From Service to Sisterhood


Exploring the connection between volunteerism and vocations

Catholic Volunteer Network recently launched From Service to Sisterhood, an initiative that seeks to strengthen the vitality of congregations of women religious through the development of volunteer programs. This new project is possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.


In Volunteer Introspective, our recently commissioned Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) study of alumni of faith-based volunteer programs, 37% of the 5,051 individuals surveyed reported having considered a vocation to religious life or priesthood. Of those, 27% stated that they had "very seriously" considered it, with another 35% indicating that they had "somewhat seriously" considered it. Perhaps even more interestingly, 48% of those who have considered a vocation to religious life or priesthood did so "during (their) volunteer service."

Additionally, Catholic Volunteer Network has an established relationship with women's religious congregations throughout the U.S. Currently, 49 of our 215 member programs (23%) are sponsored by communities of women religious. These 49 programs last year placed nearly 2,000 volunteers in full-time service throughout the U.S. and around the world.

We’ve found that a year of volunteer service leaves a deep impression on those who serve. Many begin to think more seriously about their vocation and some answer the call to religious life during their time as a volunteer.  Religious congregations that sponsor full-time volunteer programs, or serve as placement/community living sites, have a unique opportunity to encourage and support these young adults as they discern their vocation. In 2014, Catholic Volunteer Network began a new program to take a closer look at the connection between volunteer service and vocations. We are calling this initiative From Service to Sisterhood.


"The track from volunteering to vocations" by Sr. Janet Gildea, reported on our Symposium held in July 2014. The article appeared in NCR's Global Sisters Report.

Catholic Volunteer Network Awards $300,000 to Women's Religious Congregations


Ongoing Projects:

Funding Opportunities:

Congregations of women religious who are planning to launch new volunteer initiatives can apply to CVN for support in the form of seed funding. Grants of up to $45,000 are awarded to congregations every fall. In addition to the seed money, the directors of successful programs are matched with a mentor who will support them in this new project. Applications for the next round of funding are now available.

Vocational Discernment Retreats:

Volunteers who serve with CVN programs now have the opportunity to discern their next steps through our regional discernment retreats. Offered several times throughout the year, the retreats provide participants with the opportunity to reflect on the value of service and ministry in their lives, while also discerning their vocation. Information about upcoming discernment retreats can be found here.

Discernment Resources and Vocation Stories:

Those discerning the call to volunteer service or religious life can now find a wealth of resources on Catholic Volunteer Network’s Exploring Your Vocation Resource Center. This resource center also includes a growing number of discernment stories from individuals whose service experience lead them to answer the call to vowed life.


"Benedictine Volunteers was born on December 1, 2014 because three Benedictine communities (Bismarck ND, Rapid City SD, and Watertown SD) and their vocation directors chose to do together what none could do alone:  initiate a long-term volunteer program.  Already stretched pretty thin, we used our CVN Grant to hire a full-time Director for Benedictine Volunteers.  The Spirit of God has been so deeply felt as we four women have worked together to create our program.  As we share our Benedictine life with our new lay director, she is empowered to extend our values and to express our hopes and dreams to potential volunteers and to the larger community.  Our director says, “There has been overwhelming support and interest in the program.  There is a desire for Benedictine presence in the larger community that is clear.”  There is also a mutual benefit for both lay and religious women as we work together to create something new.  By sharing our varied gifts and strengths, guided by the Spirit, we are all transformed.  Therefore, if you feel the urging to begin a volunteer program, go for it!  The Spirit is able to create miracles in our midst!  We’ve felt that way!"   - Adrienne Kaufmann, OSB and Patricia Nguyen, Director of Benedictine Volunteers.

"I am deeply grateful for all the assistance received.  The availability of the From Service to Sisterhood workshop, the contacts made and resources shared gave me the impetus and courage I needed to organize our summer service program.  The grant money received and the mentoring offered to me were also tremendously helpful in making the program a reality.  The success we've had so far has exceeded all my expectations." - Sr. Elisa Ryan, OSU, Ursuline Vocation Ministry


If you have any questions regarding this initiative, please contact: Katie Mulembe at