It was like being doubly blessed, Sarah DeCock said. Growing up, she had been able to grow in her faith, but now she said she's gotten the chance to go even further with it.
"I want to go all the way, to go as deep as I can into my faith," she said. "When I talk about it, I call it a year of transformation. It's really transformed me."
DeCock, a student at the University of St. Thomas in St Paul and the daughter of Bernie and Julie DeCock of Ghent, is currently going through a discernment process for entering religious vocations. Sarah said she hasn't decided whether she will become a nun, but so far the discernment has been a joyful experience.
Sarah DeCock said joining a religious vocation was something she had been thinking about as she was getting ready to attend college.
DeCock said joining a religious vocation was something she had been thinking about as she was getting ready to attend college.
"I just felt it was something God might be asking of me," she said. "I still had the question on my heart in college."
After a year at Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D., Decock said the question was still strong. Late last summer, she transferred to St. Thomas' Catholic studies program. By coincidence, the university also had housing set aside for women in discernment that year, located in a former convent building.
"There were seven other girls, and four women who thought God might be calling them to start a new vocation," she said. The four women were a little like house leaders and guides for the discerners.
"It all happened very providentially, I guess. It all worked out," Decock said.
The discernment house was a place where students could pray, share experiences and learn together. It was good to have the support of other women going through the discernment process, DeCock said.
"We were all asking the same questions," she said. Some of the older girls were like role models for her, too. "It helped me feel like I wasn't crazy."
"It can be different for everyone," she said of the discernment process. "It's more of the Lord calling you. For some people it's something they never wanted to do."
DeCock said it also helped to have the support of spiritual advisors like her hometown pastor, the Rev. Jeremy Kucera, and her family.
Sarah's mother Julie DeCock said it wasn't that surprising that Sarah felt called to discernment.
"Faith has always been a very, very important part of (Sarah's) life. It wasn't a really big surprise at all," Julie DeCock said. "If it's what she's meant to do, then she should do it."
At the same time, she said, "It takes a little adjustment in your mind. It's sort of like if we had said to her, 'We're moving to Florida.'"
As part of the discernment process, DeCock says she meets with a spiritual director - "Mine is a priest at the seminary here at campus," she said - and also makes visits to observe women in different religious orders. She lived with the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary in Sleepy Eye for a week over Christmas vacation, and over the summer she was part of a tour of several other Midwestern religious communities.
"They call it a nun run," DeCock said. "Basically we went around and looked at different orders for a morning or an afternoon."
The visit to the Schoenstatt Sisters was more in-depth.
"They do summer camps, and I had gone to them in elementary school and junior high," she said, so it was interesting to see the community from a different perspective. "They let me do a lot of different things with different sisters. One day I got to help cook the meals, and another day I was gathering supplies for a party for the families he sisters work with. One day was a day of prayer."
DeCock said one of the most memorable parts of the visits, and of living in the discernment house, was the joy the women had in following lives of faith.
"It was wonderful to see the joy they all had," she said. Julie DeCock said visiting the discernment house and staying in touch with Sarah through the process has been helpful for her, too.
"One thing I didn't know was just the number of orders out there. There are even some new ones being started," she said.
Decock described herself as being "not very far along" in the discernment process yet. A college degree isn't a requirement to join some religious orders, but she said right now she thinks she's being called to finish her studies before making a decision.
"I'm still not sure of my calling," she said. "But I feel I have a better idea of what religious life is now."