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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A First-Hand Account of the Diversity of Religious Life

The former chapel in the convent building at Our Lady of the Presentation Church years ago was subdivided into two small rooms, an informal entry/waiting area and an office.

Nothing extraordinary about it...except God's work still happens in that space.

Whereas the sounds of Mass or the silence of prayer once dominated, the musical notes of joy now fill the air. Under the auspice of Sister Brenda Fritz, D.C., the parish's music director, the convent has been transformed into the Presentation Arts Center, an arts ministry thriving in its first year.

The parish offers after-school music lessons in piano, violin, and guitar with the drums hopefully on the horizon. Through a partnership with Ritenour School District, high school students volunteer as teachers and International Welcome Center students can get free music lessons.

Religious sisters such as Sister Brenda, a Daughter of Charity, joyfully spearhead numerous vibrant ministries in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, filing vital roles in education, health care, social services, and more. These accomplished women live their dreams while serving the Lord.

Religious communities are working to fill those vital roles with several combining for a two-day vocation tour, the novely named "Convent Crawl" on Friday, February 17 and Saturday, February 18. Over 24 hours, interested women will explore how religious sisters live, pray, and serve in St. Louis. The convent crawl will include stops at the Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Sister Brenda's Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, Adorers of the Blood of Christ, and Society of Helpers will also participate, with several other communities as possibilities.

The sisters appropriated the term from "pub crawl" and adopted the social-networking and traveling aspects, like-minded people gathering and visiting multiple venues. Interested women explore multiple communities instead of just one on an individual order's come and see weekend.

"With an event like this, you'll get a bigger group, which is nice for the girls," said Sister Amy Hereford, CSJ, a lawyer. "They can go around with other women kind of thinking like they're thinking and build some relationships and support networks as well."

The sisters also collaborated for a weekend reflection and discernment retreat in November. Events such as the convent crawl and conceptually similar nun runs allow interested women to experience the diversity in religious life and charisms, which Sister Pam Falter, OSF, described as a "really important part of collaborative."

Sister Brenda's unique ministry ranks among many with accomplished women doing the Lord's work. The program grew out of the parish viability study, which showed it needed to shore up its outreach and young adult ministries. Sister Brenda oversees the new arts center, which includes "amazing art classes" for adults during the day and weekly quilters.

With the arts center, Sister Brenda is building on a bachelor's degree in piano presentation from Chicago's DePaul University--a Vincentian School--where she first encountered the Daughters.

"I felt like they were very balanced women," said Sister Brenda, who entered the community 29 years ago. "They worked hard, prayed hard, and had such a joy. I loved their community life. Of course, their service to the poor...Wow!"

At Presentation, Sister Brenda fulfills the community's charism by reaching out to families in need. Venezuela and Mexico are represented among her students, including Benjamin Delgado. With his mom and two brothers in the waiting room on a recent day, he played a piano in her office, just to the side of the canopy above the former altar space.

"It's only his second lesson," she told a visitor. "He's totally nailing it."

Story originally published by the St. Louis Review.

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