By Maria Elena Cruz
SAN ANTONIO—Sister Gloria Ann Fielder has done some great things for her faith. Her desire to share the wonderful things God has done in her life has led her to work for many years creating young leaders in the faith.
“I noticed that there are a lot of people out there that would just love to have a relationship with God, with the Sisters of Divine Providence, they would just love that. But they are married and they have families so this may prevent them from perhaps joining a religious order and fully committing, but they still want to grow in this charism and have an association with the sisters. I’m talking about people who would help with anything they can as far as the ministry that we are doing. So, we decide in one of our chapters that our convent community would open up to lay people.”
The concept of recruiting lay people, when looked at with an interest in the long-term viability of the congregation, makes perfect sense. For the most part, these are grim days for Catholic nuns. Convents are closing, nuns are aging and there are relatively few new recruits. Faced with these realities, Fielder asked God what she can do to ensure God’s message of hope and love continues to future generations seeking to build a relationship with him. What happened next was what Fielder describes as a message to her directly from the Lord.
“It was Easter, and where I lived we had a little chapel. I went into the chapel and it was an inspiration from God, I have no doubt about that, it was inspired by providence, said Fielder. “I just got this little voice within me that said ‘today is Easter, why don’t you go to the chapel and just reflect on what the resurrection really means?’ So I went to the chapel and I knelt before the blessed sacrament and I reflected on what resurrection really means.”
Fielder, then recalls a day she says she will never forget. After a lifetime of prayer and constant communication with God, God talks back.
“This though just popped into my head,” said Fielder, “And I know that it was from the Lord, the question arose in my mind ‘what would you do if you were the only CDP in your community?’” said the voice. “I spontaneously responded, said Fielder. “And I said ‘well if I were the only CDP in my community, the charism of God’s loving providence has come to mean so much to me, that I would just go out and share it with just everybody I could share it with, no matter who. This must go on. This was the charism given to us through our founder. It was God’s gift to us. It is entrusted to us,’ then I heard, ‘well then why don’t you do this?’”
Fielder believes without a shadow of a doubt that it was the direct word of the Lord who spoke to her that day. She responded by starting the Young Associates Leadership program eleven years ago, a program that was picked up by the archdioceses and has taken off to a great success, enlisted dozens of young associates to serve in congregations since its inception.
“[The program] started when I was director of campus ministry at the University of Texas in Brownsville. I had a young assistant who was so good at working with us that I thought she would be the perfect associate, but we didn’t have young associates like that, we only had older associates so I thought why don’t we invite younger associates?”
Since then Fielder has worked in three universities and started Young Associates programs in all of them, which are still running, and growing today.
Now Fielder is looking to start another recruiting incentive right here at OLLU. After noticing that debt was keeping women from entering religious life, Fielder decided to spearhead an initiative that upon entering religious life, women could have assistance paying off their educational debt. This, said Fielder, aligns with our founding sisters’ original mission to create educational opportunities for women that work.
“We are looking at a program aimed at women who’d like to serve in religious life and have huge educational loans to pay,” said Fielder. “We are setting up an endowment, so that eventually we could use the interest to help these women pay off their loans. Thousands of men and women have not been able to enter religious life because of their educational loan debts. Educational debt is a huge recruitment problem for us,” said Fielder, “on the national level, the national religious vocation conference has taken notice and set up a fund to tackle this problem. They are the ones who did the research and found out how many vocations we are losing every year because of this. Our Lady of the Lake will be the first community to do this.”
Fielder is part of a group of forward thinkers, looking to find new ways to make sure God’s message remains alive for future generations. She is guided by the one truth she knows for sure, and that is that God is a God of providence, and with prayer, he will reveal his purpose for you.
“God is calling us to give people hope because of the hopelessness of our world, today more than ever people need
to sense the presence of God through us, a faith filled group of people”, said Fielder. “Where is God leading us? In every aspect of our lives. We are looking for where we can deepen our commitment to those who are in the greatest need, and how can we do that. God will tell us if we let him,” said Fielder.