While discerning their vocation with a religious community and before and after temporary and perpetual profession, the men and women who have received Vocation Fund grants keep themselves busy, not only in their studies, but in fulfilling the charism and mission of their religious institute. We are happy to shine a light on their work.
As a child, Sister Amy Westphal, R.S.M. roamed freely on the acreage of her family home in rural Goliad, Texas. “Everything inspired me from the baled hay, wildflowers, reeds to build huts, pecan and peach trees to snack from, and oak trees for tree houses,” she says. “During tough times, I learned to soothe myself by sitting on warm roof shingles to observe the setting sun in the pastures of sunflowers next door.”
Westphal grew up in the Lutheran Church. After completing her bachelor’s degree at Texas State University in 2013, where she received a degree in nutrition and dietetics, Westphal went on to receive a master’s degree from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC) in 2015, specializing in Hispanic ministry and care for creation. She first encountered the Sisters of Mercy at the Broadview Detention Center in Chicago as a volunteer while she was finishing her studies at LSTC.
She then returned to Texas to attend summer Spanish classes at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio. She arrived with only enough funds to pay for two weeks of classes. “When I showed up at MACC," she says, "I was the only non-Catholic there. I was in class with priests and sisters. I had a blast. Each night I would study with sisters, and then we would play Rumikub and watch movies. I started to listen to their lives and realized that they were describing something that I was looking for but not something I was familiar with.”
That sense of community would only intensify when Westphal moved into a home shared with Sister of Mercy Rose Weidenbenner. While living with Sister Rose, she began learning about the Sisters of Mercy community and spent her evenings reading about Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. “Her story captivated me,” says Westphal. “The way she listened to the movement of the Spirit and tended to the ministry for the needs of her time was inspiring.”
Shortly after this experience, Westphal decided to join the Catholic Church. She also began working with an organization called ARISE (A Resource in Serving Equality) at the Texas/Mexico border with immigrant women and children. “The charism of Mercy was very present in this ministry,” says Westphal. “I was attracted to the inclusivity that was present among the community at ARISE. Everyone was welcomed and their gifts were invited.”
The grant from the National Fund for Catholic Religious Vocations felt like an answer to a big question for Westphal. While at MACC, she read an article in VISION Vocation Guide that asked those discerning a religious vocation to make a list of anything that might prohibit a discerner from entering religious life. “At the top of my list were my student loans. The article also mentioned that God will make a way through these obstacles if the grace is there for the vocation,” she says. So when the call came in that Westphal received the grant from the National Fund for Catholic Religious Vocations, she said she trusted that this was “God’s way”: “I know that ‘nothing is impossible with God.”
For the past two years, Westphal has lived with a small community of sisters in San Francisco and ministered to numerous groups of individuals including unhoused people, members of the LGBTQ community, laywomen preachers, and deacons in the local diocese. She is in her second year of temporary vows and, she says, she has “experienced many complexities in ministry and community that have helped illumine the different vows and the shape of my call. Encountering the needs of our time requires a great deal of contemplation and prayer to take each step with integrity.”
(Photo courtesy of the Sisters of Mercy)
Sister Amy Westphal, R.S.M.