To help women discern their life’s calling, the Vocation team offers a monthly Emmaus discussion group on various topics around religious life and discernment. Topics have included “Keys to Discernment,” “A Sister’s Daily Life Schedule,” “How to Decide Which Community Best Fits You,” or “Common Fears When Discerning.” Sometimes, we invite a sister to join us and to share her experience or perspective on a topic. This monthly group begins and ends with prayer and provides women with more information to discern and reflect with in a dialogue format with sisters and their peers.
The topic this October was community living. We talked about the blessings and challenges of living in a community with a multigenerational, multicultural, and multi-ministerial composition. Each vocation team member shared her varied experiences of community living along with pictures and stories.
My sharing focused on three hidden blessings that I have found when living my religious life in the Dominican Sisters of Peace:
First, a religious community is a community of faith that is different from other experiences of community living. We come to live together because we each have a great desire for intimacy with God, and a passion for mission. We share our reflections, life stories and experiences from readings, news, or from ministry—all in the context of living our faith and mission. Most of the time, this sharing leads us to a deeper gratitude towards God and increases our passion for mission. It also adds to creating a reflective and contemplative atmosphere in how we live and do our ministry. Such an open atmosphere brings so much peace and joy to our life. We laugh a lot, even about little things, and we care for one another. We are women with young hearts of all ages! For me, inspiration and gratitude fill me each day.
Second,we don’t just talk or discuss what is happening, but we dare to dream and envision what and how we need to respond to the needs of our times. We may each have different views and perspectives on a topic or life issue, but we share our views in daily dialogue and, in so doing, we expand our understanding on that topic or issue. Alone, we may only see one aspect of a topic like the six blind men who each describe one aspect of the elephant, as shown in the illustration here. But, when everyone’s views are taken together, we gain a better understanding of what the elephant (or issue) looks like. In community living, a spiritual awakening can happen daily, creating opportunities for us to serve and respond to reality with fresh eyes. My heart has often danced with gratitude because of the wisdom we share with each other in our religious communities.
Third,wherever I live or go out for mission, I know that I have a support system behind me, praying for me, helping me to move forward. I can lean on their prayers. I also know that these are my sisters, whom I can trust and share at a deep level, who can share profound wisdom. This support gives me a strong motivation to move and stretch my wings, to dare to dream and envision possibilities, and to dare to step into an unknown future. I must admit that without my sisters, I cannot be who I am today- a confident woman of faith. Before I entered the community, I was happy with my life, but I have found much more since I entered religious life.
You will find other blessings when living in a religious community. These blessings are abundant. Why not explore what blessings God has in store for you? Contact us to begin this exploration of religious life.
NEW HAVEN, CONN. — When Cathy Buchanan arrived at the Dominicans of Peace house in New Haven and immediately went into quarantine, it was Sr. Julia Grey, the oldest member of the community, who carried meals up to her room on the third floor. “She did it in such a loving way,” said Buchanan. “She was like ‘No, I’m happy to do this.’ “
For her part, Grey expressed appreciation for the opportunity. “She [Buchanan] was very gracious about it,” said the older nun, who goes by Sister Julie.
One of two houses set aside by the order for women interested in exploring a potential call to life as a sister, the House of Welcome (also known as the House of Discernment) sits behind St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in the bustling New England town.
Four of the residents are Dominican Sisters of Peace. Another, Sr. AnHoa Nguyen, is a member of a Vietnamese community, the Lovers of the Holy Cross. She’s staying with the New Haven Dominicans while she completes a theology master’s degree at Yale Divinity School.
Though they reflect the diversity of vowed life in generation, ethnicity and temperament, the five women who live here call themselves the “quaran-team.” In addition to a sense of humor, they share an apparent commitment to embracing their differences as they explore facets of religious life together.
Most newcomers to religious life haven’t entered a community during a public health emergency. But after multiple visits and conversations with congregations over several years, Buchanan and the Dominican Sisters of Peace had made a mutual decision: She was to enter their House of Discernment in New Haven, Connecticut, as a candidate.
