k 02Congregational Councilor Sr. Marilyn Trowbridge (front right) leads a communal blessing of Sr. Karen Hartman during a commissioning ceremony November 1 in The Peace Center of St. Clare Convent campus in Cincinnati. Sr. Karen departed the next day for a new assignment in Dumaguete City, Philippines

Discerning one’s call to ministry is a deep and sometimes long process that requires going inward to identify what you truly want to do and are called to do by God. It also requires facing the realities of your health, aptitudes, and talents.
During a commissioning ceremony held November 1 in St. Clare Chapel in Cincinnati, Sr. Karen Hartman received the blessing and heartfelt encouragement of her Sisters, Associates, family members, and close friends as she prepared to leave her US home the next day for her new home and ministry in Dumaguete City in the Philippines. Sr. Karen will join Our Lady of Hope Community for a six-month assignment to help the Sisters in Dumaguete City.

Here Sr. Karen graciously shares her feelings and discernment process as she embarks on her new assignment.

k 01Good Shepherd Community bids farewell to Sr. Karen Hartman (sitting). From left to right are Sr. Mary Louise Sahm, Sr. Ann Cecile Albers, Sr. Jo-Ann Jackowski, and Sr. Bonnie SteinlageWhy did you want to go to the Philippines?
Sr. Karen: Some time ago, Sr. Licia sent a note to Sisters that said the situation in the Philippines was questionable and that the mission there needed staff. I thought maybe that the timing was right for me to consider responding to this invitation.

How did you prepare emotionally, physically, and spiritually for your new ministry?
Sr. Karen: Two years ago I started praying every morning: “Here I am, Lord.” I knew there was a need in the Philippines to continue the ministry there for the abandoned children and the families living on the street who come to the Sisters for food daily. I am responding to a need that seems so apparent.
During the time of discernment, my prayer took on a very different aspect. Every Scripture reading and every Psalm in Morning and Evening Praise spoke to me about the people in the Philippines—their suffering, their poverty, their trust in God, and their complete dependence on God. The experience strengthened my desire to go.
The only fear I had was the long journey. I was blest to be able to travel with Sr. Licia and Sr. Marina from Rome to the Philippines.

Although I’ve never worked in a close, hands-on ministry to the poor except for a few brief mission trips after Hurricane Katrina, it is obvious to me that I am being called. In December 2014 when Sr. Marilyn returned from Congregational Leadership Council meetings in Rome, she identified Sisters who might be available to go to the Philippines. She proposed my name to the CLC, and I waited for Sr. Licia’s response. During Assembly 2015, Sr. Licia visited our community, and I asked her about the Philippines. We chatted a bit and then went through the Franciscan Discernment Process.
I met with Fr. Norm Langenbrunner, a wise man, who was helpful in posing to me deep questions to consider. He was encouraging, and he said to me, “You don’t ever want to say ‘Wish I had gone.’”
My community, Good Shepherd Community, was taken aback, I think, but supportive of my discernment. I met with Sr. Mary David Mulroy and Sr. Mary Lawrence Vanderburg. Sr. Mary David, who had experience of foreign ministry, said, “I hope you like beans and rice.”

k 03Brother Bill, of the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis, blesses Sr. Karen during the commissioning ceremonyIn addition to meeting with Sisters, who else did you speak with about your desire to go to the Philippines?
Sr. Karen: I went home to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a family wedding, and during that time I met with 30 family members for an ice cream social. I told them what I knew about the SFP mission in the Philippines and my desire to go there. They had many poignant questions.
A great niece asked me, “Is this really a call from God?” I told her, “Yes.” Another great niece asked, “Do you think you’ll make a change in the lives of people there?” Again, I said, “Yes. But it will take time to see fruits of my work.”
Two nieces were concerned about my health and the aging of our family and my being so far away from family, especially my sister Judy whose husband died this past summer.
A nephew whose work involves international shipping, including to the Philippines, researched the climate and clothing needed to live in the Philippines.
On the whole, most everyone has been very supportive.

This year, the Congregation is focusing on coming out of one’s comfort zone. In what ways have you had to come out of your comfort zone? What have you had to let go?
Sr. Karen: The hardest thing for me to let go was the Wedding Ministry at St. Clare Chapel. It was an intensive process over several months to let go. I had to train a successor in this ministry, and I feel blessed that Jo Koch is now in place to serve engaged couples who want to marry in St. Clare Chapel. During her orientation, it struck me that I was letting go.
I had to let go my other ministries and advocacies—social justice, human trafficking, climate change, immigration—so that I could completely detach and not worry about them while I am in the Philippines. I need to be free.
On a practical level, I am letting go of my car. My apartment will be held for my return.
Breaking away from the “known” and going to the “unknown” takes me out of my comfort zone.

What other steps did you take to prepare for your new ministry?
Sr. Karen: I cleaned out my office! I had years of paperwork and files and other items to sort, throw away, and recycle, if possible.
I worked with Lucia in our New York office to ensure that I had flight arrangements and all the proper documentation for entrance to and temporary residency in the Philippines. I applied to the General Consulate of the Philippines in Chicago for a visa. I went to Passport Health to get a typhoid shot and to my primary care physician for an annual flu shot and a tetanus booster. I had my medications refilled for enough doses to last me while I am gone. Someone advised me that the manufacturers and compounding of medications are different in the Philippines than in the United States. I reviewed and updated all my important documents, such as living will, durable power of attorney for health care, wake and funeral instructions, emergency medical info, etc.

What energizes you about this new road you are taking? What are you looking forward to?
Sr. Karen: Just getting there and seeing the situation. I don’t know yet what my duties will be. I know both Sisters there—Sr. Armi and Sr. Francesca—and they are a great community that prays together. I am going with an open heart and mind. It feels right.

What can people do for you during these next 6 months?
Sr. Karen: Pray for me. Send me notes and emails (

Lisa Biedenbach

Published: December, 17, 2015