The number of women attending religious services has declined over the past few decades, but some women are still deciding to pursue religious life by remaining single and making life vows to a community and God. To offer accompaniment throughout this process, some religious sisters specialize as guides.
“People have a journey,” Sr. Mary Finlayson, director of Vocation Ministry for the Religious of the Sacred Heart, said. “It’s about exploration and whether you’re eventually going to be called into single, married or religious life. You have to go through some of the teachings of life before deciding.”
Beginning her career in education, Finlayson became the vocation director in the RSCJ Canadian Province in 2000. She then joined the Provincial Leadership Team in 2006, and since 2013 has worked as a Spanish and English translator. Finlayson currently is a member of the Provincial Team for the United States-Canada Province, overseeing the Vocation Ministry team and accompanying women in discernment.
Finlayson says she was first called by God while teaching in Winnipeg, Canada. Not knowing exactly where to turn, Finlayson says her two roommates, graduates of the Sacred Heart school in Winnipeg, guided her towards the RSCJs.
“When I was 24, I began to feel God calling me to something in my life, and I didn’t know what it was,” Finlayson said. “I said to God, ‘I want you to stretch my heart around the world.’ I didn’t know what that meant, but I wanted to trust God to do that.”
Finlayson joined the Society of the Sacred Heart in Canada officially in September of 1985.
Finlayson recommends women interested in religious life search the RSCJ website as well as other congregations to learn about their different missions, spiritualities and communities.
“There’s a different attraction to each order because every order has a charism,” Finlayson said. “A charism is like a personality as a religious order, and our charism is about experiencing this loving heart of Jesus, specifically through education.”
Women who decide to pursue religious life with the RSCJs first must go through an application process and then live one to two years as a candidate. They then continue onto the noviceship for two years before making first vows.
“After first vows, women really have to think, ‘Is this God wanting me to make a permanent commitment?’” Finlayson said.
Women remain in this period or at least six years and then make their final profession, generally in Rome, dedicating themselves to the Society and vowing obedience, poverty and chastity.
“In 1995 in Rome, I made my perpetual commitment with 20 other women from 13 countries,” Finlayson said. “We committed our life to sharing everything — that’s finances, cars and houses but also our stories, longings, struggles and hopes.”
Finlayson moved to Berkeley in 2016 to fulfill her duties in vocation ministry and joined the Schools of the Sacred Heart San Francisco board in Sept. 2017. She says she hopes to visit Sacred Heart Schools in Canada and in the United States to get to know the schools on a personal level.
“I want to meet with teachers and students and talk about our Sacred Heart spirituality and what it means to belong to the Sacred Heart family,” Finlayson said. “We all belong, and I think that’s something we need to nurture and share.”