SASKATOON — For more than 30 years, Discernment House has been building a culture of vocations, forming, mentoring and encouraging young adults to prayerfully consider their call in life.
Located near the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Discernment House is the home of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary. It is also home base for active outreach to youth who are seeking a deeper relationship with God. Offerings include regular discernment retreats for both women and men, and a live-in opportunity for young women.
“We continue to offer the live-in program with community living and spiritual journeying with young ladies,” says Sister Lucie Hamel, PM. “Again this year we offered two Personal History live-in weekends for both men and women: both were very appreciated and grace-filled times. We also offer a number of other retreat opportunities.”The young women who are presently living in community with the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary at Discernment House recently reflected on the joys and challenges of this unique experience, which offers them an affordable place to stay, a chance to experience Christian community life with the sisters and other residents, and opportunities for spiritual growth. Because of the Discernment House location, close to the university and downtown, the opportunity is particularly attractive to students.
Jessica Cornish of Calgary is in her first year of studies at the University of Saskatchewan, pursuing a degree in nursing. Originally from Austin, Texas, Cornish says that her experience at Discernment House has been extremely positive.
“Coming right out of high school it gave me some needed structure in my life as I entered into university living. It also provided me with a wonderful and joyful community that has challenged and helped me grow in my faith,” she said.
“One of the biggest blessings about living in the house is that we celebrate daily mass every morning. This has been one of the most nurturing aspects of living here, because receiving the eucharist daily and having it be so easily accessed is such a gift,” said Cornish.
Living in community does require a time commitment, she noted. “Although managing a busy school and social schedule with the Discernment House schedule can sometimes prove difficult, it is worth it to be apart of such an encouraging and strong community.”
One highlight for Cornish this year was decorating for Christmas. “Before Christmas we spent our community night evening redecorating the house to be very festive and bright with Christmas lights, we did this while listening to carols on the old record player and eating gingerbread cookies that Mary (Deutscher) had made, and we had decorated together. It was a time where I experienced the warmth and joy of community even amidst the dreariness of finals,” she said.
“Another highlight was the countless hours of watching Blue Jays baseball that was spent with Mary in the TV community room.”
Quynh Tram Nguyen of Vietnam has also lived at Discernment House this year. “I am turning 26 this October and currently doing my master’s degree in educational administration at the U of S,” she said. “Living at Discernment House is a very new experience to me, since I have been living with my family for more than 25 years of my life.”
Among the many advantages and blessings of Discernment House, Nguyen listed “the chapel, where I can shelter from this hustle and bustle life,” as well as seeing a crucifix in every room “which grants me the feeling of being protected and safe.”
The atmosphere at Discernment House is home-like, she described. “I like the rocking chairs with woolen blankets on, which always give me comfort and warmth during the winter,” she said. She appreciates the library as a place to study “and get lost in the books,” and the music room: “I can’t play any instruments, but listening to people practising is also a kind of joy.”
Nguyen noted that she did find it challenging to adjust to a new culture, including different kinds of food, and helping with the cooking. “I am getting used to walking around in the kitchen and preparing meals — and I do enjoy that,” she said.
“Since I come from Asia, my language, mindset, and culture is totally different from Canadian people. Those things become barriers not only when I live here but also when I study at the university. Sometimes in the house I feel isolated, but this is just my personal limit. Hopefully as time goes by I will get used to Canadian lifestyle.”
Time management is also a challenge, since residents are committed to being home by 5:30 p.m. to pray and eat together. “This is a challenge, but to some extent, maybe because of Asian culture, I have no difficulty obeying that, since I also had to do the same thing when I was home. Like, you can skip breakfast and lunch time, but you have dinner with your family.”
She enjoys morning mass, although “I have never thought of getting up at 7 a.m. for a mass in the past 25 years. This is also a challenge because I am not a ‘morning person.’ But thanks to morning masses, I can start my day with prayers instead of worries.”
The community spirit and relationships developed at Discernment House are precious, she said. “I like the way people care about one another here. We talk about work life, academic life, and sometimes personal life, to support and pray for one another. This makes me feel like home.”
For the past two years, Discernment House has also been home to Mary Deutscher, a PhD student in public policy.
“I am from Saskatoon, but I have also lived in Ottawa and Regina, and when I returned to Saskatoon I knew that I wanted to live in a different way during my studies,” she said.
The spiritual enrichment and Christian community she has experienced at Discernment House has been a huge support, said Deutscher, who is also a member of the Justice and Peace Commission for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
“Over the past year I have been working with the Diocese of Saskatoon in the fight against euthanasia. This has been challenging for me as this issue can be draining to say the least, and I am grateful for the support the sisters and my housemates have given me. They have kept me grounded through their witness to our faith and by helping me to share in the small joys of life — nothing brings you down to earth quite like a chocolate cheesecake for your birthday!”
She added: “I will carry my experiences from my two years at the Discernment House with me wherever I go and would like to express my deepest appreciation for the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary for opening their home to me.”
The Sisters of the Presentation are also grateful for the opportunity to walk with others, said Sister Lucie Hamel, PM. “We are blessed in this ministry.”
The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary are now taking applications for September. For more information about the Live-in Experience for young women at Discernment House in Saskatoon, contact Hamel at (306) 244-0726 or email firstname.lastname@example.org