Sisters take leap of faith
February 6, 2020
Road of life steers Humphrey St. Francis grad Laura Ann Haschke on path to God
By KATHRYN HARRIS
Norfolk Daily News
This story along with this link is the first in a two-part series published last November by the Norfolk Daily News on the millennial sisters at Immaculata Monastery in Norfolk and the increasing interest among young Catholic women to consider consecrated life. The second story will be reprinted in the next issue of the Catholic Voice.
Laura Ann Haschke remembers worrying about how her “very Catholic” family would react to her news.
On the way home one evening a few years ago, the Humphrey St. Francis graduate picked up an application that would alter the course of her life and steer her down a road that differed greatly from the traditional path her older siblings had chosen.
The rural Madison native made her first profession of monastic vows in early September 2019. At 24 years old, Sister Laura Ann is one of two millennial sisters at Immaculata Monastery in Norfolk.
She and Sister Sarah Elizabeth McMahon, a native of Hartford, South Dakota, are among those their age who have eschewed the traditional paths of marriage and children to live a life of religious vocation.
“Now, looking back at this, I realize God had been giving us the graces this whole time,” Sister Laura Ann said of telling her mother about her decision to join the monastery. “If I had told my mom months earlier, it probably wouldn’t have gone well. But God was giving me the grace to learn to accept I was being called to this, and he was giving my mom the grace, as well.”
Sister Laura Ann said her mom reacted in a way that suggested she already knew her daughter’s life would be different from that of her siblings. But the desire to join the monastery took Sister Laura Ann somewhat by surprise, and her choice to live a life of religious vocation was not one she took lightly.
In fact, she thought she had her life mapped out in high school: She planned to study wildlife biology with the hope of someday working as a ranger or botanist for the U.S. National Park Service, and then she would eventually “meet a nice Catholic guy, settle down close to home and have a lot of kids.”
But a speech she heard at one of the Steubenville Youth Conferences – Catholic faith-based gatherings that draw thousands of youths to various venues around the United States each summer – began pulling her toward a life of religious vocation.
“There was a sister who spoke about vocations, religious life and discerning, in general, and asked the couple thousand students if they’ve ever felt anything like this ‘call’ to stand up so we can pray for you,” she said.
Sister Laura Ann said she gasped as several of her friends stood; she had no idea any of them had contemplated the idea of religious life.
Over time, her own decision not to stand began to weigh heavily upon her and prompted her to attend another Steubenville conference so she could be among the counted.
“It left something unfulfilled in me,” she said of her initial decision not to stand.
After high school, Sister Laura Ann stayed true to her original course and began attending college. But for the first time in her life, the longtime Catholic school girl found herself attending an institution where faith didn’t play a major role in her day-to-day activities.
“I always took it for granted and never fostered my Catholic faith until it was missing,” she said. “I didn’t know how to act: Why is something I never thought about before, now that it’s gone, something I can’t stop thinking about?”
Her search for an answer led her back to Sister Inviolata and Sister Fidelis Marie, two Missionary Benedictine Sisters whom she had met on the way to the Steubenville conferences.
“I showed up awkwardly at the front door (of Immaculata Monastery) and said, ‘Hi. Do you have a Bible study or a youth group? What do you have that I can join?’”
The sisters invited her to take part in Lectio Divina, a traditional Catholic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s word. Through that, she began forming friendships with the sisters and becoming immersed into their lifestyle.
CHALLENGED BY THE SAINTS
As her course work at Northeast Community College drew to a close, Sister Laura Ann said she knew she needed to make a decision about her future, but something seemed to be missing from whatever plans she tried to make.
Then a series of circumstances – beginning with a blog post about contemporary sainthood and a challenge by her nephews to learn more about the lives of traditional saints – helped make clear the path she felt God was calling her to take.
The idea to join the Missionary Benedictine Sisters first flittered into her mind while attending Mass with her parents – on All Saints Day, no less.
“It was so subtle. It was just a thought, and I had the freedom to do with that thought what I wanted to do,” she said. “I thought, ‘OK, I didn’t hear that. I’m just going to let that thought pass right on by.’”
But as Mass continued, the connection between her recent focus on saints and the fact that the thought came to her during a Mass to celebrate All Saints Day became too heavy to ignore.
“It was a Sunday. All Saints Day doesn’t always fall on a Sunday. The fact that this all lined up really perfectly. … The fact that I was there at Mass, and it was All Saints Day, and (the saints) had been the ones walking with me on rediscovering my Catholic faith – when that happened, it was like a two-by-four to the face.”
“I have a tendency to just jump into situations and regret them later.”
Sister Laura Ann admitted after finishing her application, she began to dread the decision she had made. She feared joining the monastery would mean giving up activities about which she was passionate.
“I was a very active person. I traveled so much – whether it was missionary work or to see my siblings or just for fun, packing a kayak in the back of my car … I did a lot of long-distance biking, and I realized these things weren’t going to be part of my life anymore,” she said. “But the funny thing is, I gave those up and God gave back tenfold.”
And she didn’t necessarily give them up, either.
Sister Laura Ann said the amount of traveling she did during her first year at the monastery was “insane.” She planned to go pheasant hunting sometime around Thanksgiving.
“You can fit it in and make it work,” she said. “It’s really like normal life. With jobs and kids and stuff, there will always be (obligations) to work with.”
While going from jeans and a flannel shirt to the dress novices wear in the early part of their discernment process was tough, Sister Laura Ann said, putting on the habit of a religious sister felt normal.
“They asked me why the veil doesn’t bother me, but I think it’s because I wore a baseball cap so much,” she said with a laugh.
The habit draws attention from passersby and, in Sister Laura Ann’s experience, has had the tendency to make strangers open up to her when she’s out in public.
She volunteers with second graders at Sacred Heart Elementary School and is an adviser for the Hawks Catholic Club at Northeast Community College, where she encourages young adults who are seeking faith while navigating their own paths through life. It’s a role Sister Laura Ann finds fulfilling.
“There’s something I feel happening in America. The faith is coming back,” she said. “I firmly believe the youth of today are actually looking for something more. Not all of them are finding it, but once they do find it, they realize that truth is in the faith.”