The six women squeezed together in one booth at the Stone Creek Coffee Factory on Fifth Street in downtown Milwaukee last summer. They are a demographic mix — young and old, locals and out of state — but they have one thing in common; they’re members of the Manitowoc-based Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.
Three of the women haven’t been with the order longer than four years; the other three have been sisters for more than 40 years.
Sr. Regina Rose Pearson, 30, a native of Arkansas, was never around nuns growing up. She said she didn’t “hear the call” until after college.
“The first time that I considered it was just this sense that I should be more open to religious life,” Sr. Regina said. “Those first few moments were really scary. I actually put it off for four years before I realized I couldn’t ignore it anymore and I really needed to pursue it, and I was never going to know unless I looked.”
Sr. Regina said she had plans to be married but realized she had to explore her pull to religious life.
While researching different orders, she came upon the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, an order that serves in Catholic health care, education and parish ministries in Wisconsin and throughout the United States.
“Really, it just came down, for me, to feeling at home with our sisters and feeling like it was going to be a place where I can grow,” Sr. Regina said. “I believe we’re called to holiness as we are.”
The older sisters can feel the change the younger sisters bring to the community.
Sr. Natalie Binversie, who has been with the order for 45 years, said some of the younger sisters are more comfortable with technology, even working on the orders’ website.
“All the women have very distinct personalities,” Sr. Natalie said.
Mark Kolter, who works with the order on technology through his company Kolter Creative Council, said he’s impressed with the new sisters and their focus on the Internet.
Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity were recognized for their social media efforts at the 2012 Catholic Media Convention.
Third place – Best Blog by a Religious
Fourth place – Most Spiritual Blog
Third place – Best Catholic Microblog
“They just seem to have more initiative (for a) grasp of social media,” Kolter said. “Some even have blogs.”
One of those bloggers, Sr. Monica Martin, 27, has been with the order for three years. When she was attending Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., she had friends who were joining the priesthood.
“I wasn’t really interested (in religious life) myself, but I wanted to support them,” Sr. Monica said. But that changed when she was talking to a priest friend who was expressing his excitement to serve in Ireland.
“That was the first time being a sister was attractive to me,” Sr. Monica said.
Stone Creek Coffee is a fair-trade coffee company that inspects every farm from which it buys coffee to make sure workers are treated well and are being paid a fair wage. The Francisicans visited and toured the facility last summer to learn more about fair trade initiatives, as well as to talk about their call to Franciscan life and service.
Vice president and green coffee buyer Steve Hawthorne told the group about a recent trip to Tanzania where he purchased fair-trade coffee. The sisters saw the coffee beans go from arrival in 50-pound bags to being brewed and poured into cups. Throughout the tour, the sisters spoke about becoming more involved with fair-trade organizations by visiting places and witnessing how they conduct their business. Several of them expressed interest in becoming active in promoting more fair-trade organizations.
They also spoke of their call to religious life and discussed how social media helps them spread their message.
However, religious life isn’t always for everyone. Leslie Gonia was with the order at the time of the tour, but has since left.
“I felt that my personality fit well with them,” Gonia, 25, said about joining the order. “They’re more moderate than some of the communities that I’ve been with.”
Gonia entered the order when she was 22. Becoming a nun, she said, was something she had thought about since she was 15.
“But then I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to be married,” Gonia said. “I wanted to be the best Catholic wife or best Catholic teacher that I could be.”
Gonia said she had a boyfriend at the time when she was thinking about this. She added that she told him this was something about which she was thinking and that, at first, he was supportive.
“He was fine … he was also very Catholic and he thought it would be wrong to not support my looking,” Gonia said. But eventually his attitude changed.
“He was a little more supportive by what he said than what he did,” she said. “He wanted to support it but he had a hard time…. It’s perfectly natural.”
Eventually, Gonia left the order on good terms and became a teacher.
The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity invite young women to learn more about their order, as Gonia did, in order to discover whether religious life is for them.
Over the last five years the order, which was established in 1869, has received eight women, the oldest being 31 years old.
Throughout the tour, Sr. Monica took photos for her blog “Habitually Speaking” which has 66 followers and has been going since August 2009. She called Stone Creek a “soon-to-be hangout” for the sisters.
She admired the business model of Stone Creek and wrote that they “wanted to learn more about fair trade and how we can support such an amazing movement.”
The ending to this blog entry was quick and to the point.
“We returned home feeling inspired by these incredible people who are truly passionate about making a difference in the lives of others,” she wrote. “We can’t wait to go back!”