Q & A with Sr. Heather Jean Foltz

by Dan Stockman

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Every sister has a unique vocation story, but Benedictine Sr. Heather Jean Foltz’s seems to take a more creative route: from the United Methodist Church to the Benedictines, with stops at an ecumenical religious community and a prison along the way. Now Foltz, 31, is the director of social service at St. Paul Hermitage, a retirement and long-term care facility run by the Sisters of Saint Benedict at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Ind., just a few miles from downtown Indianapolis.

How does a Methodist from northwest Indiana end up as a sister in a Catholic monastery?

It’s not quite as unusual as it sounds. Growing up, our town had two Catholic churches and one United Methodist church, so the majority of my friends were Catholic, and when we’d have sleepovers we’d go to whoever’s church we were staying with. So it was more ecumenical than you might think. Then when I was in college, I really searched for a Methodist church, but no matter where I went I just didn’t feel at home. Something was missing for me – I wanted to go deeper.

At the same time, I was studying theology and sociology and the different sacraments of different churches, and just through that I began to believe for myself in the real presence of God in the Eucharist. So in my junior year, when I was invited to Mass, it was like coming home: The liturgy, the sacraments – that’s what attracted me.

Still, converting from Protestantism to Catholicism can seem like a big change.

I struggled with it for a long time. Part of it was I didn’t want to hurt my family’s feelings. But on a trip, I wanted to walk to this body of water, but there were many paths leading there. And I had to choose the one for me to take, just like I knew I had to choose the path to a deeper relationship with God. We all have to find that place God’s calling us to.

Then in my senior year, I had an opportunity to live in an ecumenical religious community – that’s where the first seeds of religious life were planted. We lived together, prayed together, wrote our rules of life together. I found I was called to be my best self by living in community – I was growing in self-knowledge by living in community and growing in my relationship with God. But I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out, because I was still Methodist. Finally, I started [the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] right after I graduated from college.

But you didn’t just convert – you joined religious life.

God moves in big ways! A chaplain I knew, who’s a sister here at Our Lady of Grace, invited me to help with a Bible study in a nearby women’s prison as part of my social work. And from that I started visiting here – and the first time I prayed here, I just felt at home. The sisters were chanting the Psalms, and I could see that the sisters’ ministries flowed out from their life of prayer.

I began to visit more frequently until one sister asked when I was going to enter, and I said, ‘Oh, I’m not entering – I’m just visiting!’

But once that question was asked, it wouldn’t go away. Finally I came to a vocation weekend, and after that I felt like I really needed to explore whether to join religious life. Then one weekend when I was home, my sister asked when I was going to enter.

She said, ‘When you come back from the monastery, you’re just so happy. I can see that’s the direction God’s leading you.’

What about monastic life? Does that make being a sister more challenging?

No, because my vocation call is very closely tied to my ministry. It’s like this cycle: We pray, we work, and we come back and pray some more – the prayer and the work very much support one another. And it’s such a blessing to work with one of our corporate ministries because the work is amazing, and I get to work with sisters.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/dan.stockman2.]