As a student at Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Toni Schlangen was an athlete. She participated in cross country, basketball, softball and lacrosse. She was interested in wellness and fitness. Her dream job was to be a personal trainer.
But all that changed when she had a powerful encounter with the Lord, she said. She was running home from her church — Sts. Peter and Paul in Richmond — one day and, in the last quarter of her run, she began to sprint and sing praise and worship songs in her head. “I ran into the Father’s arms and tangibly felt his love,” she said.
Toni, who is now Sister Bridget, recalls that moment of grace transforming her.
Her faith deepened during high school, but she didn’t consider religious life until she was attending Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
In my first semester of college, I had a moment of recognizing that I had different desires in my heart than were fostered throughout middle school and high school,” Sister Bridget said. “These desires were for simplicity, or poverty, to live in community and to serve.”
It was on the college campus that she met the Franciscan Sisters Third Order Regular of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother, the order that she would eventually join, along with a few other orders that are associated with the campus.
“I was just really attracted to the sisters’ joy and their smiles,” Sister Bridget said. “On my way to class, I would walk past the sisters and every time my heart rate would start going faster and I’d get the biggest smile on my face.”
She started to feel a desire to give her life in service.
“I had this moment of, wow, the sisters get to live this every day of their life in a radical, tangible way,” she said. “So that kind of opened the doors for discernment for me.”
When she graduated from college in 2017, she became more intentional about joining a community.
“I began to more seriously discern with a few different communities, but felt really drawn to the Franciscan Sisters,” she said. “We have a very beautiful spirituality of Mary at the foot of the cross. Our charisms are crucified love and mercy, contemplation and poverty. I just felt drawn toward that community.”
She attended a “come-and-see weekend” with the Franciscan Sisters Third Order Regular of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother in Toronto, Ohio. But because she had just graduated from college, they asked her to wait a year before joining them. She returned to Minnesota crushed.
She spent that year doing mission work in Alaska, working primarily with youth, youth groups, and young adults.
Sister Bridget is not averse to hard work. She grew up on a hog farm near Richmond and did her share of the chores. She also worked after high school for a tree company, cutting and trimming trees with a chainsaw. But the year in Alaska was hard, she said.
“Before that year I had never experienced limitations in my ability to handle life,” she said. “It was a tough year, in general. And while I was there, specifically the desire for fasting and the desire for silence was put really strongly on my heart.”
After that experience, she returned to the Franciscans in Toronto for a second “come-and-see weekend” and everything fell into place. She entered the community in 2019.
“There was peace in the process, and my disposition was completely different,” she said.
Since joining the community as a novice, Sister Bridget has used her expertise as a personal trainer to help the other sisters with fitness and healthy ways of living, she said. She also has demonstrated her skills with a chainsaw as well as mowing the grass and doing other yard work.
Sister Bridget professed first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience at Our Lady of Sorrows Monastery in Toronto June 21.