By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

When Sister Deborah Krist, who just celebrated her 25th anniversary as a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia, was an infant she was sickly because of an RH blood factor. At her baptism, her dad placed her on the altar and dedicated her to God.

“He still takes partial credit for my vocation,” she laughed.

Born in Connecticut, she is the youngest child and only daughter of Michael and Mary Krist’s three children. She was raised in Philadelphia where she attended St. Henry School and Little Flower High, of which she still has very fond memories.

That’s where she first began to seriously consider the convent and was especially drawn to the Franciscans because they seemed very simple and very joyful. “It didn’t seem to take a lot to make them happy,” she recalls.

Nevertheless after high school she worked a bit and even took a semester at Southern Cal before entering.

Yes, there was a slight twinge when she had to leave jewelry behind, but “I loved the life from the time I entered,” Sister Deborah said. “The sisters were what they said they were; women of integrity and very authentic, with a common love for God and love for neighbor.”

After formation she entered the education apostolate as a teacher in the primary grades, successively at St. Colman, Ardmore; All Saints, Philadelphia; and St. Francis de Sales, Lenni. She loved teaching, but almost 10 years ago the congregation asked her to become vocations director, which she did for five years. Now she is in her fourth year as principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Morton, which is equally satisfying. Sister Deborah’s years in vocation work gives her some insights into the challenges of that field.

Religious life “is a unique way of life, and it is counter-cultural. I loved going out and talking about it, there are so many stereotypes,” she said.

She enjoyed going out to schools and retreats to promote the religious life because she loves the life herself, and that made it easy to talk about it.

Although she entered at age 21, and only regrets it wasn’t sooner, today’s candidate is more apt to be about 30. “I would encourage them to have experiences in life before entering,” Sister Deborah said. “But there is no special age. A dear friend of mine entered in Ireland at 16.”

Another friend, she said, entered at 40 and died the day after she made her final vows, and she was one of the best religious she ever met.

Religious life, she believes, is like a good marriage, “it brings out the best in you.”

In any case, no matter the age, the years of postulancy and novitiate are not only formation, they are continued discernment.

For example, in her own congregation where the postulancy year is called candidacy, “You keep your job, you keep your own check book, but you live in community with the sisters. This gives you a realistic idea of what religious life is about,” she said.

Her own advice to a young woman considering the convent?

“Pray. If this is what God is calling you for, He will give you the grace to go forward.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.