Tending to the light of the world
How do you study to become a nun? For this student, the road to grace runs through MSU Denver – and beyond.
Anna Carochi has devoted her life to answering a calling. But three years ago, she was the one posing a question.
“In my first week on campus, I went up to the front door of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church next to the library, knocked on the door and said ‘Hi, is there a group for Catholic students here?’” she recounted.
Her knock was answered by the Marian Community of Reconciliation, better known as the Fraternas. And as it turned out, Carochi’s question was answered with a resounding affirmation, as she quickly found connection with the consecrated women, helping to run the Auraria Campus Catholic Club and shepherd others deeper into their spiritual journey. That experience led to a two-year stint full time with Christ in the City – a nonprofit volunteer residency devoted to compassion for the underserved populations of Denver.
Looking for a way to combine study as a human services major with a lifelong commitment to her faith, the experience meshed naturally. But coming back to campus after such an immersive undertaking was more challenging than she’d imagined.
Carochi drew strength from a personal relationship with God, found in prayer, to help her get back up and fight. And along with with this tenacity, she exemplified other characteristics of the Roadrunner Difference: purpose and diversity.
“The transition was difficult – during my experience I loved living in the community, but I was also kind of in a Catholic bubble,” Carochi said. “I had to reconnect and build new relationships, and that’s really helped me be successful in the work I’m doing.”
Now in upper division classes, she’s seeing the same faces and able to create ongoing personal relationships with her peers, which she says helps form another strong community connection.
“Being on campus, you’re exposed to a diversity of opinions; it opens you to other horizons and viewpoints,” she added.
Brian Bagwell, associate professor of human services and Carochi’s advisor, detailed how her faith-based identity informed his own awareness – and appreciation of her openness. He described times when classroom conversations may have included “a little bit of colorful language,” but instead of a scowl, he was met with warmth and a knowing smile.
“As a firefighter used to colleagues with crass talk around the firehouse, I’ve lived a bit of a different life – so it’s good for me to have someone like her on my side,” Bagwell said with a chuckle.
That unconditional kindness is foundational to everything Carochi does. It’s what’s leading her along the path of sisterhood and it’s informed how she’s building the academic acumen to match in her study here at MSU Denver.
One of those experiences Bagwell recalled was in his cognitive behavioral class. The assignment was to focus on any aspect of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and delve into the literature to examine its history and contemporary application.
“She found a form of religion-based CBT that I’d never heard of, which involved therapists incorporating spirituality into practice,” said Bagwell. “That was so cool, seeing her take theory with the passion she has and focus it in the direction she’s heading.”
For Carochi, the study is a natural fit.
“Mental health is a prevalent issue in society and the world,” she said. “I can see how I’ll have a lot of tools I’ve gained from the program to use as a sister; it’s about meeting people where they’re at and helping them become the best they can be.”
Her plan to become a nun continues after her anticipated graduation in spring of 2019. The first step is living at a formation house in Peru for three years – a sort of jumping-off point. After that, if everything proceeds according to plan, she’ll continue with one-month communitarian experience and then begin her international mission work with the Servants of the Plan of God. The order has communities throughout the world, from the Americas to Italy, the Philippines and Africa.
Wherever she goes, though, Carochi carries the same commitment – to her faith, and in the power of connection.
“I think it’s a common aspect of humanity to interact and share with others,” she said. “I love being with people and hearing about someone’s day or week; it’s something that really brings meaning and value to what I’m doing.
In a community, we have the opportunity to encourage and challenge one another to be the best versions of ourselves; of who we want to be.”
Amen to that.