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Sister Jess Lambert: The Woman Who Gave Up An Engineering Career To Become A Nun

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In today's high-tech economy, engineers are well paid and in high demand, but a young woman from Elmhurst heard the call from a higher power, giving up engineering for a life of service.

Sister Jess Lambert told CBS 2's Vince Gerasole it was a choice that matches the values of her millennial generation.

At first glance, Lambert's may seem a choice from another time – a woman in a habit devoting her life to God. Gerasole asked Lambert if she ever thinks of herself as old-fashioned.

"I've been called that before, but I don't think it's very appropriate," she said. "I like to claim I'm a hipster still."

It was kind of the life she led before becoming a nun. Jessica Lambert studied engineering at the University of Illinois, hoping to work on projects aiding the third world.

"So the intention to serve God with that was there, but I did not think of being a sister as a way to serve Him," Lambert said.

She even landed a promising job right out of school.

"It was a place that audited buildings in order to reduce their energy load," Lambert said. "I loved the adult life hashtag 'adulting,' you know? I lived in my apartment. I had my own income and was able to make my choices, and I enjoyed it. But my heart was still missing something."

But the devout young woman eventually found it, on mission trips and service projects, and deeper conversations in prayer.

"And as I turned to God in prayer, and asked Him and how He wanted to use my life to help others, I felt that the call to be a sister was a way to fulfill that," Lambert said.

It is a long way from her suburban life growing up in Elmhurst, where Lambert dreamed of someday getting married and raising children. She never even attended Catholic school.

"I never grew up seeing any sisters except for what, 'Sister Act' and 'The Sound of Music,'" she said. "And in 'The Sound of Music,' she doesn't even become a sister – let's be real."

Now, after taking her final vows and joining the small order of Franciscans of the Eucharist on the West Side, Sister Jess will work to feed the poor at their food pantry and teach religion in nearby schools - and spread the word of God's compassion.

She says it is a mission not out of step with her generation.

"The millennials – we're seeking authenticity, and we're seeking that real relationship; that real purpose and meaning for life," Lambert said.

When asked if she still has goals to change the world, Lambert said, "Absolutely, although how that will happen, I think, has changed over time. I thought it used to be this grandiose idea of having an engineering job and building the bridges that would have people walk to where they needed to. But now it's just answering God's call each day to do a good deed, and to love Him through loving others."

The number of women in Catholic religious orders has dropped from a peak of 181,000 in 1965 to just over 47,000. Seventy-seven percent are older than 70.

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