New IHM candidate begins candidacy phase

Dr. Elizabeth McGill is currently a candidate to join the IHM community. 
Image credit: Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM)

Dr. Elizabeth McGill is currently a candidate to join the IHM community. Image credit: Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM)

Briana Ryan

Dr. Elizabeth McGill is the newest candidate to join the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM).

At 35, McGill is in the candidacy phase of joining the Congregation. She is the 11th woman to join or initiate a candidacy with the Congregation in the past 10 years.

McGill said religious life has always been a calling for her.

“The environment my parents fostered at home gave me the freedom to consider many possible options for my future,” said McGill. “So at various points throughout my life, I have considered the possibility of religious life.”

It wasn’t until she began her undergraduate studies at Marywood in 2006 that she started looking into becoming an IHM sister. McGill said it all began when she saw an IHM sister speaking to a group of individuals.

“I really could not believe she was a nun,” said McGill. “She broke ideas I previously constructed about nuns. She seemed so relatable, joyful and relaxed. The beauty of this IHM sister flowed from her interactions with others in the group.”

After that moment, McGill began to more deeply discern and contemplate religious life, specifically the idea of religious life within the IHM community.

McGill’s candidacy phase consists of her living with a community of IHM sisters while she is able to dive deeper into the Congregation’s prayer life, history and spirit. This community is also known as a formation house.

McGill also serves at IHM-sponsored institutions like the Saint Joseph’s Center and Friends of the Poor. However, she said visiting retired members of the IHM community at the Our Lady of Peace residence has been her favorite part of the candidacy so far.

“The visits are always filled with laughter and impromptu history lessons,” said McGill. “During these visits I gain an insight into the lives of IHM sisters. Their individual stories of a life dedicated to service, prayer and love are ones I hope to always carry.”

After her candidacy ends, McGill will enter the two-year novitiate phase. The first year is a reflective time to deepen prayer and her relationship with God. The second year is a ministerial year where she may be sent to different places of ministry in order to understand the collective life of the IHM community.

Finally, she will make the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to the Congregation and to Christ. She will also move away from the formation house into a different house of sisters, where she will fully live with her IHM peers.

IHM Director of Vocations Sr. Mindy Welding said that the process of joining the IHM community has changed since her own candidacy in a sense that the Congregation no longer has a one size fits all model.

“When I entered we had a set of courses we all had to take despite our education. I was told where I’d be and when each day. That no longer exists,” said Welding. “Everyone who comes is unique and does not belong in a mold, so the mold has been broken and each woman assesses her needs, abilities, gifts and learning curves with her director.”

Despite McGill’s candidacy, many congregations across the country are facing decreasing numbers.

According to Welding, in the past 10 years, the IHM Congregation had five women make final professions, three women make a final incorporation into the IHM Congregation from another Congregation and three new women who are in the initial formation phase.

The average age range for new members joining the Congregation in the past 10 years has been 26 to 40 years old.

Welding said she believes more options for young women may be causing these decreasing numbers.

“The options for individuals after high school far exceed the options decades ago,” said Welding.

McGill said she sees the challenge of decreasing numbers as an opportunity for religious women to come together and respond to society’s changes.

Welding said she believes the best way the Congregation could attract more members is by more community outreach.

“Women may be more interested in entering religious life if more people were aware of what religious life entails and supportive of friends and family members who desire to follow this call,” said Welding.

Despite this challenge within congregations, McGill said she is looking forward to serving God and others through her work with the IHM community.

“I hope to share my unique gifts and talents. To be a witness to the presence of God in the world through service to others,” said McGill.

Contact the writer: [email protected]

Twitter: @BrianaRyanTWW