How to Choose a Religious Community

Blog by Sr. Mai Dung Nguyen

Community plays a critical role in your vocation call. Religious community parameters are crucial for you to live your vowed life fruitfully and meaningfully. God’s will can be magnified in you through these parameters. Thus, asking the right questions to reflect on, pray with, and to share with someone whom you trust is necessary in narrowing down which community is the right one for you.

When visiting a religious community, you may feel drawn to this community because of the way the Sisters pray or celebrate Eucharist. You may find a community that wears a habit more comfortable for you. However, there is more to consider when choosing a religious community.

Along the way, to follow God’s call, God may invite you to step out of your comfort zone and expand your horizon. Some communities you visit may both inspire and challenge you. This new discovery may disturb the way you have imaged religious life or of practicing your faith. Such experience may cause you to question your call or to be disappointed.   However, perhaps these differences are expanding your expectations and opening you to new possibilities.  Taking time in choosing a community with which to discern, calls for thoughtful reflection.

Below are just some suggested questions about community to consider:

  1. What are the ten top values of a healthy faith-community you value most? How do these values fit with the community you are looking at?
  2. What is the daily schedule of prayer, study, community, and ministry? How do you imagine living with this schedule for the rest of your life in a healthy way, not the one that is a burden?
  3. How do the sisters and the community live out their vows of obedience, celibacy, and poverty?
  4. How does the community live interdependently, intergenerationally, interculturally, and interracially? How do you see yourself living in such an environment?
  5. How does the community support its members for mission, on-going education and personal development, and healthy living?
  6. How much freedom and accountability do the members have? How are the voices of the members heard in the community?
  7. What are the mission and vision statements of the community, and how do the sisters live out these statements, day in and day out? How does your vision, dream, and gifts fit into these statements, making you feel you are a part of this community to share mission together?
  8. How do the members of the community respond to the signs of the time, including social justice issues, issues within the church, service to people in needs, care for creation, or creating a vision? How do these resonate with you?
  9. If possible, visit a community for a retreat, a mission program or a “live in” experience for a week or more. Then, reflect on that experience as you discern where you are called.
  10. Imagine you have decided on the best community to join. Live with that decision for a week. How do you feel about it?  What is God saying to you as you bring this decision to prayer?  How do you imagine yourself living in this community in ten years, twenty years, and the rest of your life?

Different communities fit different people. A community can provide good soil for you to live out your vocational call, to grow, and to bear good fruit. Yet, it is important to choose the community that seems to be the best fit for you. Surrendering to God’s will does not mean joining a community without having a serious discernment. Surrendering to God’s will means accepting the invitation to join a community in which you can share visions, dreams, gifts, and yet be transformed to become the best person God intended you to be. Choosing the right community for you takes time to discern.  Be courageous, trust God, and invite others into your discernment journey with you.  Reach out to a spiritual director, mentor or vocation director with whom to guide your discernment journey.

The adventure is just beginning.

Posted in God Calling?, News

In the Breaking of the Bread…

Blog by Sr. June Fitzgerald, OP

When women are discerning their call to religious life, they are very interested in learning what it is really like to live in community.  They do not want to see the posed pictures or written statements of how we value community and one another.  They want to see us in action – with each other – in everyday moments of prayer, at play, in the garden, studying and journeying together.  When asked about our life, I share with them that one of the greatest joys of living in community is the time we spend together at the dinner table.

We often spend an hour or more at table in the evening as we break bread and share our lives.  The topics of discussion vary – from what we did that day and whom we met, to current events, theology, weather and whatever our student sisters are studying.  If you arrive after dinner has begun, you may be greeted by laughter or the sound of animated conversation coming from the dining room.   Following the voices, you will be greeted by a bright room with a very long dining table.  Our table, in this particular house, is so long that we five can sit six feet apart, in keeping with the new physical distancing guidelines.  However, the physical distance between us fades into the background as we take up our lives, break them open and share them with each other.  In these moments, we realize the Paschal mystery present to us as articulated in the Gospel of Luke, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;” (Luke 24:30-31)

The story of the disciples in Emmaus continues with them getting up and going back to Jerusalem to share the wonder of the experience they had at table.  Their lives were transformed and made whole again in that encounter with Christ.  Thus, we too must go out and share this experience of Christ becoming present to us in community in the breaking of the bread and of our lives.  How are you being called to share this with others?

