Categories: News Article

Answering the Call to Be His: Nicole Buccholz

God has called Nicole Buchholz to a whirlwind adventure: as a Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christi for 21 years, her vocation has taken her from a small town in Montana to Rhode Island, Florida, Georgia, and the Philippines, with mission trips to Mexico and Haiti. With her recent diagnosis of ALS, Nicole now faces a new mission, and a new call to serve God in a unique and challenging way.


Called to Conversion

Raised in the Lutheran tradition, Nicole’s journey into the Catholic faith began with a broken heart: her Catholic boyfriend of more than two years, whom she planned to marry and have a family with, told her that he felt called to the priesthood, and left for the seminary. Having just started college, living three hours away from her family, and still reeling from her relationship being over, Nicole struggled with her prayer life – unable to talk to God, she would walk through her college town crying and praying the only way she was able, on the rosary that had been a gift from her boyfriend. One day, on one of her teary walks, she came upon the Catholic church, and wandered in.

“I went to the very front pew and knelt down, crying and looking up at the crucifix. I said to the Lord, ‘tell me what you want me to do, because it has to be better than where I’m at right now. Whatever you want, I’ll try it.’” For Nicole, this was the very first whisper of a call, the first moment that she opened her heart to listen to – and follow – the plan God might have for her life, as different as it might be from her own.

Soon after that encounter with God in the pew, Nicole received an assignment in one of her classes that required her to write both sides of a debate on the topic of her choice. Nicole chose the topic of Catholicism and Lutheranism, since she had already spent so much time debating the subject with her Catholic boyfriend. In search of Catholic resources for the assignment, Nicole returned to the church and knocked on the door of the rectory, and when the priest answered the door, she burst into tears, telling him of her heartbreak and uncertainty. The priest invited Nicole to join the RCIA class that met every Tuesday night, where she would find the answers to all the questions she had about the Catholic faith. At the same time, Nicole had joined a non-denominational youth group with some of her college friends. In the preaching and worship music, generally focused on the theme of discerning God’s will, her heart began to open to what God’s path for her, and his plan for her life, might be. Finally in March, just two weeks before Holy Week, Nicole, who had continued to attend RCIA classes long after her assignment had been completed, decided to get confirmed. At the Easter vigil that year, with the blessing of her parents, and with a college friend from her dorm as her sponsor, Nicole was confirmed into the Catholic faith.

A Desire for Mission

Immediately after becoming confirmed, and inspired by her youth group, Nicole started thinking about the idea of going on a mission, and began taking this desire to prayer. In the fall of the next year, an acquaintance gave her a brochure for the Regnum Christi Mission Corps program, and while at first she resisted the idea of taking an entire year off from her studies to go on a year-long mission, she eventually met with the consecrated women, who came to meet Nicole and her parents in Montana, and she decided to go on mission the following year.

Nicole spent that summer in Rhode Island, with the dozens of young women who were there discerning their vocation, the 50-60 other girls who would be going on mission in the fall, and the consecrated women coming back from their apostolic practices. It was a full house, and Nicole was struck by the grace and kindness with which the women treated each other. “I’d never been around that many women who were all nice to each other! I couldn’t believe the charity that reigned among everybody, people who didn’t even know each other, and it was a really beautiful first experience of Regnum Christi and our charism of charity.”

During the summer, Nicole, who by that time had only been Catholic for one and half years, came to know so many young women who were in love with their faith, but it was the Consecrated Women, who to her it seemed had given up everything for Christ, that had a real impact on her. “I’d always wanted to be a wife and mother, and I couldn’t believe that they could be happy not getting married and not having kids. Here were all these young women that had so many opportunities in their lives, who had broken off engagements or left jobs on Wall Street to be here! I couldn’t understand it, but at the same time, there was something so attractive about it because they were so happy. I could see that they weren’t giving their lives just to do something good, they were giving themselves to a relationship with someone.”

“What about you?”

