From Art to Architecture to the Convent: How 1 Young Woman Discerned the Call

A University of Virginia student shares her vocation story: ‘Everything that a religious life provides slowly became the most important thing in my life.’

Martina Bucheli contemplated religious life while studying at the University of Virginia.
Martina Bucheli contemplated religious life while studying at the University of Virginia. (photo: Sanjay Suchak / Courtesy of University Communications, University of Virginia)

Martina Bucheli’s journey to discerning a call to religious life began when she was 11 years old and reading a saint biography. “Oh, I want to do that,” she thought. But she was only 11, after all, and she and her mom didn’t take it too seriously. “Maybe, maybe not,” Bucheli concluded. Her real discernment process wouldn’t take place until she was a student at the University of Virginia.

Now a fourth-year student, it was during her time as a student there studying architecture that she developed a profound faith life and decided to enter the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee, after graduation.


Significance of Study  

During high school, she applied to UVA, thinking of her interest in history and art, and received a scholarship that made the decision to attend simple. While she enjoyed her first semester there, she realized she had more free time than she knew what to do with.

“My mom actually got concerned. I think I called her too much,” Bucheli said, laughing. “She was like, ‘You don’t sound okay,’ because I was just always calling her to chat. She’s like, ‘Maybe you should look into something else.’”

Not long after that, Bucheli walked by the architecture school and, inspired by the look of the building, went inside to explore. She transferred into that school the second semester of her freshman year. 

“It was very exciting, and the education was so much more vibrant,” Bucheli said. “It had so many more components to it; history and philosophy and art and drawing and all the things that I’ve always liked.”

Studying architecture inspired a wonder within Bucheli that sought answers the world could not provide. Her involvement in the Thomistic Institute, of which she became president her junior year, became a source of tradition for her. 

“I was encouraged because the Thomistic Institute constantly told me that I could understand more about my faith than I expect,” Bucheli said. “My architectural studies inspired me to look for answers, and then the [Thomistic] Institute provided them.” 


Power of Prayer

Even during times when her Catholic faith didn’t imbue all aspects of her life, she regularly attended weekly Mass. She discovered her freshman year at UVA that it was offered three times a day.

“At the beginning, I was like, ‘No, I don’t really need it. It’s fine.’ But then a lot of my friends actually made an effort to go to daily Mass. I was like, ‘Well, if they can do it, then I probably can,’” Bucheli said.

The significance of daily Mass still didn’t strike her until she became involved in the Thomistic Institute and better understood St. Thomas. 

“That’s when I saw our faith as a source of truth and had an understanding of the human person in the world and our path back to God,” Bucheli said, describing the rising relationship between what she observed in her daily life and what she knew to be true. “It made my faith more alive to know these things.”

With study becoming an increasingly important part of her growth, her call to become a Dominican became evident, as well.

“I knew that by knowing God, I love him better; and by studying, I knew him better. So it became this really clear cycle that definitely helped with figuring out that I needed Dominican life.”


Choosing Religious Life

Her interest in religious life returned to her once she realized she wasn’t sure she was called to a career in architecture and discerned God’s will. “I realized that maybe he had been using architecture to get me to think about him more, and he cared more about me returning to him than the whole ‘discipline of architecture being saved by good philosophy’ thing,” Bucheli explained.

For most of her discernment, she kept the process to herself and didn’t take practical steps. She simply waited on God’s direction, praying and living a sacramental life.

“It was amazing because I slowly saw my desires being purified, kind of clarified, and shown to me. Everything that a religious life provides slowly became the most important thing in my life,” Bucheli said of her God-directed discernment. “I left that up to him to sort that out and to show that to me.”

Eventually, Bucheli grew certain that she couldn’t live life differently, without the Mass, time for prayer or Liturgy of the Hours. When she decided to fly to Nashville and visit the order, she was undeterred by the expensive flights and cancellation of plans with friends during the time of her trip.

“None of it mattered. It was kind of terrifying how easy it was to make that decision and go,” Bucheli said. 

After her first visit, she perused old journals from when she was younger and found an entry from May 8, 2011, where she had first written that she had received a call to religious life — exactly a decade before she booked her flight to Nashville on May 8, 2021.

“There have been little things the whole time, but I really think I found it very helpful not to talk to many people about it, which is kind of an unusual approach,” Bucheli said, explaining how she heard God’s call. “I could hear his voice more clearly if it was just me and him.”