CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
As a high school student, Sr. Cecilia Joy Kugel figured the “Sr.” prefix would one day find its way to the front of her name. But then she fell in love with media.
She determined she could serve God most through a media career— not religious life. So after graduation, she enrolled at the Madison Media Institute and earned her associates degree in video motion graphics.
Years after her videography free-lancing and another degree later, Sr. Kugel crossed the threshold of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity motherhouse as a postulant in the fall of 2016.
“When I entered, I thought I would have to give up my camera equipment. But they were so encouraging,” she said. Her fellow religious sisters wanted her to keep making videos, keep offering her gifts to the service of God.
Entering postulancy for Sr. Kugel was “a great adventure.” It was an opportunity to intimately learn what religious life entails and dig deeper into prayer with the ample moments religious life makes for time with Jesus.
Though she was homesick for her family in Shawano, Sr. Kugel felt at home with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc.
The order will celebrate 150 years of being a community on Nov. 9.
Saying yes to God – when God made his invitation to religious life clear — was scary, Sr. Kugel reminisced, and exciting.
“It feels like going slowly up a rollercoaster and then plunging into the mystery of the unknown, though you know that Jesus is beside you the entire time,” she explained.
She discerned his call while pursuing her second degree at UW-Whitewater. Initially thinking business, she finished in her beloved communications field with a degree specializing in corporate and health communications.
There, Sr. Kugel found the Catholic Student Coalition, occasionally dating, yet slowly she realized that God was calling her to a different vocation.
“I am so thankful for UW-Whitewater and the Catholic Student Coalition. God bless campus ministers,” Sr. Kugel said.
The campus ministry team supported her when she ended a relationship that was moving toward marriage, was present to her as she first started seriously discerning religious life and investigating orders, and journeyed with her in the process— all the way to joining the celebration when she learned she was accepted to the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.
Last academic year, Sr. Kugel shared her discernment story with current UW-Whitewater students at a large group Catholic student event. Brian Zanin, the director of campus ministry at UW-Whitewater, invited Sr. Kugel’s friends and alumni to the vocations event.
“It felt like homecoming,” Sr. Kugel said.
Blessed to help promote vocations, “Now I am a temporary professed sister, and I go out on mission,” Sr. Kugel said. She will make her perpetual profession of vows in three to six years.
Today, she still creates videos. Her recent promotional and educational projects featured the hospice program at St. Paul Elder Service, an employee recruitment video and a video highlighting a 5K run.
“Videography used to be a career; now it’s a ministry,” she said.
In a career-centric and self-independent culture, religious life stands as a stark alternative.
Specifically, their manner of dress differentiates the sisters from others, and yet, “like a police officer or a fire fighter wears a uniform and people know they can go to them for help — we are available in the same way,” Sr. Kugel said.
The black and white habit and veil signals that the sisters are accessible and approachable, attracting young people nationwide.
Elucidating this phenomenon, Sr. Kugel said, “Young people are drawn to religious life because they are hungering for a relationship with Jesus.”
Sr. Kugel explained that every vocation leads to that relationship with Christ. “It’s just a matter of how he’s calling us to love him.”
Despite the challenges of the Church today, Sr. Kugel said it is a “really hopeful time, to see young people on fire for the Church. We can build the Church because Jesus works through us to heal others.”
For people discerning a call to religious life, Sr. Kugel recommends, “focus on the present moment. It is easy to forget what God does in our hearts right now.”
Any young women interested in learning more about the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity or discernment retreats can visit the website: fscc-calledtobe.org.
In Sr. Kugel’s words, “it’s a beautiful life.”