Call to Sisterhood
St. Thomas More University Parish guides a vocational journey
BY ELISABETH SMITH
Growing up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Greentree, Courtney Alexander was active in the Church. Her mother insisted that she and her brother attend Mass every Sunday. They both became altar servers at their home parish, St. Margaret of Scotland. Her active service in her youth to her parish compelled her aunts to question her about the possibility that Alexander might consider a vocation as a nun. It wasn’t top of mind for Alexander, who imagined that her life would transition to college, marriage, children and serving the Lord through mission work. But she always felt that God was calling her to something else.
When Alexander became a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), she joined the basketball team. Her devoutly Catholic coach asked her if she ever considered becoming a religious sister. Alexander paused. She started to feel conflicted because she dreamt of a family, but also felt a divine calling to serve
God and the Church.
“There wasn’t a particular moment that I felt called to religious life, but I think over time the Lord did plant little seeds in my head,” Alexander said.
That is when her discernment to join the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) began.
It was only this summer that she felt pulled to fully heed that calling, after earning her undergraduate biology/pre-medical degree and graduate degree in health care administration from IUP. She spent her student years as part of St. Thomas More University Parish, which was established to support the faithful at IUP, and participated actively in the Catholic Student Association (CSA). Alexander was inspired by the Capuchin Franciscan monks who oversee the church and its activities.
“St. Thomas More is probably the biggest reason I have grown in my faith over the last six years,” Alexander said. “The Capuchins were there my last two years at IUP, and before that, I didn’t see people in their religious life, living out their vocation.
So, it was wonderful to see the Capuchins so joyful and living out their mission work, which I always wanted to do. They opened my eyes to celibacy, mission work and just giving your life to Christ alone.”
She names Father Richard Owens, Father Tage Danielson and Father Andrew Corriente at St. Thomas More University Parish as particular guides in her journey. And she also credits the Capuchin Franciscans with invigorating the church’s CSA—an organization in which Alexander held several roles, including spreading the word on social media, serving on the leadership team and organizing Sunday dinners for students.
The CSA has seen growth in participation during Alexander’s time as a member, and she credits the Capuchin friars with helping students like her understand God’s call to them in a welcoming environment.
“I have met students who were nervous about joining CSA because they don’t know enough for Bible studies,” Alexander said. “But God’s will is to be faithful to your faithfulness. It is the least intimidating atmosphere
I can think of and to be with people that love the Lord is really refreshing.”
‘The quickest prayer God answered’
This summer, as Alexander finished her time at IUP, she felt the conviction more to seriously discern her call to serve as a religious sister. But the choice was a big one, and she visited an online site to try narrowing down the religious communities that fit her faith. She found 71 communities.
“I took a week to look over all the material, but it was too overwhelming,” Alexander said.
She attended a vocations fair at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and the Lord took over from there. Alexander started speaking with a nun who asked her, frankly, what she wanted to do. Alexander explained her competing desires to have a family and be a nun.
“She said, ‘If the Lord is calling you to this, he can handle this and is going to take the responsibility to show the community to you,’” Alexander recalled. “She then prayed that He would take control for me and show me the community if He really wanted me to join.
“In that moment, I looked up and I saw SOLT sisters,” she added. “I recognized their habit from watching videos in college of Sister Miriam James Heidland. So, I went right over there, talked to the vocations director and knew I didn’t want to talk to anyone else. That’s the quickest prayer that God ever answered for me.”
Steps toward sisterhood
Today, Alexander is in her aspirancy with SOLT, which means she is spending four months living with the sisters, wearing lay clothing and gaining an understanding of their way of life.
When she is finished, she will return home for two weeks to decide if she wishes to return as a postulant, which is a year-long phase. Following that, Alexander would become a novitiate for two years, which she explains would be divided into a year devoted to prayer and silence, and a second year focused on mission work in any of SOLT’s convents across the globe, including South and Central America, Australia and the Philippines. “I feel very called to go wherever they send me,” Alexander said, adding that she hopes her graduate degree in health care administration can be utilized. Afterwards, she will take her first vows, becoming a fully professed sister after nearly five years. Alexander has chosen Mary, the mother of Christ as her inspiration in her vocational journey. It is a holy connection that guides her and connects her to what she says is a most beautiful journey.