Stephanie Haizel gave up her nursing career to lead the high school ministry at St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Hartland. (Submitted photo)
For years, St. Teresa of Calcutta in Hartland has struggled to keep youth active in parish life. The small parish of about 665 families has held an annual summer work camp experience for teens and regular catechism classes, but pastors and parish directors had little success building a program that would engage students preparing for confirmation until the day that Stephanie Haizel walked into Dcn. Allen Olson’s office.
“It was a moment we all pray for but don’t expect to come,” Dcn. Olson said of the morning that Stephanie knocked on his office door and told him that she felt called to take over the high school students. She said, “You know that stuff you’re teaching for confirmation, it isn’t working,” and Dcn. Olson knew she was right.
Haizel, a trained registered nurse, told him she’d prayed and struggled, and felt God’s call to leave her career and step out in faith. Dcn. Olson sent up a silent thanks to God and immediately tried to figure out a way to make it work.
“I went to the finance guy and told him we had to make it happen,” he said. “I knew that if we could get someone like Steph working for us, it would change things in a big way.”
The call came slowly to Haizel, who’d begun the long discernment process a year before as she was working as an RN at Froedtert with oncology patients. She felt God asking her to step into a different life, but after working so hard to become a nurse, she didn’t want to believe that he was asking her to do anything else. “I thought at first, ‘You must have this wrong,’” she said. “I’m a nurse. I’m not qualified in theology to do this.”
She pushed the whispering call to the back of her mind and moved on with her life, but it kept coming to her in prayer. Her heart ached in a way she’d never felt before, so she started praying about it intentionally and turning to Scripture for guidance. “I was shocked,” she said. “I didn’t want to believe it, but I thought, ‘Let’s see if this is a possibility.’”
For four years, she’d managed the parish’s highly successful summer work camp and attended mission trips with the youth group. When the pandemic hit, she jumped in and created a “work camp light” over the summer to get students together in a socially distant group and helped parishioners who weren’t able to do their yard work. In the morning, the students began their day with Mass, followed by community service work, and ended in the evening with prayer and Adoration.
“It was an honor to work with these teens, many of whom I’d taken on mission trips and watched their faith be formed,” she said. “COVID-19 hit during a time when I was really struggling with this call from God but I was able to see them want to learn more about their faith and I knew I had to be part of walking that journey with them.”
She kept returning to God’s call in prayer, though she was afraid and couldn’t imagine how she would tell her friends and family that she was considering walking away from a steady job she’d trained so hard for. Reluctantly she gave him every piece of her life anyway, even the ones she’d been determined to keep for herself.
One evening, she snuck into the back of the church when Dcn. Olson was livestreaming Adoration, kneeled down and opened her devotional. She turned to the daily reflection and read about Jesus commanding Peter to take his flock and lead his sheep. She burst into tears and said aloud, “OK, I get it. This is where you’re calling me.”
Peace washed over her, and carried her through the uncertain time between accepting his command and walking into Dcn. Olson’s office to ask for the job. “I think a lot of people probably think I’m crazy, but I know this is where the Lord called me,” she said. “That’s what he does; he calls you out.”
She tells the teenagers she works with how we have plans for our lives but that God has his own, that we never know where he’s going to lead us, or what he’s going to ask of us, only that he promises to be with us every step of the way.
Dcn. Olson calls her a blessing and that the youth of the parish now seem more energized than ever as they watch the passion with which Haizel loves and serves God. “Something different is happening, you can feel it,” Dcn. Olson said. He attributes the great things that are happening at St. Teresa of Calcutta to one woman who said yes to God, even when she was afraid.