For sure, the year 2020 was a year like no other. I need not list here, the suffering and chaos of the year to anyone old enough to read this blog. But I am reminded of the message of hope expressed during the Christmas season and reiterated at the Epiphany—God’s Light (Christ) has come to dispel the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome the Light. I have found over the last few months, that I need to hold this message firmly in my spirit. One thing that has helped sustain my hope during this time has been seeing God’s spirit continuing to inspire and call women to consider a life in service to God and the people of God. Perhaps, it is in times of greater suffering and confusion that God’s call is clearer to us. However, I am certain that God continues to call women to consider religious life even amid a pandemic.
The fact that God is still calling women to religious life and to our congregation is great news! But for relational ministries like Formation and Vocation, the isolation and protocol for preventing the spread of the virus, presented somewhat of a problem. The 2020 year of pandemic caused disruptions in everyone’s life, redefining how we lived, worked, and related to each other. Making use of virtual technology became the safest way to work and to relate to each other. For better or worse, virtual technology became the “new normal.”
The vocation team seemed to quickly adapt to this new way of connecting with discerning women by sponsoring virtual Come and See Weekends; virtual dinner or prayer events with Sisters; and virtual Mission for Peace events, like the one happening this weekend. The vocation team has designed a complete online program that continues the important ministry of helping women discern God’s call. They have been quite successful in their efforts, adapting to the fact that God continues to call people to consecrated life, even during COVID-19.
The Formation ministry also had to adapt to pandemic conditions. We had to rethink how we would welcome women who discerned and were accepted as Candidates in the congregation. In addition, there were several women already in the initial formation process as novices and temporary professed Sisters. Most of them were ready to take the next steps in their journey of becoming a Sister.
The ritual ceremonies for each step in the formation process are very meaningful and culminate after several years with final vows. The rituals and ceremonies usually take place during congregational gatherings and requires traveling for almost everyone involved. As weeks stretched into months during the pandemic, using technology was the only way forward to hold these ceremonies. The women in formation were open and ready for participating in modified virtual ceremonies, witnessed in person with their local community, with the congregation, and with family and friends joining virtually. Though not ideal, these virtual ceremonies were wonderful events seen by our Sisters and guests in several states. Holding such ceremonies virtually, these women in formation have demonstrated two necessary characteristics of women in religious life—openness and adaptability.
I am very happy that the Dominican Sisters of Peace have been able to adapt to the continuing call of women to religious life. Currently, we have seven women in formation. Two became Candidates during the pandemic this year. Cathy Buchanan and Tram Bui were welcomed into the congregation with their local convent communities in New Haven, CT, and Columbus, OH, respectively. Canonical Novice, Sr. Annie Killian entered our Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN) in Chicago, IL. All aspects of the novitiate have been adapted with online classes, retreats and even ministry in some cases. It has been a very different experience at the novitiate this year, but the novices are grateful they were able to continue their discernment process. Our second-year novice, Sr. Ellen Coates returned to Columbus, OH from the CDN in August 2020. She can do her ministry from home as part of the Ohio State University Contact tracing team. Sr. Phuong Vu professed her First Vows in a beautiful Mass in New Orleans, LA since it was unsafe to travel to the Motherhouse in Columbus, OH. While masks, face shields and social distancing were required, Sr. Phuong was grateful to take her first vows. The Prioress and I, along with her family, watched her special moment virtually and with much gratitude.