That was back in March — just as COVID-19 began to sweep the country. But it wasn’t until late July that she arrived at the convent, having left her job as a pastoral associate in a New Jersey parish. Connecticut had imposed a mandatory self-quarantine period for people from states with a high COVID-19 positivity rate, so Buchanan then immediately began two weeks of self-isolation.
Grey, 81, began her journey to become a sister at age 17 in the mid-1950s, entering religious life at the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine in Kentucky (one of the founding congregations of the Dominican Sisters of Peace). It was a time when religious women spent many of their formative years without much contact with the secular world and without a significant degree of autonomy. Her entire adult life has been spent in a religious community.
The younger sisters have had opportunities for study and prayer that are “far more sophisticated” than when she was younger, said Grey. “It’s sort of like I’m learning along with them.”
After she left the Pennsylvania retreat house where she had served for many years, she was looking for a setting that would enable her to continue her work as a spiritual director and reunite her with her own religious community, said Grey.
Recently, the community celebrated her 60th year in religious life at the convent, complete with a virtual reunion with many of her compatriots in other parts of the country.
Drawn by the fact that the New Haven center is a community set aside for formation, or spiritual growth, Grey added that she was also looking for a way to use her gifts without the rigors of a full-time salaried post. “There’s just a wonderful spirit in the house, there’s more intentionality, I mean, in terms of relationships.” In addition to sharing shopping, cooking and cleaning chores, she said: “We work hard, and we do things that are in common. We’re very concerned about each other.”
Sr. June Fitzgerald is part of the order’s vocation team. In normal times, Fitzgerald would spend a lot of time on the road working with women contemplating religious life. The upside of pandemic travel limits, she said, is that she gets to spend a lot more time with her community.
“It’s very nurturing for us,” Fitzgerald said. “We all found we had more time for prayer, community time, and faith sharing. We really believe having a life rooted in prayer helps.”
When last seen on the pages of Global Sisters Report, Ana Gonzalez was about to head off from New Haven to St. Louis, to enter the collaborative novitiate the Dominican Sisters of Peace share with other Dominican religious groups in the United States.
Now Sister Ana Gonzalez, she returned to New Haven after several years to assume a position as coordinator of international admissions at Albertus Magnus College, a liberal arts school founded by the Dominicans in New Haven.
After two years in temporary vows, said Gonzalez, she continues to be thoughtful (and prayerful) in exploring the next step.
“One thing I hear from community members is that discernment doesn’t stop,” said the 40-year-old. “Wanting to cross things off our list is not something we do in religious life.”
“You keep discerning until you reach the other side,” said Sr. Joye Gros, who served as novice director for Gonzalez during her novitiate year in St. Louis. “When you make vows, it’s not over. You grow into them.”
Part of her journey, said Gonzalez, is appreciating the gifts of the women in her house. Grey’s skill as a spiritual director comes in handy in difficult times, she said. “In her kind and compassionate way, she listens to me and she helps me to continue discerning. My tendency is to be ‘me,’ [but] she reminds me: What is God trying to tell you?”
Asked what she brings to the community, Gonzalez said she brings the wealth of her multicultural upbringing and a global perspective. When her turn comes around to cook dinner, she said, she “loves that the community is open to eating the food that I grew up with,” including enchiladas and refried beans, as well as conventional American fare.
Gonzalez added that she appreciates the experiences Nguyen, a member of an international community of sisters, offers her and the other Dominican sisters. The risks and challenges taken by the founder of the Lovers of the Holy Cross congregation hundreds of years ago inspire her “on my journey into an uncertain future. If I hold on to God, all will be well.”
“I love the fact that I’m able to live in an intercongregational community grounded in the love of God.”
The New Haven women expressed equal appreciation for Gonzalez’s energy and extroverted personality. “Ana brings her Mexican culture with her. She’s a vibrant Latina, and I’ve learned so much from her,” said Fitzgerald.
When Nguyen moved to the United States from Vietnam to study, she began her educational odyssey in Chicago, living with a group of Polish Dominicans. “I learned to say, ‘How are you?’ ” in Polish, said the 38-year-old.
While her Vietnam order follows a schedule that adheres to the monastic hours (she rises earlier over there), she said the New Haven sisters have taught her about working for justice and promoting the value of higher education. She has also attended several vocational conferences organized by the sisters and has come to appreciate even the value of a Zoom conference, she said.
