Labouré Society offers religious hopefuls student loan relief

| December 31, 2015 | 0 Comments
Monica Ngeno talks with Sister Katherine Mullin, vocations director for the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis. Ngeno is working with the Eagan-based Labouré Society to raise money to pay off her student loan so that she will be debt free and able to join the Visitation Sisters. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Monica Ngeno talks with Sister Katherine Mullin, vocations director for the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis. Ngeno is working with the Eagan-based Labouré Society to raise money to pay off her student loan so that she will be debt free and able to join the Visitation Sisters. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Monica Ngeno does not consider herself an outgoing person. In her words, she’s “mostly introverted.”

The idea of calling people she had never met to ask for donations to relieve her $40,000 student loan debt was not the least bit appealing.

Yet, the 29-year-old just completed a six-month phase of doing just that. A higher calling compelled her to work through her fear of fundraising — a desire to join the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis.

Many religious orders do not allow people to join with student loan debt. But, it can often take 10 years or more to whittle down the tens of thousands of dollars many students borrow to complete their degree programs.

Ngeno’s debt accumulated from her undergraduate and graduate work. Although the Visitation sisters were willing to let her move toward postulancy while still paying off the loans, they did not have the means to cover the entire bill.

That’s where the Labouré Society came in. Founded in 2001 by Cy and Evelyn Laurent of St. John Neumann in Eagan, it assists people who want to enter the priesthood or religious life but can’t because of student loan debt. To date, the organization has served 267 “aspirants.”

“We call them miracles because they’re an answer to prayer,” said Cy Laurent, 77.

Those who work with the organization and undergo a three-day “boot camp” to kick off fundraising see results. Ngeno’s first effort raised $15,900. Not bad for someone who wouldn’t have envisioned herself fundraising at all, let alone generating nearly 40 percent of her loan.

“I was scared” of fundraising at first, said Ngeno, a parishioner of Risen Savior in Burnsville who was born and raised in Kenya and came to the U.S. in 2005. “I just thought, ‘It’s not something I see myself doing.’”

That kind of attitude does not deter Laurent and Labouré staffers, who regularly help people like Ngeno overcome their fear of fundraising.

“Most of these individuals fall into that category,” he said. “They’re quiet, they’re thoughtful, they’re conscientious, they’re a little bashful. Most of those called to priesthood and religious life might be more like that.”

He offered one example of how that type of person became a successful fundraiser.

“After three days of boot camp, one of our aspirants — diminutive, lovely, quiet, ‘All-I-want-to-be-is-a-cloistered-sister’ — went into rural Pennsylvania and raised $57,000 in six months,” he said. “That’s how good we are at training them.”

A key part of the program is not just asking donors for money, but inviting them to be part of a journey toward a vocation. Aspirants are instructed to tell potential donors their personal stories and ask them to be part of their journey into religious life. The money they give then goes into a general pool of money in the Labouré Society, but it is earmarked for the individual.

Laurent said that not everyone can reach their individual goal, but that can be overcome by others who exceed theirs. Ngeno said three of the seven people in her boot camp class reached their goal, and she plans to embark on a second campaign this month.

That’s good news for Visitation’s vocations director, Sister Katherine Mullin, who talked with Ngeno when she first made contact with the community. She also accompanied Ngeno to the boot camp to learn about fundraising and help with the process.

“I’m a fan of Labouré,” Sister Katherine said. ““The society lends so much hope to young people who are trying to do this, aspirants who are trying to enter seminary and religious life.”

Despite Labouré’s work, many people across the country never enter priesthood or religious life because of their debt load, Laurent said. It’s a fact that motivates his work.

“There are 10,000 discerners of priesthood and religious life in this country today,” Laurent said. “But, 42 percent of them have educational loans that prevent them from entering — 4,200 [people]. And, Labouré, doing its really good work all these many years, we’ve only helped 267. You see the urgency.”

For more information about Labouré and to donate, visit LaboureSociety.org.

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