‘For your husband is your maker’

| Clare Kolars | August 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Prayer and surrender at heart of local women’s plans to enter religious life

Anna Romportl, 22, a parishioner of  St. Michael in Stillwater, plans to join the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. Courtesy Anna Romportl

Anna Romportl, 22, a parishioner of St. Michael in Stillwater, plans to join the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. Courtesy Anna Romportl

“What am I doing with my life?”

It’s a crucial question asked by young and old alike. For two young women in the Twin Cities, the answer to their common question was to become a religious sister.

Shantel Schallenkamp was accepted into the Carmelite Sisters in Los Angeles on her 30th birthday this past spring.

“Discernment has been easy in the sense that he has paved the entire way — completely invited me to walk this path. I just had to say yes,” said Schallenkamp, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

Although the journey has been long, God planted the seeds of her vocation at a young age.

Shantel Schallenkamp, 30, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Paul in  St. Paul, plans to join the Carmelite Sisters in Los Angeles this month. Courtesy Shantel Schallenkamp

Shantel Schallenkamp, 30, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, plans to join the Carmelite Sisters in Los Angeles this month. Courtesy Shantel Schallenkamp

“My mom exposed me to the sisterhood, but I always pushed away the idea of being a nun,” Schallenkamp said with a laugh. “Usually that means there’s a vocation there.”

Although she had a small conversion at a confirmation retreat in high school, Schallenkamp admits she tried to leave Jesus behind when going to college.

“I told myself that I couldn’t profess this faith if I didn’t know him,” she said.

But God was persistent. After numerous encounters with peers asking her to join them for Mass, she began to take her faith more seriously.

‘A long journey’

Schallenkamp realized her vocation choice was a heavy brick on her heart. An experience in confession prompted her to discern religious life.

After attending a “come and see’” event with the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, she began actively to discern what God was calling her to do. Now she plans to spend the rest of her life with the Carmelites.

“It’s been a very long journey,” Schallenkamp said. “I became impatient and doubtful, but the beauty of discernment is to learn what he made my heart for.”

The Carmelite Sisters in Los Angeles are active in the community, where they serve the young to the elderly, while maintaining their contemplative prayer life.

“I was drawn to that balance of prayer and work,” Schallenkamp said.

Since announcing her acceptance with the sisters, Schallenkamp said she has received overwhelming support.

“It’s been very humbling,” she said. “All I’m doing is saying yes to an invitation from him [God].”

She added that many wonder how this new life will fit her outgoing personality.

“To disconnect from social media will be hard, and it will be difficult to leave my family, but I do have the contemplative spirit when I have time,” Schallenkamp said. “I am excited for the opportunity to step outside of the world.”

Not alone

While Schallenkamp’s story is an unusual one among today’s young adults, she is not alone in her journey of discernment. A woman from Stillwater shares a similar story, and, like Schallenkamp, will enter religious life in August.

Anna Romportl, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, plans to enter the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville.

“It’s been a slow process,” Romportl said. “I was always involved with my faith, but my personal relationship with Jesus wasn’t strong.”

She experienced a conversion during a Totus Tuus (Latin for “Totally Yours”) camp the summer before her junior year of college. “It was a turning point — I fell in love with Jesus,” said Romportl, a parishioner of St. Michael in Stillwater.

“I was receiving the Eucharist every day, and it changed my heart. I didn’t realize it until I couldn’t go to Mass every day on campus,” Romportl said. “We were teaching the sacraments to the children, and I realized it made my faith very real, and so I took it more seriously.”

That following January, Romportl attended a retreat with the Dominicans in Nashville, where she said the sisters showed her how to pray.

Romportl admitted she was stubborn to consider religious life.

“I thought I could outsmart God . . . but that never works. Don’t try it,” she said with a laugh.

Her heart was softened after completing a novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, where she read the following verse from Isaiah: “For your husband is your maker; the Lord of Hosts is his name.”

“I read that on the ninth day of my novena, which was also Easter Vigil,” Romportl said. The verse was also a part of the liturgy for Easter Vigil. “I told my parents the next morning that I wouldn’t be going to grad school, that I would seriously discern religious life.”

Her parish and family have been extremely supportive. The reaction from classmates and professors, however, is a different.

“When I tell them, they’re in utter shock,” Romportl said. “I wish I had a camera around my head to record their reactions.

“Some are horrified, some are fascinated,” she added. “People love mystery, and the Catholic Church is enveloped in it. As young people, we’re all about the radical. My decision is radical, and people love that.”

Although her decision has brought joy, it hasn’t been without challenge.

“Saying goodbye to my family, our traditions and big gatherings will be difficult,” Romportl said quietly. “I’m going to be out of the loop for the rest of my life.

“It’s a sacrifice to give up a physical family . . . I’ll be living that reality with other sisters soon, but now I’m very alone with that decision, especially with the pressure the world puts on marriage,” Romportl added.

Advice for others

In addition to Romportl and Schallenkamp, at least three other young women with ties to the archdiocese plan to enter religious life this fall. The archdiocese does not keep statistics of how many local women enter anually.

Both Romportl and Schallenkamp leave encouraging advice for young people searching for their path.

“People assume everyone gets married, but young people need to ask, ‘What am I called to do?’ rather than, ‘Here are my plans, what do you think of them?’” Romportl said.
Schallenkamp advised not to underestimate the power of God. After discerning God’s presence, one should see if there is a pattern to his call.

“Pray for surrender,” she added. “Find where the Lord is and is not.”

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Category: Year of Consecrated Life