When she arrived, said Nguyen, she was assured that if she got on well with the other sisters, she would be welcome to stay through the duration of her studies. After a semester, they told her, she said, “AnHoa, you are always welcome. You are easy to live with, a determined sister who helps us to see the beauty of prayer in the community, cares for others, and brings the beauty of another culture.”
An eager and experienced gardener, Nguyen has also been a real asset in the plots that lie between the convent and the church rectory.
“I am grateful for my ministry,” she said, “and for my New Haven family.”
Cultural and ethnic differences impart a contemporary richness to religious communities, said Fitzgerald.
While in former times, women would bring a “patrimony” like clothes or financial donations with them, she noted, women today bring education, life experiences and cultural diversity.
Then there is the most recent arrival.
Newcomer Buchanan, 55, notched up 27 years working in New Jersey prisons before getting a master’s degree in pastoral ministry and becoming a pastoral associate.
In a process that would have been hard if not impossible 50 years ago, Buchanan’s road to New Haven entailed two years of “active discernment” and conversations with vocation directors from six communities.
It’s been a learning experience, after living for so many years on her own, to navigate boundaries in a new community, said Buchanan. “I’m an extrovert. The challenge is knowing when to be quiet.”
On the other hand, she said, it’s an “unexpected blessing just to come home and have a home-cooked meal, and just to share your day with other women, to have people genuinely interested in what your day was like.”
With six decades of experience in community life behind her, Grey is enjoying the companionship of sisters in her own congregation after most of a working life spent in service away from them.
She’s conscious that at some point, should her health fail, she might have to leave New Haven and go to the motherhouse in Ohio or return to St. Catharine’s in Kentucky, where her journey in religious life began, Grey said. But after being away from her community for so long, “I realize how much I’ve missed.”
[Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans is a freelance writer specializing in religion coverage. She is a frequent contributor to Global Sisters Report.]
And by doing so, the sister feels like she is fulfilling part of the congregation’s mission to work on a problem of the time.
“If I can be patient with someone who’s upset or connect them with resources that help or just take the time to listen, that can be as important a part of my ministry as finding who might have been exposed,” Coates said.
The 57-year-old is a novice in the Dominican Sisters of Peace, which is a step toward becoming a sister permanently. Before joining the congregation, she worked in public health for 20 years, helping to eradicate polio and other childhood illnesses around the world. Coates said she saw it as a way to serve God until she felt the call in 2013 to serve God in a more personal way by starting the process to become a religious sister.
“That awareness of God enhances everything I do,” and has for decades, she said.
Her faith has been a strength in her work as a leader of a team of contact tracers at Ohio State, said her boss, Kelly Muzyczka.
“Ellen’s public health background paired with her faith makes her great at explaining the why — why this needs to be done both from a public health perspective and from a good citizen perspective,” said Muzyczka, program manager of OSU’s case investigation and contact tracing team.
As part of her role, Coates helps guide and advise the approximately 50 contact tracers at the university.
Contact tracers work with patients who test positive for COVID-19 to determine who they’ve had close contact with while infectious. Then, the contact tracer must reach out those people and tell them they might have been exposed and recommend they isolate for two weeks.
Coates, originally from Winchester, Massachusetts, often helps contact tracers with difficult calls, in which people might be distraught about having been in contact with someone with the virus and are concerned about their ability to isolate.
Though she never discusses faith or God directly, Coates hopes her presence and understanding will show people the love of Jesus.
She said she can’t imagine what college students who test positive for coronavirus are going through but tries to remember that they’re frustrated, upset and already dealing with the fact that their college experience isn’t what they’d hoped it would be due to the pandemic.
“They’re trying to navigate a whole new world when as college students they’re already navigating a whole new world,” Coates said.
Though she wishes the pandemic wasn’t going on, Coates said she is happy to help people through it, even if just in a small way.
Muzyczka said she’s seen Coates affect people’s lives and says the understanding with which Coates approaches difficult situations is partially what “sets her apart.”
