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Beauty in Brokenness: How a Severe Injury Played a Role in Sister Julia Walsh’s Vocation

There are many inspiring vocation stories, and Father Dave welcomes Sister Julia Walsh to discuss her unlikely path to becoming a nun as detailed in her new book, “For Love of the Broken Body: A Spiritual Memoir.” She is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and hosts the “Messy Jesus Business” podcast and blog.

Sister Julia shares some background about her religious order, which is based in Wisconsin. “We are celebrating our 175th year of founding right now,” she says. “We have a real Eucharistic charism, and Adoration is the centerpiece of our congregation.”

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She describes how a serious accident at age 25 played a crucial role in her life and vocation. “A month into my novitiate with the Franciscan Sisters, I found out my parents sold the farm that I grew up on in Iowa. I went back to the farm to pray my goodbyes and say goodbye to this land that had really formed me and made me into the young woman that I was,” Sister Julia says. 

“Shortly after I got settled, I tried to climb down a cliff. I fell face first into a creek and shattered my face from my eyebrows to my jaw. Now I was already in the convent; I was already part of the sisters. I was discerning whether I wanted to profess my vows and adjusting to this lifestyle so [the injury] became this whole framework for thinking deeply about what it meant to be a vowed religious.”

Sister Julia recounts how she had “more facial fractures than the doctors could count” and considers it a miracle that she survived. Following the accident, she says, “I actually was forced to confront the deeper reality of my identity. Who we are as people, as children of God, is not so much about how we appear. I felt deformed, I felt very ugly; I didn’t want people to see me when I felt so broken. I learned through that my depth of personhood was deeper than my skin into my heart, and I had to offer that full self to God.”

She reflects on how brokenness can bring us closer to God and says, “Everyone has a story of brokenness, has varying scars, and is wounded. Our woundedness is part of what makes us human. It’s part of what unites us to the resurrected Christ and empowers us to serve and love God’s people and be present to them in their suffering.”

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“I’m hoping that the readers will pick up from my memoir that our lives all have a narrative arc that is much like the Eucharistic liturgy; all of us are blessed, broken, and shared,” Sister Julia continues. “In order to be shared, we have to be held and held out; we have to offer who we truly are. So as I am held, I’m offering who I am to God and God’s people through my ‘yes’ to this radical, countercultural way through the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience.”

While brokenness was part of her discernment, Sister Julia shares her broader difficulties with her call to religious life. Father Dave notes, “I liked the point you make that discerning a vocation is not always like a ‘before and after,’ like ‘here’s when it happened and now it’s all smooth sailing.’”

She responds, “There’s so much that the common culture is telling us to ‘do what feels good’ or ‘if you’re not comfortable anymore, don’t stick with it.’ Commitment is a very countercultural Gospel act. When we are disciples of Jesus Christ, we are following him wherever he takes us, and sometimes that means we go on adventures we would never choose for ourselves. But then, there’s phenomenal love there. So trying to stay open to God’s will and surrender my own with trust. It’s big work, this is lifetime work.”