Jenna Prather to join Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Norfolk, Neb.

Jenna Prather with Sr. Inviolata Mukhaabi, OSB of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Norfolk, Nebraska.  On January 15, Jenna became a postulant for the order. (Sara Kraft photo)

By Sara Kraft

In middle school and high school, Jenna Prather was a typical teenager. While she attended St. Charles Borromeo School and St. Pius X High School, she didn’t attend Mass regularly outside of school functions. In high school, a group of friends convinced her to go on a Steubenville conference with them, as it would be fun for all of them to go on a trip and share a hotel room together. At that conference, Jenna encountered Christ.

“During adoration, I had a powerful experience. I realized Jesus would have died on the cross even if it was just for me,” explained Jenna. “I learned a lot about myself and the love of Christ that weekend.” This experience led her to a deeper encounter with Christ and she began attending Mass regularly and attending youth group at St. Gabriel Parish in the Northland.

Later, Jenna attended Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Her senior year of college, she began discerning religious life. Jenna thought she had found a community, but the sisters said no. They thought she was called elsewhere. “And it broke my heart,” explained Jenna.

After graduation, Jenna worked at Benedictine College in Campus Ministry for a year. Later, she got a job at Cerner in the support department. At that time, she began volunteering at St. Andrew the Apostle’s youth group. In 2015, youth from St. Andrew Parish met sisters from the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Norfolk, Nebraska at a conference, and the youth were invited to go visit the sisters. When St. Andrew’s youth group organized the “nun run” in December of 2015, Jenna was the only person over twenty-five (required for the rental car) and free that weekend.

“I kept telling myself, this isn’t for me, this is for the girls. It turned out to be a life-changing trip,” Jenna stated.

When the group arrived, Jenna explained, “I walked in the doors and just sort of knew I belonged.”

Because of her time at Benedictine College, Jenna found herself drawn to the Benedictine way of life. Her prayer life thrives in that environment. She also was drawn to how active the Missionary Benedictine Sisters are and the fact they wear a habit.

In many orders, the nuns focus on one thing – such as teaching or nursing. The charism of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters is to participate in the missionary service of the Church to fulfill the needs of the surrounding community in any way they can. The sisters serve in youth ministry, elder ministry, Winnebago – St. Augustine Indian Mission, ministry to Latinos, and other community outreach projects. Through these actions, they seek to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ.

“They are not all doing one thing,” explained Jenna. “They use the gifts the sisters bring to serve the community around them.”

Still, when the sisters would call or text following the visit, she avoided them for a year. “In reality, I was scared. I was scared I was going to get my heart broken again. I think I knew I was called to religious life but didn’t want to admit it,” Jenna explained.

In 2016, Jenna took St. Andrew Parish youth back for another nun run. One of the nuns pulled her aside and asked, “What are you doing with your life? What are you doing with your vocation?”

A few months later, Jenna went back to visit by herself. During that visit, God provided answers to her questions. After her week-long visit, Jenna remembers her father telling her, “You’ve been praying about this for so long, you just need to do something about it.”

During her discernment process, Jenna found that God continued to put the right people in the right place for her. She learned to trust.

As she visited communities, she asked herself, “Do I feel at peace? Do I feel at home here? Is the way they pray going to help me grow?”

The hardest part of discerning her vocation was realizing just how much her relationship with her family would change if she joined a religious order. Jenna is one of two children, and she knew if she entered a religious order she would miss major milestones in her family’s lives. However, in Jenna’s chosen order, she is able to keep Facebook, email, and bring her Ipad so she can occasionally Facetime her family.

In order to join the order, Jenna had to pay down her debt. Her parents were very supportive in helping her create a budget and be accountable to that budget.

On January 15, Jenna became a postulant for the sisters. She and one other postulant will spend their first year learning about the community and about the sisters, including taking turns with the laundry and at the Winnebago – St. Augustine Indian Mission. Then, Jenna will become a novice for two years. Three years after arriving, she can take First Vows, where she will receive a habit and a new name. Eight total years after entering as a postulant, Jenna can take final vows.

To those considering religious life, Jenna encourages, “Be open. Many times I closed myself off and tried to avoid whatever was coming. It caused a lot of turmoil.”

“If you open your heart just a tiny bit, then God will find the way in to direct and lead you to the next step,” Jenna added.

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Thursday
February 22, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph