Life as a Novice

Blog by Sister Ellen Coates, OP

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.

Posted in God Calling?, News

21 responses to “Life as a Novice

  1. Thanks Ellen ,like everyone else your sharing is inspiring. Brought back wonderful memories of my novitiate. Hope as the days grow into years these memories will come back to reassure you of how we are indeed God’s spoil children.

  2. So grateful for your reflections and insights in your year of the novitiate. It will take a lifetime to process all that information and that’s okay. Go gently, now and I hope you will have some time to grieve the loss of your father as you were taken off to the novitiate so quickly after his death. I remembered you and your father in my prayer yesterday as I remembered my own loving father.
    Blessings and deep peace, Ellen. We are so proud of you to be a part of the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
    Lovingly your sister,
    Brigid, OP

  3. Ellen.
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. You keep us centered on what is important about our own daily journeys!!
    God Bless!!

  4. Dear Ellen,

    What a wonderful preaching about your year and how the canonical Novitiate has transformed you and will continue to do so. My assistant Novice Master., Bro. Kevin Carroll, OP. told us that God would give u8s the novitiate we need, if we’re open. It sounds like you were open and then some. May God continue to bless your journey as you continue the Formation Process.

  5. Thank you, Ellen, for sharing your year (10 months) at the CDN. Your sharing is so inspiring and hope-filled! Hope we’ll have another chance to visit and work the bazaar together.
    So grateful you are with us. Keeping you in prayer as you begin the next step on the journey with us.

  6. Thank you for this interesting and thoughtful reflection. Reading it helps me feel closer to this congregation, which is dear to my heart. Prayers for blessings and success on your spiritual journey.

  7. Thanks for giving us a small glimpse of your experiences in the novitiate, Ellen. I really appreciated hearing of your year and I hope that the coming year will be a time of even deeper blessing and grace. Nice to have you back in Columbus, even though you are still in quarantine!

  8. Well done, Ellen! Thank you for your sharing! Your wonderful blog renews my hope and trust in our loving God, who has some wonderful surprises in store for us, as we move forward together never forgetting Jesus’ comforting words: “be not afraid – I am with you always”. Blessings, prayers and love to you as you continue to explore these amazing possibilities! We give thanks for the gift you are to us!

  9. What a wonderful, lively, full and holy year, you describe, Ellen! I am so happy for you and for us! Hope you can move slowly back into the transition to a more “active” life. And do keep writing – you’re good!

  10. Ellen, Thank you for sharing your experiences in St. Louis. The CDN is such a gift to our Dominican family. Your comment about God’s love, and forgiveness reminded me how true that is in my own life, so thank you for that.
    Welcome home !

  11. Ellen, you write so well…. I can see you are ready for
    more, and more will be offered to you, I am sure.
    Thanks for sharing all! I am glad we had a chance to

  12. Ellen, thank you for sharing about your canonical novitiate journey. Praying for you as you continue the journey.
    Janie Keenoy

  13. Thank you for sharing your enriching experiences and I hope all that you gleaned will continue to unfold and lead you in the months ahead. I am so happy for you, Ellen!

  14. Hello Sr. Ellen,
    Thanks for sharing the highlights of your canonical novitiate “year” experiences. You’re a gifted writer and I found your article very interesting. I’ll look forward to updates you publish in the years ahead.
    Best wishes for all your future endeavors.

  15. Ellen,
    Thank you so much for sharing your special year of “pandemic” novitiate. So many experiences, much growing
    and surely more to “go” & grow.
    May you continue the process this new year of formation.

  16. Thank you, Ellen, for sharing your enriching formation experience. I will be praying for you that it does last a lifetime as you said.

  17. Thank you, Ellen, for sharing with us your novitiate year. It did my heart good to hear how fruitful it was. I’ll continue to pray for you as you continue to grow into Dominican life.

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