In a culture dominated by celebrity news, a group of women is listening to a different calling, as the number of young women interested in becoming nuns is on the rise.
Melissa Schrefels loves to teach and she loves to shatter stereotypes. She does not wear a habit or veil and she does not live in a convent. She works part-time as a pharmacist at Target, is young and is the new face of nuns in America. "I am much happier having made this commitment than I would be had I been single and working part-time and volunteering part-time," Schrefels said.
It is a reward many more young women are seeking. Exact figures are hard to come by, but national organizations are excited to say that younger women -- and men -- are much more open to a lifelong religious commitment than they were 10 years ago.
In Minnesota, Sister Julie Brandt sees the trend first-hand. "For women in their college years, there's a much greater openness to even explore that possibility than when I was in college," Brandt said.
The charismatic appeal of Pope John Paul II and his many World Youth Days are credited with energizing an entire generation that's now about 18-25 years old. "It's almost like it's a cool thing to look at so they get a lot of support from their peers," Brandt said.
The other group interested in becoming nuns is women in their 30s and 40s. They are women who are re-examining their lives, seeking more meaning and are exploring spirituality, but want to do it in a group setting. "Professional experience and have established themselves in a career but they are looking at wanting something deeper, wanting something more, so they are searching and they seem to be finding us," Brandt said.
Web sites are the main way people are finding their way to the sisterhood. Blogs, including "A Nun's Life", have given people a peek inside. Services such as "Vocation Match" also help people find an order that suits their personality and needs.
The next step is usually a personal visit. "The younger generation, the ones that are in their early 20s, they call it the nun run," Schrefels said.
Schrefels said she was drawn to the School Sisters of Notre Dame because of the work they do to educate and empower women and children. The Sisters have a residence in Mankato, Minn., but Schrefels lives in a Twin Cities home with five other women. She gives her Target paycheck to her religious order.
Schrefels said her choice to become a nun is something people at work are always curious about. "They're like, 'Oh, you have everything up,' and I say, 'Well, I've received a lot more than I've given, in terms of just, graces of love and God,'" Schrefels said.
A culture that seems to value money, power, sex and materialism may actually be driving more young women to think about becoming nuns. "You get all this stuff and then what?" Schrefels said. "It's never enough, so it has to be about relationships and it has to be about family. It has to be about love."
Becoming a nun in most Catholic religious orders usually takes about six years. WCCO-TV