By Katrina Genereux/Staff Writer, OND
On August 27, Melissa Haas of St. Joseph, Moorhead, will enter as a postulant with the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in New Ulm, Minn.
Haas grew up in Park Rapids. She went to college at the University of Minnesota Duluth for her freshman year and then took a break to serve with NET Ministries. After NET, she continued her education at Minnesota State University Moorhead and lived in the House of Mary, a discernment house for women near St. Joseph’s, Moorhead.
After graduating with a degree in communications, Haas has worked with St. Joseph’s, Moorhead; St. Paul’s Newman Center and as the leader of the House of Mary.
Haas said her journey to the Handmaids started when she began meeting with a spiritual director a year and a half ago. She said her spiritual director helped her process her prayer life, understand how the Lord was speaking to her and know what to do.
“When I first started, I was pretty closed off to the idea of religious life,” Haas said. “I think I was mainly just afraid of it.”
She said religious life is something she had considered during her freshman year of college, but she became closed off to the idea over time.
Last summer Haas went on a personal silent retreat.
“Before that retreat, I was recognizing a lot of the fears I had in my life and a lot of attachments of different relationships and different hurts that have been in my life,” she said. Haas knew she needed and wanted to be rid of these things, but was not sure how to start.
During her retreat, she had scheduled prayer times and in between prayer, she met with her spiritual director who helped her process what she was experiencing in prayer and gave her different things to consider.
“One of the things he invited me to reflect on was to see Jesus holding his heart out to me, but I wasn’t able to receive it because I was holding onto so much. So then he told me to just think of everything I was holding onto and imagine myself placing it in my hand and then from there physically lifting them up to him and letting him take them,” Haas said.
That was how she began letting go of the attachments, fears and hurts that were troubling here, and began to let go of her plans for the future and concerns about what other people would think if she became a religious sister.
“As I kept going, I just felt so much freer and freer over time,” she said.
After the retreat, Haas committed herself to spending more time with the Lord in prayer, particularly ending her evenings with the Blessed Sacrament.
“The Lord kept confirming that he wanted me to be his bride and wanted me to pursue it at least and give it a shot,” she said.
Haas knew of two young religious communities through her time serving with NET Ministries – the Handmaids and the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal.
She spent a weekend with the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus during a discernment retreat.
“It was incredible,” Haas said. “Hearing mother talk about their life and their desire to serve parishes and dioceses and to help our priests by praying for them and being with the families in the parishes … really stood out to me because I’ve done local ministry for so long.”
A month later, Haas spent five days in New York with the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. She said it was good to be there, but harder because it was so far from home and out of her comfort zone.
“I recognized there how much I love being with sisters and just how free I am with sisters. It’s just easy for me to be with them,” Haas said.
Throughout that week, the Handmaids kept coming up in her heart. At first Haas didn’t want it to be a distraction, since she was visiting a different order, but then realized she had a lot of peace and joy whenever they came to mind.
She returned to New Ulm for a longer visit with the Handmaids, and received an application for the order.
“Over time I visited them quite a few times and it’s really easy for me to be with them,” Haas said. Each time she visited, she spoke with Mother Mary Clare to share how her discernment was going, and they shared their perspectives. Each time Haas said they both determined that, “it is natural for me to be there and it is natural for them to have me there.”
Haas said her summer has been spent getting her student loans paid off, spending time with her family, going through and getting rid of all of her stuff and praying a lot in preparation.
She said throughout this discernment process, especially since she knew she was called to enter religious life, the generosity of others has been surprising. She has shared with many people about her plans and they have been excited to pray for her. She has also received many gifts she did not expect, which have helped her pay off students loans, something that needs to be completed before she can enter.
“That’s been the most surprising – how the Lord has provided for me to get me there,” Haas said.
She said the most difficult part of discerning her call to religious life has been letting go of her plans. Haas said she really wanted to be a wife and a mother, but has found peace in knowing that the Lord will fulfill those desires in a completely different way.
Her advice to others who are considering the religious life is to pray
“Spend as much time as possible before the Blessed Sacrament and also daily Mass. By spending time with the Lord and by being available to him, he will be able to speak to you as you’re making yourself available to him,” she said.
She also encourages young women who may feel the tug of a vocation to not be afraid and to pursue it by visiting convents.
“You’re not going to know if you don’t move forward at all,” Haas said. “The Lord will tell you one way or another if you go somewhere and are with other sisters and see what their life is like, he will help you.”
Melissa’s mother, Annette Haas is the Youth Minister and Director of Religious Education at St. Peter the Apostle, Park Rapids. She has enjoyed watching her daughter throughout the discernment process.
“The growth in her is amazing. She’s been teaching us. She’s been an example of how a Catholic woman should live,” Annette said. “It’s just exciting to see her be so excited about something like this because most people aren’t going to step out on the edge and live their faith in that way.”
She encouraged parents of others in a similar discernment to pray for their children and look at it as similar to dating.
“I have two older kids who are married and have families and watching them in their dating process is similar to watching Missy in this process because she has been just looking forward to more and waiting for this to become something more permanent in her life and really just working towards that,” Annette said. “She’s so excited, it’s just fun to watch her. She glows when she talks about it.”
To learn more about the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, visit: www.handmaidsoftheheartofjesus.com/