While listening to a podcast about a year ago, Julia Osęka, then a sophomore at Saint Joseph’s University, became intrigued with synods.
While cleaning her bathroom, she listened to the Jesuit Conference podcast, “Synodality Starts with Coffee” with Sr. Nathalie Becquart, a French Catholic religious sister, who was appointed a consultor to the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church in 2019 and named one of its undersecretaries in 2021.
“She really emphasized how synodality was something that happens on a personal level,” said Osęka. “It’s learning to listen attentively to other people, to be in spiritual conversation.”
Osęka says that Becquart used the example of “meeting someone for a coffee date or meet-up.”
“It’s so simple in its nature,” Osęka said. “It really brought [synodality] down to earth for me, instead of being a lofty Church initiative.”
Now, Osęka, who will be starting her junior year this fall at St. Joe’s, has been selected by Pope Francis as one of 10 voting delegates from North America to the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome which takes place from Oct. 4-29, 2023.
This marks the first time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church that non-bishops will have voting status in a synod.
Osęka was born in Sobienie Jeziory, Poland. She lived with her family until the age of 13. Then she went to a boarding school in Warsaw to focus on musical studies in violin performance.
Osęka graduated from high school in Poland in 2021 and matriculated at St. Joe’s as a physics major. “It always fascinated me as a subject,” she says of her studies in physics.
She originally had not planned to study outside of her homeland but was attracted to St. Joe’s for its physics program and was awarded the John P. McNulty scholarship for women showing leadership in science and mathematics.
After taking an honors-level Hebrew Bible course at St. Joe’s with Dr. Julie B. Deluty, Osęka added a second major–Theology.
She says that studying both subjects – physics and theology – uses “different methods, different tools,” but she sees a connection, which is “looking for God in everything.”
Osęka says she was also excited to become involved with campus ministry as a freshman, especially for the opportunity to be an altar server, “since that’s not something that girls can do” in her region of Poland.
“Being close to the altar and the Eucharist is truly important to me, and I treasure it a lot,” she said.
She became a sacristan in the campus ministry chapel, and later a peer minister for liturgy music.
In 2022, Osęka became involved as a student leader in Synodality in Catholic Higher Education (or “SCHEAP,” pronounced “SHEEP”) in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“It started with our campus ministers who thought about doing something synodal on Philadelphia campuses. So, it was from the very beginning an inter-campus endeavor,” she said.
Osęka says that “word got out,” and listening sessions started happening simultaneously on local college and university campuses across the archdiocese.
Osęka attended a session early on, and “found it to be a very moving experience,” she said.
A large, inter-collegiate meeting was held at La Salle University in April 2022, with representatives from all of the participating colleges and universities in the area. Students, faculty members, campus ministers, and priests were in attendance along with Archbishop Nelson Pérez.
During the meeting, Osęka delivered a 5-minute reflection, describing her understanding of synodality and her experiences with it. She mentioned the “coffee date” from the podcast with Becquart. Afterwards Archbishop Pérez invited her for coffee.
In May 2022, they met for coffee at the Starbucks across the street from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center.
“We met and talked for about 2 hours,” she said. “That shows how cool Archbishop Pérez is. He recognizes the need to connect with young people.”
Archbishop Pérez later wrote a letter recommending Osęka to represent the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in the synod’s North American continental assembly, which led to her appointment to the general assembly this October in Rome.
“This will be a gathering of the global Church,” Osęka says. “I can’t even start to imagine what that will look like, but I know for sure it will be a presentation of huge diversity in the Church. I can’t wait to experience that and be a part of that.”
Osęka says she looks forward to “meditation, private prayer, and the spiritual conversation with the members of the assembly.”
“Everything will be rooted in prayer and conversation with God first and trying to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within the congregation,” she said.
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