“The level-headedness in which she is working and the compassion is definitely apparent when she is talking to students or parents,” Muzyczka said. “She’s so good at making them feel calmer about everything and de-escalating any sort of situation in a very kind of peaceful, kind of calming way, in a very non-abrasive approach.”
Coates tries to understand how the person is feeling before solving a problem, and Muzyczka said she thinks Coates’ faith adds to her patience and compassion.
The Dominican Order of Preachers, of which the sisters are a part, was founded in 1216 by Saint Dominic and they consider their gift from God to be the ability to search for and preach truth as it affects the lives of people and the planet, according to the sisters’ website.
“What Ellen is doing is truly a manifestation of Dominic’s work,” said Dee Holleran, spokeswoman for the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
Sister Pat Dual, director of vocations with the Dominican Sisters of Peace, helps each woman find a ministry, usually a paying job, when they are going through the process to become a sister.
“All of our sisters in some way answer a need for God’s people at the time,” she said. “Is there a special significance (to Coates’ work)? Certainly … because this pandemic has changed how we live, every element of how we live.”
Images used in this article were taken at The Dominican Sisters of Peace Founded Ministry, Ohio Dominican University
Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden might garner a few more Catholic votes than is typical for a Democrat this election year, simply because he is relatable and demonstrates a kindness that President Donald Trump doesn’t, experts say.
“Joe Biden is an observant ethnic Catholic, he’s an Irish Catholic, so it’s a very easy link,” said David Leege, professor emeritus of political science at University of Notre Dame. “Many of the older ethnic Catholics, they had always thought of their church as a community.”
Still, many Catholics likely will vote for Trump, the Republican incumbent, because the Catholic electorate isn’t so much a voting block as a swing vote, said Leege and Greg Smith, associate director of religion research at Pew Research Center.
In an August poll by Pew, 53% of registered Catholic voters said they would vote for Biden, or lean toward voting for him, if the election was that day. As for Trump, 45% would vote for him or lean toward it, Smith said.
A September survey from nonprofit Vote Common Good shows that 11% of Evangelical and Catholic voters in five key swing states are switching from Trump to Biden this election, Leege said. Other surveys had similar findings, he said.
Nick Rulong, 27, of the Short North, said what determined his vote for Biden is the fact that he thinks Catholics should think of others when they vote, and he feels as if Biden does, unlike Trump.
“I think Catholics should be voting for the community and for the greater good because that’s one of the big teachings, the church with a capital ‘C’ is the entire community of Catholics across the world, and in this case across the country,” Rulon said, mentioning Latino Catholics and immigration, which Trump has come out hard against, in both rhetoric and policy.
Immigration is a particularly important policy for Catholics because the religion’s social teachings talk about the virtues of hospitality, openness and helping people, as all people are made in the image of God, Leege said.
“And here was Trump with negative after negative about the other, people who are not like us white Americans, and Catholics just had difficulty with that,” Leege said. “I think that will carry over to the election. I think Trump has forfeited some support he would’ve had.”
Only a few times in history have Catholics voted as a block, instead of representing a swing vote, most recently in 1960 for John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic president, Leege said.
How Catholics have voted in past elections:
2016: 52% of Catholics voted for Donald Trump and 44% voted for Hillary Clinton
2012: 50% of Catholics voted for former President Barack Obama and 48% voted for Mitt Romney
2008: 45% of Catholics voted for John McCain and 50% voted for Obama
Source: Pew Research Center
Otherwise, “they’re simply not a block of the electorate,” Leege said. “Catholicism represents so many different ethnic groups in this country, and that also means they’re spread all over the lot politically.”
Leege said the reason for the 11% of voters who are moving is multifaceted, including Trump fatigue, which he describes as the notion that people didn’t like the president when they originally voted for him in 2016.
“They held their nose and went to the polls because they thought Hillary was worse,” Leege said. “Well, four years later Trump has a history and it’s a history that for many religious people was abominable. They found him to be a man who was relentlessly on the wrong side of human decency.”
Rulong feels like many Catholics are voting for Trump due to one issue: abortion.
“When you weigh the other 20 issues versus one thing, it seems crazy,” he said.
Among Catholic Republicans, 63% think abortion should be illegal, while 77% of Catholic Democrats think it should be legal in most or all cases, Smith said.
