The canonical novitiate year, governed by canon law, is a particularly special time in the process of formation and discernment of a religious sister. I had heard that it flies by quickly, but I can hardly believe that my ten months at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate is already over! It’s been an extraordinary journey of exploration and discovery.
While Dominican life is a balancing of four equally important pillars – community, ministry, study, and prayer – the canonical year includes all four but emphasizes study and prayer. I lived in community with one other novice and three very experienced sisters. I loved volunteer ministry at a home for women living with both poverty and cognitive or mental health challenges, a population I had no experience with before. I learned more from these women about God’s love and the dignity and value of all life than any book or lecture could ever teach. Although the pandemic brought my ministry to an abrupt end, these women remain in my thoughts and prayers, and in my heart.
I studied the vows, preaching, the prophets, St. Dominic, St. Catherine, and Dominican life. Weekly seminars and discussions with other novices covered everything from transitions, communications, and intercultural and intergenerational living to Catholic social teaching, discernment, spirituality and more. We also had opportunities to hear from both recently professed and “older” sisters about their joys, challenges, and hopes for the future.
The knowledge and skills I gained will last a lifetime, but of even greater value is the new relationship I developed with prayer, scripture and with God. Prayer, both private, personal prayer and communal prayer, were certainly not new to me when I moved to St. Louis last August, and I’d already moved well beyond the rote recitation of prayer that I had grown up following! But the doors that opened in the last months were beyond anything I could have imagined. I had extra time to explore diverse prayer forms including centering prayer, lectio divina, and praying with art, movement, and music. I’ve found different ways of meeting my different prayer needs, and my understanding of scripture as God’s living word has deepened beyond my dreams.
The year included visits to a number of communities of religious women. Conversations with sisters about their congregations’ histories and their own lives and ministries brought home to me how pioneering religious women in the U.S. have lived and continue to live according to the Gospel teachings, turning their passions into action such that their lives become a visible preaching. We explored ecology centers and social services programs. In Great Bend, we helped endlessly energetic, dedicated sisters (most well past ‘normal retirement age’) prepare for and run an annual bazaar that provides thousands of dollars to communities in need in Kansas and northern Nigeria.
We also participated in the Religious Formation Conference Congress, where I was challenged and inspired by Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI, Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, and Fr. Bryan Massingale, who spoke passionately and eloquently of our society’s failure to treat all people with the dignity every child of God deserves, regardless of race, sexual orientation, place of birth, etc. I was filled with great hope for the future after witnessing their passion and after having conversations with formation directors and congregational leaders who are filled with new ideas and open to new possibilities.
The pandemic certainly impacted my year and meant giving up not only my ministry but other planned experiences. Yet, I discovered graces in the limitations. I also discovered that however aware I was of God’s abundant blessings, there were so many I never recognized. I also learned more about my own shortcomings, and find myself profoundly humbled by God’s infinite love, compassion and forgiveness, and by the knowledge that as I continue to learn and grow, God will always be with me. The lyrics of the famous hymn, The Summons truly describe this past year, and will forever guide my future: “Will you come and follow me if I should call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?”
Is God calling you to something new? If you think God is calling you to a life of prayer, study, community, and ministry, please contact us.