During Catholic Sisters Week, we are highlighting some vocation stories. Sister Paris Slapikas shared her vocation story with The Record Newspaper.
As a young person, I attended Catholic school, went to Mass every Sunday and said my prayers. In seventh grade, I transitioned to public schools, where I first became aware of racial diversity.
In my circles of private school, church and neighborhoods, I encountered other races, but always as a majority. Now, in the car with my dad on the first day of seventh grade, I did not see one white person on the steps of the school.
At Tuscaloosa Middle, I was the minority. But I loved my new school. Even though racial tensions ran high, I was clueless to social structures. If a person enjoyed a good laugh and had no aversion to a little mischief, they were a friend of mine. The seeds of diversity and inclusion were planted in me then. These are values we hold today at Sister Visitor Center.
Though I grew up Catholic, spiritual development was not a priority in our family. When I was 14, though, an experience in Medjugorje started my conscious spiritual journey. On a mountainside, I had an accident that left my knee severely cut, bleeding and swollen. Doctors examined it but couldn’t determine the extent of the injury. They advised me to go to the hospital the next day. This was at about 2 p.m.
Everyone on the mountain — roughly 200 people — encircled me to say a prayer for healing. I couldn’t put weight on my leg so my brother, Heath, found a stick I could use as a cane and my family started down the mountain. It was 10 p.m. by the time we made it down.
The next morning, my knee was completely healed. There was no sign of a cut, no swelling, no pain. There also was no medical explanation. The physical healing I experienced led to a conversion of heart and deep desire to develop a personal relationship with God. Through high school and college, I continued to be active in church and retreats and my faith and worldview matured.
While working as a registered nurse after college, I read a book about Covenant House Florida that worked with runaway and at-risk youth. I put the book down with a fire in my belly and a conviction in my heart that this is what I was being called to: Live and pray in community as a volunteer serving this vulnerable population.
My experiences there nurtured my desire for sharing life in community and serving others. I fell in love with the mission and remained for six years. It is here that I met the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and was attracted to the vibrancy, rootedness and compassion the two sisters there embodied.
With the exception of a couple of years during my initial formation with the SCNs, I have worked with vulnerable populations for more than 20 years now. Two years ago, after completing my master’s in executive leadership and organizational change, I joined Catholic Charities as director of Sister Visitor Center.
I was initially attracted to the SCNs because they have devoted themselves to alleviating the burdens of others. I saw them as healers in a broken world and wanted to be part of that. At Sister Visitor Center, staff work tirelessly to combat food insecurity and provide case management and utility and rent assistance to neighbors in the West End.
I’m privileged to accompany the staff and volunteers and contribute to creating positive change in the community. We invite you to join us as volunteers or donors as we work to reduce barriers and mitigate trauma to help those we serve thrive and reach self-sufficiency.