I tend to spotlight older men entering the priesthood around here, but thanks to The Anchoress, I can turn the spotlight this morning on an older woman — and grandmother — who has found a late vocation as a sister.
When Sister Shirley Shafranek makes her final profession of vows as a Catholic nun Sunday morning, two of her grandchildren will be gift bearers at the Mass.
The 59-year-old mother of three and grandmother of five will become the first grandmother ever to join the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin as a nun and the first mother since Elizabeth Schaeffer, who co-founded the religious order in 1869.
“The call was always within me but I chose to ignore it for a while,” Sister Shirley said in an interview last week.
Representatives of several national religious orders said they had no data on the number of mothers or grandmothers becoming Catholic nuns, but Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the Chicago-based National Religious Vocations Conference, said “it is not a trend, it’s more of an exception.”
Brother Paul said canon law, the Catholic Church’s legal code, sets no age limit for someone entering religious life but “allows each community to set their own policies in that regard.”
A woman who has been married and divorced must have her marriage annulled within the church, he said, and, if she is a mother, her children must be old enough to not be her dependents. Widows can become nuns but have different criteria, he said.
Msgr. Charles Singler, the Toledo diocese’s director of vocations and its worship office, said someone who has been a parent or grandparent has life experience that can benefit others.
“Although it’s not a large number of people who would be following that pattern, they bring a great wealth of experience as a parent or grandparent. They have had experience in life and of life’s trials and tribulations in a way that they can provide a service to people in faith, maybe in ways that a young person would not be able to,” Monsignor Singler said.
He said he knew of two priests in the Toledo diocese who entered the seminary after having been widowed.
“Certainly God does not have limits on who he calls into service in the church as women religious or priests or brothers,” Monsignor Singler said.
The United States has 67,000 nuns, and 103 Tiffin Franciscan sisters are serving in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Mexico.
Read more. Congratulations, sister! Ad multos annos!