It’s a daunting challenge for anyone — but what if you feel called to religious life? There is help.
When Danielle Lussier of Battle Creek, Mich., was taking out loans to pay for her photography degree at the Rhode Island School of Design, she didn’t anticipate that God would call her to a “reversion,” a deeper life within the Catholic Church.
Nor did she foresee that she’d discern a call to the religious life with the Daughters of St. Paul in Jamaica Plain, Mass., that would necessitate paying off her school debt more quickly.
“When I signed my promissory note, I did not configure in my ‘reversion’ experience,” she said. “I thought, I have a 30-year plan here.”
Seeking freedom from educational debt so they can pursue their vocations, Lussier and 16 others who have discerned a call to the priesthood or religious life gathered Jan. 10-13 in the Twin Cities for the Labouré Society’s “boot camp”: an intense weekend of training, spiritual support and hands-on preparation to take on the challenge of raising funds to pay off their loans.
Since 2003, the Eagan, Minn.-based Labouré Society has equipped 230 “aspirants” — who were accepted into a diocese or religious community but blocked from entering or continuing formation because of educational debt — to resolve their debt through faith-based philanthropy.
On Friday afternoon of boot camp, Lussier and the rest of the class learned about professional fundraising techniques. Organizers believe these skills — along with an understanding of fundraising as ministry — are precisely what will help aspirants prepare financially, spiritually and mentally for their vocations.“‘Boot camp’ denotes something very specific: a hard training in a short period of time, changing people, equipping people,” said Cy Laurent, founder and executive director of the Labouré Society, which is named for St. Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous Medal.
Lussier and her classmates hold undergraduate and advanced degrees from a range of U.S. colleges and universities — and a total of $839,000 in educational debt. Working individually but also supporting each other as a team, each “aspirant” seeks to raise $45,000 toward paying off the loans in the next five months.
Each team raises an aggregate amount under the society’s 501c3 nonprofit status, so donations are tax-deductible. The society manages loan payments while aspirants are in formation and completes payments in steps by ordination or vows in case someone leaves during formation
The class isn’t unusual. An estimated 10,000 young people in the U.S. have discerned a vocation, but 42% are blocked from entering by educational loans, according to a 2010 National Religious Vocation Conference study. The average Labouré Society aspirant owes $40,000 in loans plus interest for an undergraduate degree, Laurent said.
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