Called to Serve

Posted by Addie Woods

February 24, 2022

This article first appeared in 2021 Vol. III edition of The Journey magazine.

Called to Serve

Sister Visitor Center, a Catholic Charity ministry, recently welcomed a Sister of Charity of Nazareth as its newest executive director. Paris Slapikas, SCN, is taking over the leadership of the ministry that serves families on the margins in Louisville, Kentucky.

Sister Paris has ministered in a number of capacities since becoming a part of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Fourteen years ago, in August of 2007, she made her first vows. She recalls how for years, she struggled with an inner voice that told her something in her life was missing even when everything seemed to be in the right place. She didn’t listen at first. “I didn’t open myself to it,” she says. “The more I fought it, the harder things became.”

So what has the journey been like for Sister Paris, a young woman in search of her true calling? She says it began in Alabama, when as the youngest of four in her family, she decided to go on a pilgrimage at the age of 14. She recalls this as the first step in her spiritual and emotional development. This searching would take place on and off over the years, until her path crossed with two women in ministry at the same nonprofit that she had chosen to join. Below she reflects on her journey.

Paris Slapikas, SCN, recently joined Sister Visitor Center, Louisville, Kentucky, as the new Executive Director. The ministry serves those living on the margins in multiple zip codes in Louisville.

“My first encounter with the SCNs came through Covenant House in 1999. I initially came to Covenant House as a fulltime volunteer, as a faith community member. This was a one-year commitment to live in a community with other volunteers, pray together daily, and work wherever we were needed within the organization. Covenant House is a residential program in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida that serves homeless and at-risk youth. However, I fell in love with the mission and after my volunteer commitment, I became a paid staff member and stayed for over six years. Covenant House is where I first experienced a love for living in a community and developed a sense of mission. It is also here where my call to religious life became clear. SCNs Eva Kowalski and Nancy Gerth were serving at the shelter, and even though we didn’t work directly together, I remember being drawn to their spirit. There was something about them that I really wanted to know. I would just observe them without really trying to connect, they were so grounded and committed, and very generous. So little by little, I got to know them, and we became friends.

“Eventually our friendship brought me to Nazareth, Kentucky. At that point, I was far from making any commitment to religious life, so it was sort of an undercover mission. I attended a retreat at Nazareth but my time there actually was a step in my formation, I had such a sense of peace and calm. So the next time I came to Nazareth, it was intentional and I could clearly hear the call to religious life.

“I felt like I had come home. And as time moved on, I had a real sense of freedom talking about my discernment openly. Throughout my discernment, the SCN Community was very supportive. At that point, I still had so many questions and even doubts. They said to me ‘we want what you want.’ I entered candidacy with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in 2003, and took my first vows in 2007.

“There are many stories I could tell about my ministries, including my time at Covenant House. I’ll share just one that helps me think about the importance of being present to people who are suffering, to give respect and dignity to everyone I encounter, and to rethink what success looks like.

 

“I felt like I had come home. And as time moved on, I had a real sense of freedom talking about my discernment openly.”

“Michael was a new 19-yearold resident, and I went into the male lounge to greet him and welcome him to Covenant House. He was lying face down on the couch in one of those thick, hooded bomber jackets that were popular in the 90s. I introduced myself and he ignored me, so I sat down beside him and just kept chatting away. After about 20 minutes, he started to answer me back. I guess he finally realized I wasn’t going away. I needed to complete his substance abuse assessment for the drug treatment program. I scheduled it for a couple of days later and when I completed it, I learned there weren’t many drugs on my assessment he hadn’t tried, and many of them he used frequently. I learned about the childhood abuse he experienced at the hands of his father. He eventually ran away, was a high school dropout, and had survived pretty extensive physical and sexual assaults while living on the streets since the age of 14.

“Many people were interested in learning about the outcomes of the young people we served – how many kids got employment, received their GED, completed the drug treatment program, etcetera, and these are important. But, what I remembered most about Michael was the day he walked down the stairs for the first time without that bomber jacket on. He had been at Covenant House for about four weeks. Michael was able to shed his jacket once he felt safe enough with staff, and knew we were there to support and care for him unconditionally. What we do to support the people we are serving matters, but it is often how we engage with people that create the space for transformation to occur in people’s lives. For those who want to know, Michael did complete the drug treatment program … after a couple of tries, and a lot of encouragement!

“After Covenant House, I began serving at the Center for Women and Families in Louisville, Kentucky, supporting survivors of intimate partner abuse and sexual violence. Many of the residents also struggled with addictions or mental health issues as a result of their trauma, and many also had children in the shelter with them to provide and care for. The center provides temporary shelter, a crisis hotline, and a multitude of services, advocacy, and support to families in need.

Paris Slapikas, SCN, is shown as she gathers with other Sisters for a time of prayer and sharing.

Daily, the pantry receives donations, while staff and volunteers make sure the shelves stay stocked, and clients receive the assistance requested.

“This June, I began my new ministry as director of Sister Visitor Center (SVC) in Louisville. Sister Visitor offers emergency financial assistance with rent and utilities, and we have a choice food pantry, serving the Louisville community. The choice pantry gives our clients more independence in selecting what they need from a grocery store-style pantry, versus handing everyone the same basket of food items. We have plans to track the dietary needs of our clients so we can develop recipe cards that meet their health needs, and we plan to offer samples using some of the food we receive through our Dare to Care partnership that will expose our clients to new foods and reduce waste.”

Sister Visitor Center has a long relationship with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Rebecca Miles, SCN, was the director for 20 years, Janet Dougherty helped found it, and was director for 21 years, and Ann Carol Mann, SCN, was also in leadership. Many other SCNs have worked on staff or volunteered.

The current staff of eight is dedicated and passionate. “It’s exciting to build and develop this great team. SVC staff developed a new strategic plan, and are excited to explore ways to collaborate and partner with others to expand our services and outreach,” says Sister Paris.

When people support the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, they are not only supporting SCN ministries internationally, but also those within the Congregation like Sister Paris, who is serving people in Louisville. “We all have our unique journey to religious life and the variety of ways in which we serve,” says Sister Paris. “Thank you so much for believing in our work!”

Sister Paris shares her story with hopes of helping others trying to find their path. She says it’s difficult to describe just what it felt like when she knew just where she belonged. “The exact feeling cannot be put into words. It’s a heart thing. It’s not about a handful of people in the community, it’s the whole community … what it stands for, what it embodies, that has kept me here.”

2 Comments

  1. Betty Blandford scn

    Paris I am so proud of you and all that you have done. Your heart is in the right place! I thank you for who you are and all you are doing!

    Reply
  2. Sarah Ferriell

    Thanks, Paris, for sharing your inspiring journey. Sarah F

    Reply

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