Teri Tolpa, 29, felt restless. Since graduating from college, she’d had jobs she enjoyed in pro-life ministries but she longed to get out from behind a desk to evangelize. Feeling she needed formation to do that, she left her job with Human Life International in Virginia and moved to Denver in 2011 to study at the Augustine Institute.
Two years later, she graduated with a master of arts in theology.
“It was a great place, a great experience,” she told the Register from Lighthouse Women’s Center where she serves as a missionary with Christ in the City.
But the restlessness in her heart remained.
“I was in a new place, a new environment and I still didn’t feel at peace,” she said.
A question that had been lingering in her mind and heart for years, one she hadn’t acknowledged, was growing stronger and couldn’t be ignored: “Am I being called to religious life?” she wondered.
“I had to answer the question once and for all,” she said. “I needed to figure it out.”
It was advice from a college friend, a recently ordained priest, that helped her take the next step.
“He told me, ‘Teri, sometimes you just need to cannonball into the deep end,'” she said. “You just need to trust and not be afraid of where the Lord’s calling you, and realize it’s been on your heart for a long time.”
Tolpa responded by visiting several religious orders including the Sisters of Life, a contemplative and active community founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life. She was attracted to them not only because of their shared pro-life fervor, but because of their eucharistic prayer life.
As she opened her heart “more and more” to what God wanted her to do, the restlessness began to dissipate.
“God seems to work in my life in a gradual way, very gently,” Tolpa said. “His timing is infinitely more perfect that ours. It’s not always when we think it will be, but it’s when we need it.”
Tolpa applied to the Sisters of Life and was accepted. She will begin formation at the order’s convent in the Bronx in New York City in September.
Didn’t see it coming
Kate Sweeney’s call to religious life was unexpected.
“I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t really anticipate it,” she said. “It’s a gift of God, it’s pretty much that simple.”
Sweeney, 32, has spent the last seven years as director of programs for (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women). She’s been instrumental in helping thousands of women understand their God-given dignity through the apostolate’s series of studies, which now extends to 125 dioceses.
“I had a great gift to work at Endow,” she said from her Greenwood Village office. “The Holy Spirit’s always been working in my life, and in my heart, in regard to recognizing the dignity in persons, especially women.
“My heart was created for this mission.”
As she worked with women all over the country, she experienced a deepening desire to give her whole heart and life to the mission of the dignity of the person.
“I just always thought that would be at Endow,” she said.
Through her work she traveled to the Archdiocese of New York where she reconnected with a friend from college that was now a Sister of Life: Sister Virginia Joy Cotter. The two wrote letters, and Sweeney visited a few times.
“I was so impressed as she shared their charism and how they serve women, particularly those in vulnerable situations,” Sweeney said. “They give the entirety of their lives to the dignity of the human person and the gift of life.”
Sisters of Life, in addition to traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,take a fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.
“We had so much in common,” Sweeney said. “It was so much fun.”
A profound moment came one day in April 2013 as Sweeney and Sister Cotter were talking in the convent garden.
“As she described the charism, the movement of the Holy Spirit was tangible in an awareness of my own heart,” Sweeney said. “Even a year earlier I couldn’t have heard or understood what God was doing.”
A few months prior, her spiritual director had challenged her to deepen her personal prayer life by spending more time in silent prayer.
“This is really what set my heart in a place to discern in a way I never had in the past,” she explained. She was accepted last March to join the Sisters of Life.
“It’s who God made me to be,” Sweeney said. “It’s a joy that trumps everything else.”
Once joining the community as postulants Sept. 6, Sweeney and Tolpa will live and pray with the sisters, take classes, assist in the apostolates including serving pregnant women, hosting retreats, providing post-abortive healing and otherwise building a culture of life, while continuing to discern God’s will. There are currently 80 sisters in the community. For more information, visit www.sistersoflife.org.