Walking In The Footsteps of Christ: Sister Julia Baluch’s Vocation Story

Imagine setting your feet on the actual ground where Christ Jesus walked. Few of us will ever have that opportunity. But not only has Sister Julia Baluch toured paths in the Holy Land where Jesus is believed to have traveled, she’s dedicated her life to following in the footsteps of Christ by continuing His mission to share God’s love with His people.
When Sister Julia first entered the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown community, she taught grades 1-8 at various schools in the Youngstown Diocese and served as a principal. She has fond memories of the bonds she forged, and in particular remembers a young girl from St. Rose in Girard whose mother and grandmother volunteered at the church baking bread. On the first day of school, the girl gave Sister Julia a rose bud. This gesture marked the beginning of an enduring friendship.
After 30 years as an educator, Sister Julia served as a pastoral minister, including at her home parish of St. Patrick in Youngstown. She visited the sick and families who lost loved ones. She prayed with them, listened to their stories, and attended funeral masses. “It was a gift to God,” Sister Julia says of those experiences. “They were so appreciative, and it was a beautiful thing to see.”
Sister Julia began contemplating a religious vocation during her years attending school at St. Patrick’s. A Sister of St. Joseph visited her school, and a classmate asked the nun how to know if one has a calling to vowed religious life. As Sister Julia recalls, the nun advised them to pray three Hail Marys before bed each night, and “when the time is right, you’ll know.” This piece of advice, Sister Julia says, “sparked” her desire to serve God, a longing which continued to grow.
Throughout her life, Sister Julia was blessed with Catholic mentors and role models. Her mother, an immigrant from Kassa (then part of Hungary), was very religious. Deeply touched by a community of Ursuline Sisters during her childhood in Hungary she even considered joining the community. Therefore, Sister Julia observes, her mother was supportive of her decision to become an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown.
Another mentor was Sister Julia’s spiritual director, Sister Miriam Thompson, an Ursuline Sister of Brown County. “I read about spiritual relationships, but I didn’t know what that meant in my younger days,” she says, describing how their friendship grew in ways she had never imagined. Sister Miriam was a source of inspiration, she says, and also provided her with criticism when needed. Sister Julia remembers making several trips to Brown County, and Sister Miriam promised that there would always be a guest room available for her.
Sister Miriam also shared a quote from Marie of the Incarnation (1599-1607), an Ursuline Sister — recently canonized — who served the Iroquois and children of pioneers in an early French-Canadian colony: “Leave it all to God. He has his own time, this God of ours who is so full of love.”
To this day, Sister Julia keeps a copy of these words with her. Their meaning has evolved over time, she’s found.
Despite having retired five years ago from active ministry (60 years!), Sister Julia remains active and serves others. She is involved with the Antonine Sisters’ program for senior citizens, where she describes her ministry as sharing God’s love and providing a healing presence.
Once, when she was consoling a woman, Sister Julia placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “We continued to talk, and then I was realizing my hand was going over and back, over and back on her back. Actually, I was just massaging her back,” she explains. In that moment, though, Sister Julia discovered her new ministry.
Mary Clyde, Ursuline Associate and aide in Motherhouse Healthcare, has formed a close bond with Sister Julia. “She’s very prayerful with me,” Mary says, recalling the blessing Sister Julia gave Mary’s son before he left for basic training. “You feel good when you are with her,” she adds. “I think I am a better person because I’m with her.”
Ursuline Sister of Youngstown Nancy Dawson, executive director of The Ursuline Center and former general superior, admires Sister Julia’s commitment to reach out to others. “She is a gift of God to the Ursuline Sisters and the whole Church,” Sister Nancy says.
Sister Julia’s Hungarian background brings cultural diversity to the community, and she takes pride in her heritage. She also helped foster the extended Ursuline family, visiting communities across the United States and making two trips to Italy, where the Ursuline order was founded. Her involvement in the Jewish-Christian dialogue led by Father George Balasko and Rabbi Samuel Meyer, united people of different faiths and deepened her own spirituality.
Through life’s changes, Sister Julia remembers a piece of advice she received from her spiritual director: “When you knock on the right door, it will open.”

Hear His Voice-Follow Him

Five year old Aaron was teaching Grandma how to use the radio in her new car and showing her what the other buttons meant. Then he said, “Grandma, you are missing buttons. You don’t have a GPS ones like on Dad’s car! How do you know where to go?” When they got home, Grandma turned to Aaron and showed him the new road atlas she had just purchased. Aaron was fascinated by the paper map and spent over an hour studying it and asking questions. He asked his Grandmother, “Is this newer than Dad’s GPS?”

Our Gospel today point to another guide, one not new at all, but one that will never be outdated and will never mislead us! This guide is Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd.

Jesus can only be our guiding Shepherd if we become familiar enough with his voice so that we can follow him. Following his voice is the only way to new and abundant life.

In 1963 Pope Paul VI designated Good Shepherd Sunday as World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, protects us as his flock and promises us the gift of eternal life. As followers of Jesus we are called to remain faithful to the grace of God.

As we celebrate this feast we pray for fidelity to our vocation. The Church invites us to honor the vocation of all Christians given at baptism. May we who have dedicated our lives to God through the vocation of marriage, priesthood, diaconate, consecrated life, and the single life remain faithful to our commitments. May those who are discerning their life vocation listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd to guide them.

And we pray: Gentle God, You call us by name and lead us to life. Through baptism you commission us to proclaim the Good News. Bless and strengthen all men and women, lay and ordained, who serve in the Church. Guide and give wisdom to those discerning their vocation. Enrich our Church with dedicated married and single people, with priests, religious and deacons. Filled with joy and your Holy Spirit may we follow Jesus, our Good Shepherd, now and always. Amen. © 2010NCCV www.nccv–vocations.org