Sophomore student Emily Naville came home from a spring break trip in March 2017 with big news for her parents. No, it was not that she had partied too hard on a beach somewhere — instead, she had requested papers to apply to a religious order.
“They were a little surprised in the timing, but my dad said, ‘I think I knew your vocation before you did,’” Naville said.
The process didn’t happen overnight; Naville said her entire life has been leading up to this moment.
Growing up in the small rural town of Floyds Knobs, Indiana, Naville’s Catholic faith has always played an important role in her life. She was baptized as a one-month-old, attended Catholic grade school, and was very active with her youth ministry during high school.
When she came to Ball State to study music education, she became a member of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church and Newman Center, located next to campus on Riverside Avenue. She began leading the student music there and deepened her parish involvement.
“Coming to college and being at the Newman Center has allowed me grow so much more, to really make my faith my own,” she said.
It wasn’t until February 2016, however, that she began to consider developing her faith in a new way.
One of her friends was going on a discernment retreat, which is a time for single Catholic women to reflect on their possible vocations (married, single or religious life), with an order of religious sisters. Naville thought it would just be a time to get away, but her reaction afterward was immediate.
“Being there with the sisters I just felt so at home, so at peace, and I really felt God calling me to be there,” she said. “It was just so beautiful how it seemed to reflect who I am.”
She spent the next 14 months seriously discerning, or contemplating and praying about, joining a religious order. She went on another retreat, attended a perpetual vows ceremony and began visiting different religious orders around the country.
Speech pathology junior Lizz White went on the first retreat with Naville and has been a source of support throughout her discernment. She said though Naville would go through periods of conflict trying to make a decision, she always had clarity after a retreat.
“She went on another discernment retreat, and I remember her coming back from it, and just that joy she had been lacking, it filled up in her again,” White said. “She said, 'Lizz, I just didn’t want to leave.’”
After continued searching, Naville visited the sisters during her spring break in March and requested papers to apply. Naville’s mom said they were more surprised at the timing and less at the actual choice to enter religious life.
“I had to process what all that meant, her leaving school and all that she has there,” her mom said. “But once we got past that and once we saw the joy and commitment she exudes, this joy, it made it easier to accept it and be excited for her.”
Naville said her family was one of her concerns. The process of becoming a fully committed religious sister takes about eight years in total. During her first year, she will only be able to write them letters and visit them for five days around Christmas and a week in May. After that, she will have two weeks a year for home visits.
“The most difficult thing for me in discernment has been thinking about my family, because I love my family so much, and when you enter religious life, the sisters really become your family,” she said. “It’s hard for them as well. My mom cries every time she sees me, but she’s happy for me. It’s just hard not getting to see someone you love as often as you’d like.”
Another challenge was the decision to give up the idea of having her own children. Despite this, Naville believes religious life will open her up to an even greater opportunity to be a "mother to all."
“Even before I was discerning religious life, I could always see myself as a mother but not really as a wife,” she said. “One of my favorite aspects of religious life is spiritual motherhood. Even as a single college student, I can be a spiritual mother to people in my life by loving them in a maternal way with a maternal heart. [The sisters] dedicate their whole lives to that.”
Naville will most likely be the youngest person entering the order. According to a survey done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown, the average age of responding religious in the class of 2016 was 39.
Sarah Striebich, the campus minister at St. Francis, has known Naville since her freshman year and is excited for her to have found her calling at a young age, even if it is out of the ordinary.
“It’s unusual in the sense that it’s not really accepted by our culture, it’s not something the world as a whole can wrap its mind around,” she said. “But the Lord still calls people there in great ways, and I’m glad Emily is taking that call.”
Naville said reactions to her decision have been mostly positive from family and friends. White remembers celebrating when Naville came over to her dorm room after spring break to deliver the news.
Naville found the reactions from her professors particularly interesting.
“A lot of my friends are religious and can connect on that level, but a lot of my professors aren’t, or I’ve never talked to them about it, but they had such supportive things to say,” she said. “One of my professors said, ‘I’m kind of jealous of you, that you found your place in the world.’”
Naville will spend one year as a postulant, two years as a novice, and then take temporary vows after three years, which she will keep until taking final vows eight years into the process. Her vows will be for poverty, chastity and obedience.
Though it will be a transition, Naville’s joy and excitement for the future is apparent when she talks about entering religious life. She will spend the summer with her family and take a vacation with them to Germany before entering into her new life Sept. 3.