Religious sisters in habits of all different hues could be seen joining 52 teenage girls as they prayed, talked and played games together as a part of the three day Fiat Camp held at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg from July 27-29.

The weekend aims to introduce young women to religious life and to help give them the tools to discern God’s will for their own lives.

Angela Busby, the director of youth ministry and community life at St. Peter’s in Olney, said giving young women the opportunity to interact with religious sisters helps them to “see religious sisters as normal people.”

“There is a mystery if I don’t know something about you, but now I’ve played games with you, I’ve heard you talk, I think, ‘Wow she’s pretty funny; she likes the same things I do,’ and there is an openness to thinking, ‘Maybe I can see myself serving the Lord I that same way,’” said Busby.

The camp, which was cohosted by the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington. is named after the response that Mary gave to the angel Gabriel, when he told her of God’s plan for her to give birth to Jesus. The theme of this year’s camp was “Totus Tuus,” which Religious Sister of Mercy Gilmary Kay, the Archdiocese of Washington’s delegate for consecrated life, said speaks to them giving their lives totally to Jesus in all states of life.

“We entrust to Mary our lives, and she always brings us to Jesus,” she said.

The three days consisted of talks, small groups, games, Mass, Holy Hours, and a “Secrets with the Sisters” session, where the girls were invited to ask them whatever questions they had.

“It is so encouraging on many levels,” said Sister Gilmary. “Seeing the response of 52 young women is beautiful…There is a lot of struggle now in the Church, but this is where the life is.”

On July 28, the campers celebrated the Feast Day of Blessed Stanley Rother, a diocesan priest from Oklahoma who was killed on that day in 1981 in his parish rectory in Guatemala, where he was serving as a missionary. Blessed Rother studied at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary before being ordained a priest in 1963, and the women reflected on his witness of faith as as they venerated his relics in that same space where he once prayed and studied. Throughout the weekend, they also reflected on the examples of several other saints, including St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who also lived and prayed in the Emmitsburg area, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and her parents, the saints Zelie and Louis Martin.

Busby had been working with the Quo Vadis camp for young men for several years when she decided that they needed to do a similar camp to help young women in their discernment.

“I felt a real heart for helping women discern,” she said. “It is unfortunate how few sisters young people come across these days. We have to be very intentional with placing them with them.”

This was true for Kristen Bryant, the youth minister from Ascension Parish in Bowie who also helped out with the planning for the event. Bryant is 26 years old and is discerning religious life, but said even though she first felt the call at age 14, she had never been exposed to women religious. She initially said no to the call and fell away from the faith, but when she returned to the Church she began to meet sisters and the feeling of that call returned.

“I was determined to expose young women to sisters,” she said. “I don’t want young women to go through what I had to go through.”

Twenty-four religious sisters were present at the camp, including six communities from the Archdiocese of Washington: the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts, the Religious Sisters of Mercy, the Secular Institute of the Crusaders of Mary, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, and the Sisters, Servants of Mary Immaculate. Mother Virginia Marie O’Connor, the prioress of the Carmelite Monastery in Port Tobacco, made an appearance through a recorded video about Carmelite life in the cloister.

“I really think they took away the diversity of the sisters,” said Bryant, who noted how much variety there was in charisms, habits, age, and other factors. “I think that is what really resonated with the girls – just how many different ones there are…there is always a fit for you if you feel called.”

Mary Saarinen, a 17-year-old who went to the camp with the youth group of Sacred Heart Parish in Bowie, said she loved the opportunity to spend time with the sisters.

“They are extremely joyful and you can see Jesus shining through them,” she said. “They are so holy; just beautiful examples. I really want to imitate that joy and holiness in my life, too.”

Maggie Snyder, a 17 year-old who is discerning religious life, said, “It was nice knowing they are normal people, too, because sometimes when you see a nun you think, ‘Oh well they are perfect,’ but it was nice to hang out with them and get to know them and see that they are down to earth people just like us, just trying to get to heaven.”

While part of the aim of the camp is this exposure to religious sisters, the camp is not just for those who feel that they may be called to religious life. Sister Gilmary noted that the main goal of the camp is for the girls to pray over God’s will for their lives, whatever that may be.

Sister Gilmary likened finding one’s vocation to the Gospel story where a merchant finds a “pearl of great price,” and sells everything he has in order to buy it. This camp, she said, is designed to help young women hear how other people found their “pearl of great price,” and equip them with the tools to find their own pearl, whether that be religious life, marriage, or consecrated life.

“Once you find where God is calling you, while there are still challenges, there is a deep joy,” she said.

In addition to the sisters, there were priests, seminarians, and lay people present to interact with the girls.

“It was like the whole Church was there for these young people,” said Sister Gilmary.

Saarinen and Snyder said in addition to spending time with the sisters, their favorite part of the camp was when they did all-night Adoration, with the girls signing up for different shifts throughout the night.

“That was really special – just that intimate time to be in the presence of Christ, to really have total silence and to just listen,” Saarinen said.

As a rising senior in high school, Saarinen said she has been spending a lot of time recently discerning what God is calling her to do, and the witness talks she heard during the camp helped her to be at peace with whatever that may be.

“It was beautiful to see how each of them had the courage and grace to surrender their life and give their ‘yes’ to the vocation God had planned for them,” she said. “…Lately I’ve been trying to discern what Jesus is calling me to do… now I’m just at peace with not knowing and that God will reveal it in His own time and that I will find true joy in whatever He wants.”