FRESNO, Calif. — A California native is running 26.2 miles to support her vocation as a cloistered nun.
But before Jenn Garza can join the contemplative Norbertine sisters, she must pay off nearly $53,000 in student loans.
Although Garza works two jobs, the 26-year-old said she “wouldn’t be able to pay off my student loans in any short amount of time.”
However, with a background in fitness and experience as a personal trainer in New York City, Garza said she realized through “a lot of prayer and discernment” that the best way to pay off her debt would be to ask supporters to sponsor her as she runs the Southern California Orange County Marathon in May.
Dubbing it the “Litany Run,” Garza will commit to pray for each one of her supporters during the grueling 26.2-mile race by listening to a voice recording of all the prayer intentions.
Whether supporters can sponsor her financially or spiritually, Garza wants people to send her their prayer requests, so she can sacrifice her race for them to better prepare for life in the monastery.
“I really feel the Lord calling me to complete this marathon through prayer,” she said. “As a nun, I’m going to be dedicating my life to the glory of God and the salvation of souls through prayer.”
Raised Catholic, Garza said that “like many people of our generation” she “never really was exposed to any kind of idea of discernment” or the idea that a “religious vocation might be something that I should even think about.”
After high school, Garza moved to New York City, where she worked and studied, and even spent time in London.
“I planned on just living on the East Coast forever and being a world traveler and never coming back to California,” she said.
Although she was involved with her youth group and many parish activities as a teen, it was not until Garza attended World Youth Day in 2011 with a young-adult group that she was able to witness the “joy” and “humanity” of priests and religious.
It was then that Garza felt that she was being called to discern the religious life.
“I discovered that religious brothers and sisters and priests are not people who are removed from the laity, as I always had felt growing up,” Garza said.
While on the pilgrimage, Garza began to “have feelings that God might be calling me into discernment," even though, days earlier, she had mentioned to a friend that she would “never become a nun,” as a group of them walked by her.
Garza said she began to “have some small conversations” with priests and religious in the group and even told a priest who she went to for confession that she believed God was inviting her to discern the religious life.
One evening during the trip, she and the group were unable to find shelter for the night, so they took refuge under a tree. Despite a torrential downpour, Garza was struck by how joyfully the nuns sang night prayers.
“That was really the moment when I felt the Lord just telling me to take a look around and see all these beautiful sisters and how joyful they were in their vocations,” she said. “I felt like that was the moment he was inviting me to truly begin seriously discerning religious life.”
When she arrived home, Garza began researching and visiting various active communities.
It was not until Garza was invited to visit the website for the Norbertine Community of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph that she realized God was calling her into an even deeper life of prayer though the contemplative life in a cloistered monastery in her home Diocese of Fresno, Calif.
“I was kind of like a deer in the headlights: realizing that I was being hit with exactly what the Lord had been calling me to all along,” she said.
However, rather than being afraid of such a sacrifice, Garza said she recognizes the prospect as “beautiful and exciting.”
Soon after visiting, Garza applied, was accepted and has been given an entrance date of the feast of St. Augustine, Aug. 28, 2013.
Founded in 1121 by St. Norbert of Xanten, the order is one of the oldest still in existence today.
However, the particular community that Garza will enter was established in 1997, when the Norbertine Community of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, Calif., desired to have a group of nuns dedicated to praying for the order.
Garza said that the best practice for any young adult discerning a vocation, be it marriage, religious life or the priesthood, is to make time with God a “priority.”
“When we take the time to spend with Our Lord,” she explained, “he starts to speak to our hearts in ways that we’re not able to hear in the world.”
To learn more about Garza’s efforts, visit LitanyRun.com.