Main Site Navigation
RIPLEY COUNTY—Through prayerful discernment, Jennifer Prickel discerned that God was calling her to religious life. She was even accepted by the Steubenville, Ohio-based Sisters of Reparation to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Ordinarily, this would be a cause for rejoicing for this 23-year-old member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris and her family.
But there is one problem. Prickel is saddled with more than $50,000 in student loan debt, and cannot join the community she has discerned with until that debt is eliminated. (Follow-up story: Prayers answered: Gift from anonymous donor allows St. Nicholas teacher to enter religious life)
She has such a large amount of debt because she attended Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, for three years, which, like most private colleges and universities, has high tuition and room and board costs.
“I loved it, but it’s pretty expensive,” Prickel said.
Such a looming obstacle to a religious vocation might depress some aspirants to religious life, but not Prickel.
“Ultimately, I know that God’s will is the best possible plan,” she said. “If I am not in yet, even though I very much desire it, I know it is because the Lord is teaching me something outside of the convent, something valuable. I ultimately desire the will of God to be done completely, even if that does mean waiting a little longer than I would like.”
Although she accepts her current situation, Prickel is motivated to change it as quickly as possible. (Related story: Student loan debt is a national problem for religious life aspirants)
Last fall, she came home to teach language arts and religion at St. Nicholas School in Ripley County, where she was a student years ago, a place that she says nurtured the seeds of her vocation.
“I had a really good and strong foundation in my family,” she said. “But when you have Mass every day [as a grade-school student], you can’t just help but have it affect you. I didn’t always appreciate the fact that I had Mass here every day. But I definitely think that because I received Jesus in the Eucharist, I was able to get so many more graces than I would have otherwise had.”
Prickel was also awarded a grant from the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations to help pay off, over time, part of her debt. The fund is a public charity based in northern Virginia.
And the Sisters of Reparation might pay off part of her student loans if only a relatively small portion is left after the income she has earned in teaching and the grant from the fund cover the rest.
Prickel had hopes of entering the religious community this fall. But the amount of her debt is still too large for that to happen.
In the meantime, however, she is making the best of her situation. Prickel said that the Lord may have sent her to St. Nicholas “to have contacts with somebody who may also have a vocation who may not have otherwise been open to it.”
“The important thing about my being open about my vocation with my students is that I hope I’ve shattered whatever kind of ideas that they’ve had about people who enter religious life,” Prickel said. “I try to show my love for Christ in the way that I teach, in having enthusiasm about the faith. I want to show them how I’m just a regular person.”
Judy Luhring, St. Nicholas’ principal, taught Prickel when she was in the third grade at the Batesville Deanery school, and is proud to have her former student back as a teacher.
“I’m just about ready to bust. I’m so proud of her,” Luhring said. “I just feel overwhelmed with joy that I’ve gotten to see her come back and see how she teaches. I can’t express enough how very much I’m happy with her. She’s just been a blessing for St. Nicholas.”
Although she is happy about how Prickel is leading the students and other teachers at St. Nicholas closer to God, Luhring has personal reasons for giving thanks for her presence there.
“I feel right now that she’s teaching me,” Luhring said. “She’s just come back and given back to me what I gave her, but with her faith added to it. It’s just beautiful.”
Mother M. Wendy McMenamy, the superior of the Sisters of Reparation, is also impressed by Prickel.
“Jennifer is a faith-filled young woman whose love of the Lord has made her a dynamic and enthusiastic teacher of the faith,” Mother Wendy said. “Her zeal for the Lord is what has made her determined to overcome even the great stumbling block of her loans to achieve our Lord’s will for her—the call to a religious vocation. Jennifer is an inspiration to all who find themselves faced with varying obstacles to doing God’s will.”
If Prickel’s future religious superior and her former teacher and current principal are this proud of her, just think how her parents, Steve and Amy Prickel, also members of St. Anthony Parish, feel.
“When Jennifer told us that entering the convent is the road that she is definitively taking, we were very overjoyed,” Amy Prickel said. “She’s opened her heart up to what Jesus is telling her. She’s not putting her own personal thoughts on it. She’s just trusting Jesus. And that’s what we want.”
“It brings another joy to her mother and I, knowing that she’s got a solid foundation and she’s going to pass that along to her students,” Steve Prickel said. “It’s a foundation that she received there. She’ll nurture other students along. [They] might be thinking of a vocation. She can tell them how she has journeyed up to this point with her vocation.” †