Teen girls find joy in discerning God’s will at Fiat Days

Religious sisters from different communities share experiences and answer teens’ questions during Fiat Days, Dec. 2, 2023, at the Roslyn Retreat Center, Richmond. (Photo/Katie Yankoski)

“Many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14)

When Katie Bowling arrived at Fiat Days, a weekend diocesan retreat exclusively for high school girls, she knew God was calling her. She just didn’t know why. Ever since she had attended the Diocesan Youth Conference months earlier, she felt a burning inside her.

During the Fiat Days retreat, that burning fanned into a flame that would never be extinguished. At 15 years old, she was already on her way to becoming Sister Perpetual Help, of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará (commonly called the Servidoras).

The diocesan Office for Evangelization (OFE) started Fiat Days in 2016 as a way to bring together teen girls from across the diocese, to help them explore and deepen their connection with God.

For the teens considering religious life, the retreat is an opportunity to meet women who have discerned that religious life is God’s will for them. Sisters from different religious orders are there to share their firsthand experiences and explain their way of living for God.

Fiat Days is centered around prayer and contemplation, but there is also time for play. The sisters participate alongside the teens in ice breakers and games to show that religious life doesn’t mean the end of having fun.

Sisters sharing joyful perspectives

The women religious who have attended range in age from 20s-70s, and they each have something special to share. The retreat Dec. 1-3, 2023, in Richmond, featured religious from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee; Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco; and Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará.

“A highlight for me this year was seeing the environment the religious sisters create,” said Katie Yankoski, OFE associate director for youth and young adults. She and co-leader Ginny Fleser have been part of the adult team since the first Fiat Days in 2016 and co-leaders since 2018.

“Girls who are very introverted come out of their shells quickly, and extroverts don’t have to hold back,” Yankoski continued. “The whole group is comfortable leaning into the prayer experiences from the very beginning because of the welcoming environment the sisters bring with them.”

The girls watched a short film titled “For Love Alone” that follows a few sisters who are entering religious life. It shows how the women told their families, explores the different orders the women joined, and depicts everyday life in a convent.

Sisters openly answer any questions the teens have about religious life. Questions vary about faith and prayer, the struggle of leaving family and friends, and the culture shock of religious life. Many questions are more casual, such as asking if the sisters are allowed to wear bathing suits when they swim and pajamas when they sleep (they are!).

Through these interactions, the sisters show that they, too, were once teenagers, dealing with all the same issues, insecurities and doubts.

Sister Perpetual Help recalled that before she attended the Diocesan Youth Conference and Fiat Day retreats, she always thought of women religious as being in a constant state of pious prayer, and how wonderful it was to be able to relate to the sisters after spending time with them.

It impacted her view of religious life so much that she said, “All I could think of was the possibility of being a religious sister. I went home with a hunger to know the will of God for me in my vocation.”

Prayerful process

Yankoski noted that society and social media put a lot of pressure on today’s teenagers to look and act a certain way. “They feel like they constantly need to post everything, to constantly be moving. Fiat gives them a moment to pause and slow down and rethink their priorities and focus on the Lord,” she said.

The sisters explained to the teens that entering religious life takes years of discernment, study and prayer, to make sure the woman fully understands the commitment.

Sister Perpetual Help explained that a Servidora begins as a postulant. This time is dedicated to intense discernment and growing in knowledge of the religious life. Discernment is a patient and prayerful process of discovering God’s will. Then, if she and her superiors discern that she is ready, she next becomes a novice. She will receive a new name (such as Sister Perpetual Help), wear a habit, and truly begin to live the religious life. After a year, the novice will profess temporary vows and spend the next three years studying philosophy and theology. Then, the sister will finally take her perpetual vows.

“I think religious life is very beautiful but very underappreciated in our society,” said Yankoski. “There’s something really amazing about women who live entirely for God in a very specific way, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.”

Father Matt Kiehl, vicar for vocations for the diocese, served as the retreat’s chaplain. This was his first time at Fiat Days, and it left an impression.

“I found the retreat to be uplifting and encouraging,” he said. “For everyone present, I think it was an opportunity to be renewed by the Lord and strengthened by the prayers and example of the Blessed Mother.”

“For the participants, it was a great opportunity to grow in community and friendship, and to recognize that they are not alone in discerning God’s call in their lives,” Father Kiehl continued.

Focus and fun for teens

Emma Anderson, who is in 11th grade, attended the 2023 Fiat Days, but it wasn’t her first time. “I’ve always been open to the idea of religious life and been attracted by their joy and peace of mind. I just had to go again and get more wisdom from their amazing talks,” she said.

Ava McHugh is another repeat attendee, having gone the last two years. “The first time I went, it was because some of my friends had told me about it and it seemed like a fun getaway. The reason I went this time was to really discern what the Lord is calling me to – and also because it was super fun,” she said.

McHugh said she enjoyed being in the company of other likeminded girls. They exchanged phone numbers and email addresses so they could stay in touch.

“Even if you think you are not called to religious life, this is an incredibly informative and fun weekend. Fiat Days is a wonderful retreat with time to pray, talk with sisters about their life, and have some fun with all the other girls there,” she said.

Since 2016, five Fiat Days attendees have begun their journeys toward religious life. While many attendees did not enter into religious life, they did strengthen and deepen their relationship with God, which was the retreat’s ultimate goal. It seemed the retreat left everyone feeling the same way: joyful.

“There’s a beautiful joy that comes with Fiat,” said Yankoski. “Happiness is fleeting. Joy is sustainable. It comes from the Lord.”

“It was encouraging to see the eagerness and faithfulness of the young women in their desire to grow in holiness, and a humbling experience for us to be a part of that journey,” said Father Kiehl.


To learn more about Fiat Days, please contact Katie Yankoski at [email protected].

Read more about Sister Perpetual Help.


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