By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Jesus deputized His apostles as “fishers of men.” Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth Michele Vincent Fisher thinks of herself as a “fisher of women.” She’s the national vocations director for her congregation and brings obvious joy to her ministry, loving every minute of it.
Sister Michele, who was honored as Woman of the Year by the Philadelphia Knights of Columbus at their Columbus Day dinner this year, is originally from Port Clinton, Schuylkill County, Pa. Adopted at 1-week-old by her late parents, Vincent and Vera Fisher, she first began to think about entering religious life as a child in St. Ambrose School, Schuylkill Haven. Her first encounter with the Holy Family Sisters was at Nativity B.V.M. High School, Pottsville.
The call was persistent and “the sisters were like family, it just seemed a normal thing to do,” she remembers.
She went on to Chestnut Hill College where she majored in Spanish and psychology with a minor in secondary education.
“High school and college life was good, I had a ball,” she said.
Nevertheless, in 1968, while still at Chestnut Hill she entered an affiliate program with the Holy Family Sisters. After graduation she was sent to Puerto Rico where she taught at two schools before coming back to Philadelphia for her novitiate, formally entering the congregation in 1989. After first vows she was missioned to the former St. Mary’s Villa in Ambler.
Then, because of the serious illness of her parents, she returned home to care for them while working as a pastoral associate in St. Mary Parish, Hamburg.
After her mother’s death she returned to Philadelphia and served as a pastoral associate at St. Christopher Parish from 2000 to 2006, until she took up her duties as vocation director.
“I do this because I love the Lord, I love His people and I love bringing people to Christ,” Sister Michele said. “I’m meeting some beautiful, wonderful women. It is building relationships here on earth as a sign of our relationship in heaven.”
Her work keeps Sister Michele on the road a couple of weeks every month, but there are results. “We admitted three affiliates last January and are getting ready to admit another. We also have several beginning the process,” she said.
The fact that her own congregation, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, still wears an identifiable religious habit (although modified from the past) is probably a help. “It gives people a clear idea about us,” Sister Michele said. “Our young people are looking for commitment, faithfulness to the Church and doing God’s work.”
There has always been wonderful collaboration with other vocation directors of the many religious orders and congregations, Sister Michele said. But one thing that has changed in the ministry is the use of the Internet, which is helping to get the message out. There is a web site, vocationmatch.com, through which people exploring a religious vocation can fill out a comprehensive questionnaire and be matched with congregations from the approximately 250 congregations registered with the site that most suit their stated desires.
Through the vocation site, “We get 10 to 12 inquiries a month,” Sister Michele said. Her own advice to those who are discerning their future:
“Don’t be satisfied when people ask you what you want to do,” Sister Michele said. “Rather, ask God what He wants you to do. Invite God into your plans, and that’s true for all of us whatever we do. It’s not just about you, it’s about God.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.