation story.
Gaughenbaugh – the daughter of Wayne and Rebecca Gaughenbaugh and a member of St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill – soaked in the experience.
“I would say my favorite part would be just being able to listen to people, whether it was the sisters’ vocation stories or just meeting other girls on the bus,” she said. “I just really enjoyed being able to love people by listening to them.”
She said she would recommend a Nun Run to others.
“Just being able to enjoy genuine people … the atmosphere and the friendships that you make. I think anytime you go to a faith-related event like a retreat or camp, there are special friendships because God truly blesses them. Just knowing that those people are pursuing God, you just want to run after God with them. It’s so fun.”
“It also helped me because I grew closer to God,” the teen said, “in seeing the good that He’s done for other people … and just seeing His beauty through His work.”
“Even if you’re not in depth in your discerning process,” Gaughenbaugh said, “it’s still very fruitful for anyone to be able to see what consecrated life looks like.”
“I would say for myself for sure, that I’ve thought about becoming a religious sister for a while. But I never truly understood or had a view into what their life was like. I think that’s very eye-opening and makes you appreciate all the parts of the Church and the beauty of their life.”
“I think that it’s super fruitful just to see and understand another part of the Church and how they play into the Body of Christ.”
Foss, the daughter of Kristen and Brian Foss, said she’s open to religious life and might be leaning toward that vocation.
She said she picked up a book on discernment from the Poor Clares, “so I’ll be reading through that to help me.” She said she’ll also be praying and doing more research.
“I’m still fairly young,” Foss said, “so I’ve still got time.”
Gaughenbaugh also plans to mull over her vocation for a while.
“I’m not totally sure about my vocation yet,” she said. “I’m planning on going to college at Benedictine (in Atchison, Kansas) and studying something with theology.”
She said she’ll be “trying to remain open to God’s will and just taking it step by step, day by day.”
Over the years, Nun Runs have taken dozens of participants to almost 30 different religious communities.
Bastian’s daughter has been among those explorers. In 2011 she entered the Discalced Carmelites of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso and is now Sister Francisca of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She lives in Australia, helping to expand the order with a new monastery in Australia.
“God is still calling young ladies,” her mother said. “We just have to let them have that opportunity to hear and discern.”
“The young ladies who go on our trips are usually the ones who are just open to what God wants from them in their lives,” she said. “They don’t know what that is, but they’re interested and willing to learn more about it, to test and say ‘Lord, maybe this is where You’re calling me?’ Or “Is this what you’re calling me to?’
“It’s beautiful to see the openness.”
“The whole idea is just to show the girls what the different options for consecrated life are,” Herout said.
“There’s very, very many options, different opportunities, communities. Some orders are all teachers, some are all nurses. Some have a variety of different jobs and things that they do. Some are contemplative or cloistered. … Each one is different, but that’s what’s so neat about it.”
What the sisters have in common is being brides of Christ, Bastian said, and “it’s just beautiful for these girls to be able to see how that’s lived out in a variety of ways.”