Nicole spent her missionary year in Ireland, serving at Woodlands Academy, a boarding school for girls from Mexico and South America who had come to study English for a year. Over the year, Nicole witnessed the consecrated women at the school serving with great grace in the midst of a demanding apostolate that required them to be everything – teacher, sister, mother – to 160 girls 24 hours a day, and she saw that the joy with which they served came not from what they were doing, but who they were doing it for – Christ himself. Still, every time she heard the knock in her own heart from God – “And what about you?,” her response was always “Husband! Children!” Nicole’s dream to be a wife and mother was difficult to let go. Would she be happy if she said yes to a life so different from what she had always imagined?

By the end of her mission year, Nicole decided to take a leap of faith.

“It’s not that at the end of the year, I was blissfully happy being Jesus’s spouse – I wasn’t there yet. But it was the belief that he could make me happy, the hope of that, that’s what I took the risk on.” In the summer of that year, Nicole went back to Rhode Island for a 6-week discernment process, at the end of which she made her first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Two years later, just five years after becoming Catholic, she took her final vows as a Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christi. “It was really beautiful how God worked with me, and how, through his fidelity, he has satisfied the desires of my heart – yes, now I do have a spouse, and I am a mother of souls!”

After studying for four years in Rhode Island, Nicole spent seven years serving in Florida. When the scandal of the founder of Regnum Christi came out, Nicole had been working out of the Consecrated Women’s center in Jacksonville, travelling all throughout Florida giving spiritual direction, running retreats and camps, and serving ECYD and Regnum Christi. In the crisis of the scandal, the consecrated women consolidated and the Jacksonville center was closed, with Nicole moving to Atlanta to work at Pinecrest Academy, before she was sent to the Philippines for the next six years.

A New Mission

It was during her fourth year in the Philippines that Nicole noticed that she had developed a slight limp. By the end of that year, when it hadn’t gone away, and because she was set to chaperone a group of students to Rome for their senior trip, Nicole visited an orthopedic surgeon. After ordering x-rays on her feet and lower legs, the doctor concluded that Nicole had one leg shorter than the other, which was likely now causing her to limp.

But while in Rome, Nicole was having so much trouble walking that the priest she was chaperoning with gave her some money and insisted she buy herself some good walking shoes, thinking that might solve the problem. While in Montana that summer with her parents, Nicole visited a chiropractor who noticed that she had lost the ability to stand on tip toe, suggested she might have a pinched nerve and recommended an MRI. Finally, still back home, Nicole saw her dad’s homeopathic doctor who did some muscle testing, and after doing further research, called her back within a few days. He was the first doctor to suspect that Nicole might have ALS, a fatal degenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord for which there is no cure.

Nicole returned to the Philippines with this news, and received both an MRI on her legs and spine, and an EMG to test the response of her nerves and muscles. The results were telling: Nicole had degeneration in her nerves throughout her entire body.

In November, Nicole was to chaperone another group of students, this time to the United States, so she scheduled an appointment at the Emory ALS Center in Atlanta, Georgia, where the specialist immediately confirmed the previous doctors’ suspicions: Nicole had ALS. Nicole’s immediate reaction to this was surprising and came completely from God’s grace: she was filled with a great joy and excitement at the news! This was something that she could offer to the Lord.

For Nicole, her diagnosis of ALS was an opportunity to offer spiritual reparation, particularly for the harm caused within Regnum Christi in the past. “There are so many things that have happened in our movement that we can’t fix. Nothing we can do, no amount of saying sorry, no amount of money, can ever heal what happened… but God’s grace can. God’s grace can heal. And how do we obtain grace from God? Just by offering ourselves. Anything we do God can transform into grace. Now I have something I can give, I have something I can offer, and that continues to give me joy.”

Nicole considers her life with ALS to be the new mission to which God has called her, a mission not of doing, but of being. “In Regnum Christi, we’re in the process of learning that it’s not about what you do, but who you are. This has been my path – there’s not much physically that I can do, but it’s not about that. Yes, we want to do great things for God and his kingdom, but what is essential is belonging to Christ, being his. Our path to holiness eventually calls us to let go of all the things we can do, and just be his, because that’s what we were created for – to just be his.”

Nicole continues to serve providing spiritual direction, giving talks, and helping with retreats. She also writes monthly for RC Spirituality and Gratia Vobis Ministries.