BELLINGHAM – An emphasis on helping young people learn about religious life and discern their vocations is bearing fruit at the Newman Center at Western Washington University and nearby Sacred Heart Parish.
“The focus for us with students is to take away any preconceived notions of religious life and make it more accessible,” said Emma Fisher, director of the WWU Newman Center. When students encounter someone in religious life, a recurring comment Fisher hears is, “I never expected them to be normal.”
Thanks in part to the interaction with religious people and a prayerful environment, four men from the community have become priests in recent years, another is a brother and a woman recently became a novice in a religious community. Another woman is discerning a vocation to religious life, while another man is in the seminary.
At nearby Sacred Heart Parish, where the priest administrator, Father Cody Ross, is also chaplain for the Newman Center, members of the parish’s Serra Club foster vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life.
The members pray for vocations, host discernment dinners — where a bishop and priests meet with men considering the priesthood — several times a year and raise money to help support seminarians and people considering vocations.
Sister Maura Clare, a WWU graduate who became a novice with the Sisters of Mercy in July, said Sacred Heart’s Serra Club provided financial support during her discernment. In addition, members sent her care packages and provided financial support to pay for visits to the motherhouse.
“We kind of have fingers in lots of pies,” said Serra Club member Philip Gubbins. “We can always pray for vocations, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The Newman Center encourages vocations by organizing retreats every quarter to bring priests, brothers and sisters to campus to interact with the students. In spring of 2019, the center organized the Newman Cup, a weekend event that gathered Catholics from other colleges on the WWU campus. A highlight was a kickball tournament with students, priests, brothers and sisters participating (this year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19).
The Newman Center has relationships with several communities of women religious, including the Sisters of Mercy on Shaw Island, the Dominican sisters at Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Bremerton and the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity sisters at St. Alphonsus Parish in Seattle, who have visited the Newman Center in Bellingham.
Priests are available to speak with men considering the priesthood, including Father Ross and Father Bryan Dolejsi, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Seattle, who visits several times a year.
“The more those faces are around, the more likely the guys are going to ask questions,” Fisher said.
Six years from RCIA to taking vows as a religious brother
In about six years, Western Washington University graduate Brandon Rappuhn went from becoming Catholic to taking his first vows as Benedictine Brother Damien-Joseph Rappuhn at St. Martin’s Abbey in Lacey. Photo: Courtesy St. Martin’s Abbey
In about six years, Western Washington University graduate Brandon Rappuhn went from becoming Catholic to taking his first vows as Brother Damien-Joseph Rappuhn at St. Martin’s Abbey in Lacey.
He joined the church in 2012 through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in Spokane and began discerning his vocation after returning to Bellingham in 2012.
“I walked into Sacred Heart [Parish] and said, ‘What could I do?’” he recalled.
During his time there, he served as an RCIA sponsor and altar server, attended daily Mass and prayer classes, sang in the choir and helped with the high school ministry at nearby Assumption Parish.
“It provided the kind of atmosphere I needed to grow,” including time for quiet reflection, adoration and praying the rosary, Brother Rappuhn said.
Around 2014, he and a group of men met with Father Joseph Altenhofen, then pastor at Sacred Heart Parish, for an informal question-and-answer session about vocations, where he received the book To Save a Thousand Souls, by Father Brett Brannen. He also learned about Vocation Boom, which produces radio and TV programs encouraging vocations to the priesthood.
“As soon as I tried to learn a little bit, the floodgates opened,” Brother Rappuhn said, adding that Father Altenhofen guided him through the discernment process.
As he was researching religious orders, the company where he was working went out of business. So he took a job at St. Martin’s University in March of 2016 and entered the abbey in January 2017.
Being in Bellingham was a peaceful and quiet time in his life, Brother Rappuhn said in an email.
“I was continuing to grow in my love for my new Catholic faith,” he said, “blazing though books and falling in love with the sheer depths and magnitude of spiritual experiences and expressions within the church and her history.”
Call to religious life nurtured at Western
Sister Maura Clare Mayock, left, became a novice with the Religious Sisters of Mercy in July. She grew up in Ferndale and felt her call to religious life deepen while attending Western Washington University in Bellingham and participating in the Catholic Newman Center there. Photo: Courtesy Religious Sisters of Mercy Facebook page
While attending college at California Institute of Technology, Maura Mayock felt a call to religious life. Mayock, who grew up in Ferndale and attended St. Joseph Parish, took time off from school to figure out why she was Catholic. She learned more about church teachings and vocations.
Later, as a student at Western Washington University, she was a student teacher at the Catholic Newman Center. She spent time in adoration, attended Mass most days of the week (often at Sacred Heart Parish) and went to confession; in 2013, she was confirmed at Sacred Heart.
“It was a time that would continually feed my heart and grow my friendship in God and receive support and encouragement,” she said.
It took a couple of years to figure out her life; after graduating with a degree in geophysics, she worked as youth ministry director at Immaculate Conception/Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Everett.
Although she knew of the Sisters of Mercy, it was a friend who suggested in 2019 that she consider learning more about the religious community. After visiting the sisters at their convent on Shaw Island, she entered the community’s motherhouse in Alma, Michigan. In July 2020, she became a novice in the community and took the name Sister Maura Clare.
“The novitiate is a time of going deeper into a relationship with the Lord as a foundation for religious life and forming your identity as a sister,” Sister Maura Clare said in an email. “That new identity comes with a new name.”
“It is an important time of formation to learn to pray and act as a religious, form deeper bonds with the sisters of the community and learn about the history and charism of the community.”
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