Next time you sit down with your family, community or by yourself, take a moment to become aware of the presence of Christ with you.  Be sure to pass it on.

If you feel God calling you to explore religious life, reach out and contact one of our Vocation Ministers.  Who knows, someday soon you may be at our table with us.

Posted in God Calling?, News

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

Mission for Peace

“Listen!” Didn’t we hear this a lot when we were children? This short, two-syllable word has a lot of power. Listening is not only hearing the words that are being said. It’s about making an effort to hear with the ear of your heart to what is truly being said and being fully present to whoever is speaking. It is about understanding another person’s story and responding in a way that lets the other person know they are heard.

Cathy took a snapshot of a happy elderly lady who just received a mask.

Just a few days ago, several women participated in our five-day virtual Mission for Peace immersion experience via Zoom. The objective was to give women who are discerning religious life an opportunity to explore and try out our Dominican life of prayer, study, community, and ministry.

We are grateful for Sisters Luisa Derouen, Claire McGowan, Jane Belanger, Janice Thome, Joye Gros, Margie Davis, Mary Vuong, Suzanne Brauer, Pat Thomas, Ceal Warner, Phuong Vu, Judy Morris, Rita Schwarzenberger, Francine Schwarzenberger, Gemma Doll, Rachel Sena, Susan Zemgulis, and Chrstine Connolly whose presentations and prayers helped these women to think critically about many issues and to respond compassionately to the needs in their local area creatively.

On the first day, we listened to the parable of the sower. Sr. Luisa invited us to think of ourselves interchangeably as being the soil that receives and germinates, as being the seed that trusts the process while being nurtured, and as being the sower who takes action by scattering the seeds. We were then summoned to plant a seed as a symbol of God’s seed planted in us.

We filled sea shell bottle filled with sand as part of a reflection activity. Vicky took this photo..

On the second day, we learned about ecology in the light of the “deep time” cosmological perspective, which is a perspective that gives meaning to the journey of life. We learned how “deep time” can impact our understanding of God and our relationship with God, and that it can transform us, guide our actions for the future, and can serve as a learning continuum.

In the afternoon, we also learned about how we could utilize things for more sustainable living and about the ministry at our Heartland Farm.

On the third day, we learned how Dominican Sisters of Peace listen to the cry of the poor, the marginalized, and the immigrants through the Ministry of Presence. A sense of mission was deeply felt when we heard what it takes to be part of this ministry: whether it was about learning a language to be able to engage in conversations and then to be the voice for the voiceless, or assisting immigrants with completing legal documents, or transporting them to the doctor, or helping someone learn to drive, or serving food to hungry immigrants who have walked hundreds of miles, or providing them the opportunity to take hot showers and choose from donated clean clothes, etc.  We witnessed or saw that it all takes a heart and deep listening.

Vicky wrote a note to each recipient affirming to them that they might not know each other, but they are connected by God’s love. She went for a walk to distribute these masks and notes, along with bottles of water.

On the fourth day, we looked at the needs of our current times, and how sisters respond to those needs. As an example, we asked our Sisters at the Peace Center to share about their ministry and we studied the “Ministries in Action” website that tells about some of the stories how sisters and associates minister to God’s people during this pandemic. One woman shared during the program that she really appreciated recognizing the way we minister. To explain her insight, she shared her observation that we don’t just go and help what we think people need, but rather we go out into the neighborhood to ask about the needs of the local residents, and then we respond to those needs. In the afternoon, we learned about how we can study various justice concerns, such as racism, immigration, human trafficking, common-sense gun control, the death penalty, climate change, and to advocate for more just laws.

On the last day, in the morning the message of hope radiated from the presentation about our mission in Nigeria whether it was about drilling a new water well or helping families who have rickets or communicating our passion for God’s Word, or the sisters’ year-long labor to support the mission in Nigeria. Compassion, passion, presence, continuity, and ultimately, love are a few words that describe this session.  In the afternoon, we learned about Catholic Native Americans and Native American Saints and their rich spirituality, one of which is praying in seven directions: East, South, West, North, upward, downward, and inward (center/heart.) This session affirmed our awareness of God’s presence being all around us as a foundation for our life of prayer and ministry.

In between sessions, women were invited to prayerfully reflect on what they heard and to take actions. Usually, during a mission immersion program, we take women to our Motherhouses and ministry sites to volunteer, however, this pandemic compelled us to listen to the needs of the times in our local areas and to respond to those needs compassionately and creatively. Some activities included:

  • visiting various suggested websites, including our Justice Updates website. 

    Samples of other hands-on activities that we mentioned in this blog.
  • seeking out organizations in need of volunteers and taking necessary steps to volunteer,
  • writing cards to the neglected or lonely,
  • distributing masks and/or care packages to those in need,
  • crocheting dishcloths or potholders to support our mission in Nigeria,
  • making a cross out of sticks and yarn similar to the Native American tradition,
  • considering ways to live a more sustainable life and committing to this lifestyle,
  • being mindful of God’s creation when on a walk,
  • and taking actions by signing petitions online.

Each day opened and ended with prayer, and with integrating what transpired that day with time for silent reflection. We prayed with a variety of prayers, including:

  • praying with our Dominican Praise prayer book,
  • praying in the Taizé tradition,
  • praying the rosary,
  • praying with the words of Pope Francis,
  • praying for peace,
  • reflecting silently on our relationship with God by using a labyrinth,
  • doodling our prayers,
  • and on our last day, using a wordle-image that was created from our participants’ faith sharing after listening to the daily Gospel and listening to their hearts what they have heard from the presentations.
After sharing our faith with one another, we created a wordle communally, and used it for continued reflection.

Listening is such an essential element of mission work. Being on the mission is about willing to make the effort to listen to the voice of the voiceless, to the cry of our mother earth, and to the still small voice in our hearts: God’s Spirit stirring our deepest self, and then willing to respond to those needs. To what is God calling you at this time?

If you think God is calling you to a life of prayer, study, community, and ministry, please contact us.

Posted in God Calling?

True Happiness

Blog by Sr. June Fitzgerald, OP

Recently, I began to accompany my nephew and Godson, Colin as he prepares for the Sacrament of Confirmation.  It is a great honor to serve as his sponsor.  So far, I am enjoying the opportunity for us to study, pray and talk together.   We have had some great conversations about why he wants to be confirmed, what it means to him and how he sees this whole process.  We have gotten to know each other in a deeper way – as our usual conversations have revolved around PVZ (his favorite video game), Lego architectural creations, his favorite movie characters and his daily adventures.

This past week we reflected on and prayed with the topic of “True Happiness.”  I, as a sponsor, have to complete study modules that parallel those the teens are using.  In the “Happiness or pleasure?” activity, we discussed what true happiness means to us.  I was delighted to find out that we have similar answers and habits.  We both said that what makes us happiest is when we spend time with those we love – especially family, both biological and religious.  In the course of this conversation, he shared that when he notices others around him are down or stressed, he reaches out to them with a hug (family) or slap on the back (friends) or a (typical guy greeting) “Hey!”  I too find great happiness in reaching out to others to connect or to offer a listening ear.  Yet, nothing compares to the happiness I find in God and the true joy that flows from it.

I enjoyed this conversation with my nephew so much, that I would like to invite you to reflect on

“What brings you happiness?”

Then, reflect on Pope Francis’ “Top Ten Secrets to Happiness,” paraphrased here for you:

  1. Stop clinging to past conflict; move on and let others do the same.
  2. Give yourself to others; give your time and money to those in need.
  3. Be kind, humble and calm.
  4. Enjoy a healthy sense of joy and relaxation.
  5. Make Sundays a day for family time.
  6. Do good work and create good meaningful work for others.
  7. Care for the earth and respect the environment.
  8. Let go of negative things quickly.
  9. Respect the faith of others, engage in dialogue, and witness to your faith.
  10. