Raquel Ortiz and Daniela Vargas have spent nearly a year in discernment.Discerning, that is, if they want to join the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet religious community, and discerning how to follow their heart so that God can use their talents and skills for the betterment of the community and themselves, whichever the road they decide to follow.In the process, they are being helped by spiritual directors, teachers and friends, all members of the CSJs, whose charism responds to the needs in the community. That follows in the tradition of their founders, six French women who in the 1600s were encouraged by Jesuit priest Jean Pierre Medaille to support each other, pray together and listen to God’s call in their daily activities.Centuries later, Ortiz, 21, and Vargas, 26, are members of the Medaille House Community, a house of discernment where women are part of a formation process that its founder, Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Darlene Kawulok, labels as an “out-of-the-box” interdependent living. Here, the women support one another and grow spiritually along the process.The five-bedroom home in Los Angeles’ Mid-City area opened about a year ago with three women in discernment (one of which left to continue graduate studies out of state) and two CSJs, including Sister Darlene, director of vocations of the CSJ’s province of California, and Sister Carol Brong, who celebrated her golden jubilee in 2012. In July, three more women are expected to join the Medaille Community, and the home will move a couple of miles away to a nine-bedroom house.But the concept is not of a traditional novitiate, explained Sister Darlene. Aside from having earned (or on the way to earning) a higher education degree, the young women are required to have a job for at least two years in any field, and are encouraged to volunteer or to do internship in any capacity.“We have a focus of doing the mission of Jesus,” Sister Darlene told The Tidings. “When you look at the mission of Jesus, it is Matthew 25 — heal the sick, educate the illiterate, feed the hungry, provide shelter to the homeless, visit prisoners. And that is all done with degrees in social work, in education and health care.“So the Sisters of St. Joseph have always said that one of the things that they pride themselves of is that our women are educated for the mission. So we really encourage our women to have degrees.”When the CSJs look at women, she explained, the sisters have in mind a phrase used by Father Medaille: “You do all of which woman is capable.”“We ask them, ‘What are your gifts and talents and how do you want to use those gifts and talents for the people of God?’” said the professor of ethics and general theology at Mount St. Mary’s College, where she has taught for 13 years and chairs the Religious Studies Department.In the initial part of the formation process, Sister Darlene meets with the women for a period of time, during which they are invited to live at the House of Discernment, but not necessarily have to. If moving to the home implies a risk of the woman’s job, studies, or any other important part of her contribution to the ministry, the woman could be asked to live with the closest CSJ community to her city. Community life is important to the CSJs, she noted. “It is really a public witness about living together and praying together, which is what religious life is about.”If in their discernment process the women decide to go further in their religious life, they are invited to enter a six-month to one-year candidacy and they move out of the Medaille House Community.“This is very much a dialogue between the women and the community,” said Sister Darlene. “It’s not a cookie-cutter formation process, and so each one of them will be treated individually in their own process.”The whole formation process to become a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet takes between six and 10 years. Novitiate is the next step after candidacy, followed by first vows and final vows.Following canon law, the only time when the women are not part of the workforce is during the 24-month novitiate period, when they deepen their prayer life and spiritual life. Sister Darlene picked the idea of a House of Discernment for working women after observing her students working internships while considering career paths for further in life.“Why can’t I apply that to religious life?” she questioned herself after taking the vocations office. “Because in lots of ways lifestyle is what you want to do.” Then, borrowing an idea from author Parker Palmer, “Letting the life inside of you live,” she translated it into “Listen to the life that wants to live in you,” which is the title of the House of Discernment pamphlet that includes a superimposed picture of pots of different types and sizes, resembling a potter’s house.‘That’s so cool!’After nearly a year of discernment and sharing a life together with the sisters — including house chores, grocery-shopping, dining outside and a trip to visit the Jesuit-run Kino Border Initiative at the Mexican border with Arizona — Orozco and Vargas have learned more about themselves along with knowledge about the CSJ community.They both belong to Mexican families with strong Catholic roots who respect their decision to consider religious life. They both met Sister Darlene at Mount St. Mary’s College, where religious studies is one of Vargas’ three majors (in addition to history and biology), and is one of Orozco’s two majors (in addition to criminology).Sister Darlene met them in the ethics class she teaches where she saw firsthand their “tenacity and love for the poor and weak.”Although admitting that since an early age she has been attracted to religious life, it was difficult for Orozco deciding to move to the house on 12th Street. She comes from a close-knit family.“I always saw the sisters and said, ‘That’s so cool!’ I saw what they did, how they worked at my church,” in Santa Maria, where Orozco was born and raised in a family of 11 members (she is the sixth child and the eldest daughter). “At a young age I would always say ‘I want to be one of them,’ and it’s one of those things that I’m constantly thinking of.”The St. Joseph High School (Santa Maria) graduate said her future goal is to have a job working with juveniles in prison. She currently works as a cashier at a Rite-Aid Pharmacy, where she puts into practice what she learns at home, “treating everyone with respect and dignity, including the ragged homeless person who comes into the store and everyone rejects.”For Vargas, on the contrary, deciding to live at the Medaille House was not hard. She started learning about the CSJs at an early age. The director of religious education at her family’s home parish, St. John of the Cross in Lemon Grove, is an associate member of the religious community.It was through her that Vargas learned and was impacted by the mission and commitment of the women religious to social justice. As a high school student she began to get involved in pro-active volunteer work. “You felt that it wasn’t just a process,” Vargas reminisced. It was about “being accepted by the community because you were an active part [of it].”After she was confirmed, she gradually got involved in youth catechism and served as a catechist at her parish for eight years. At Mount St. Mary’s, she said, the students are encouraged to volunteer following the same “love-your-neighbor type of philosophy.” Seeking for an increased interaction with professors that she could only get in a smaller school, she transferred from the University of California San Diego to the Los Angeles-based college founded by the CSJs.One of the highlights of living in the house, she said, is the balance provided between an enriched spiritual life and community life. Aside from being enrolled in three majors, she has a part time job as a banquet server at a local hotel and in the summer she might volunteer at a local hospital. Her future career plans include a master’s degree in nursing to work in family medicine for migrant farm workers.The women meet daily for group prayer at a prayer room in the two-story house and once a month or once every two weeks (depending on schedule availability) they hold “porch time,” when they talk about life issues.“One of the things about this house is that coming and living here is to think about the ‘whats’ of your life,” said Sister Darlene. “Religious life could be one of the ‘whats,’ but then also the understanding of what God is calling you to do.”The women are free to go on one particular direction in their career or lifestyle and community life provides a way to deepen their understanding of those choices.“I’m not about the business of creating nuns,” said Sister Darlene, “but we are about God’s business of creating strong women who know what they’re supposed to do for the reign of God. And if becoming a Sister of St. Joseph is part of that, then that’s a wonderful piece” of the formation process.“Both Raquel and Daniela are people who care about the charism and passion for the dear neighbor, but they might not live with our lifestyle. We [CSJs] always say that the charism is a lot bigger than us.”“We share celebrations and sorrows,” said Vargas. “We celebrate together and feel the pain and share our emotions with each other. We’re a community, but we’re also a family.”An Open House will be held in the fall at the Medaille House Community. For more information call Sister Darlene Kawulok, CSJ’s vocation director, (310) 889-2117, or visit http://www.csjla.org/houseofdiscernment.aspx.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0607/csjvocations/{/gallery}