Though abortion is a sticking point for some when voting, Smith said there is no indication in research that Catholics on average are prioritizing abortion over any other issues.
Surveys show that Catholic voters tend to adopt the positions of their political party, even when they run counter to the Catholic church’s beliefs, Smith said.
“That’s been true for a long time,” he said. “You cannot assume Catholics agree with all the teachings and positions of the church.”
For Pam Maltinsky, 70, who lives near Clintonville, Biden’s faith is what turns her off, even though they are both Catholic.
She says she doesn’t understand how Biden calls himself Catholic. Her vote will go to Trump.
“He’s gone against what the church stands for,” she said of Biden.
Though, she thinks Trump “doesn’t have a faith, he believes in Trump … but at least he’s not a hypocrite.”
Maltinsky isn’t alone in her views of Trump’s religious beliefs. According to a Pew Research Center poll released in March, only 7% of people said the president is “very religious.” Forty percent said he “isn’t at all religious” and a combined 51% said he is “somewhat” or “not too religious.”
Maltinsky has voted for Democrats in the past, but she believes people have to stand up for their beliefs. For her, abortion is a bigger factor in this election than it has been in the past.
“I don’t think it’s the most important, but it ranks right up there,” she said. “If Biden was true to his faith there would be no problem, I’d vote for Biden, but he’s not. He’s following the Democratic agenda.”
Guidance for Catholic voters from church officials, who are legally not supposed to endorse candidates due to religious groups’ non-profit status, has been mixed.
“The church does not engage in partisan politics but witnesses to the truth of the dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God from conception until natural death and at every moment in between,” he said in a statement. “This truth is the foundation of all principles in our political engagement, from the rejection of abortion, euthanasia, and racism, breaking the cycle of poverty, care for the environment, the sanctity of marriage and the family, religious liberty, efforts to end the use of the death penalty, and respect for every person.“
He said the right to life, when it comes to abortion and euthanasia, is foundational, because “without it all other rights collapse.”
A Texas bishop and a Wisconsin priest publicly said people can’t be Catholic and Democrats.
As the Bishop of Tyler I endorse Fr Altman’s statement in this video. My shame is that it has taken me so long. Thank you Fr Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation…pleases HEED THIS MESSAGE https://t.co/D413G0lfQV
Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, said he thinks Catholics can vote for Biden.
“I frankly in my own way of thinking have a more difficult time with the other option,” Tobin said in September as part of a panel discussion on the Catholic vote hosted by Boston College, Trinity College and St. Anselm College.
To Tobin, part of the problem with deciding who to vote for as a Catholic is that “no political party represents fully the Catholic moral traditions.”
“The problem is that we have to vote,” he said, recommending people use prudence in their decision. “You weigh everything in the favor of the overweening value and the overweening value here is the common good.”
Recently, I registered for an online class entitled Black History Bootcamp. It comes in daily and is geared primarily to women and even more so to Black women in an attempt to give them more background on their worldview and also to provide Black female role models and heroines. For me, it allows me to gain more insights and understandings of the world in which I live and relate to and connect with Black women. The story below was part of one of the lessons one week, and it seemed fitting to share:
On the night that Gwendolyn Brooks learned that she would become the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, she was sitting in her living room on the Southside of Chicago with her nine-year old son in the dark because the light bill had not been paid. By morning word had spread. A 32-year-old Black girl genius had secured the highest literary award in the land. Reporters descended on Gwendolyn’s home and as they came, she sat petrified, not wanting to reveal to the journalist and cameraman that they would have no place to plug in their equipment.
But when one of them came into the house and flipped on the switch without her knowing, the lights came on! Someone had gone down to the light company and paid the bill in full.
Somebody in this world right now needs to hear this story. Somebody needs to be reminded that it is darkest before dawn. Somebody needs to be reminded that there is hope all around.
“We are each other’s harvest;
we are each other’s business;
we are each other’s magnitude and bond!”
Many of our blogs these days have reminded us of the need to have hope. We are quick to say our hope comes from God, but how does God show us that hope? Through other people? This month we celebrated the feast of Teresa of Avila who wrote that Christ has no body, no feet, no hands, no voice but ours. From thence shall come our hope!