‘Convent crawl’ gives an experience of diversity in religious life

Sid Hastings
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The former chapel in the convent building at Our Lady of the Presentation Church years ago was subdivided into two small rooms, an informal entry/waiting area and an office.

Nothing extraordinary about it ... except God's work still happens in that space.

Whereas the sounds of Mass or the silence of prayer once dominated, the musical notes of joy now fill the air. Under the auspice of Sister Brenda Fritz, DC, the parish's music director, the convent has been transformed into the Presentation Arts Center, an arts ministry thriving in its first year.

The parish offers after-school music lessons in piano, violin and guitar, with the drums hopefully on the horizon. Through a partnership with the Ritenour School District, high school students volunteer as teachers and International Welcome Center students can get free music lessons.

Religious sisters such Sister Brenda, a Daughter of Charity, joyfully spearhead numerous vibrant ministries in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, filling vital roles in education, health care, social services and more. These accomplished women live their dreams while serving the Lord.

Convent crawl

Religious communities are working to fill those vital roles with several combining for a two-day vocation tour, the novely named "Convent Crawl" on Friday, Feb. 17, and Saturday, Feb. 18. Over 24 hours, interested women will explore how religious sisters live, pray and serve in St. Louis. The convent crawl includes stops at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Sister Brenda's Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, Adorers of the Blood of Christ and Society of Helpers also will participate, with several other communities as possibilities.

The sisters appropriated the term from "pub crawl" and adopted the social-networking and traveling aspects, like-minded people gathering and visiting multiple venues. Interested women explore multiple communities instead of just one on an individual order's come-and-see weekend.

"With an event like this, you'll get a bigger group, which is nice for the girls," said Sister Amy Hereford, CSJ, a lawyer. "They can go around with other women kind of thinking like they're thinking and build some relationships and support networks as well."

The sisters also collaborated for a weekend reflection and discernment retreat in November. Events such as the convent crawl and conceptually similar nun runs allow interested women to experience the diversity in religious life and charisms, which Sister Pam Falter, OSF, described as a "really important part of collaborative."

Presentation Arts Center

Sister Brenda's unique arts ministry ranks among many with accomplished women doing the Lord's work. The program grew out of the parish viability study, which showed it needed to shore up its outreach and young adult ministries. Sister Brenda oversees the new arts center, which includes "amazing art classes" for adults during the day and weekly quilters.

With the arts center, Sister Brenda is building on a bachelor's degree in piano presentation from Chicago's DePaul University — a Vincentian School — where she first encountered the Daughters.

"I felt they were very balanced women," said Sister Brenda, who entered the community 29 years ago. "They worked hard, prayed hard and had such a joy. I loved their community life. Of course, their service of the poor ... Wow!"

At Presentation, Sister Brenda fulfills the community's charism by reaching out to families in need. Venezuela and Mexico are represented among her students, including Benjamin Delgado. With his mom and two brothers in the waiting room on a recent day, he played a portable piano her office, just to the side of canopy above the former altar space.

"It's only his second lesson," she told a visitor. "He's totally nailing it." 

>>Convent Crawl

Who • Single women, ages 18-40

When • 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday Feb. 18

Where • Begins and ends at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet convent, 6400 Minnesota Ave., St. Louis, 63111. Transportation to the venues is provided.

Why • Explore how religious sisters live, pray and minister

Cost • $25 (scholarships available)

Participating communities: Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, Adorers of the Blood of Christ

More information • Contact Sister Pam Falter, OSF at (314) 703-4024 or srpam@fsolph.org; or visit www.stlouisreview.com/bVl 

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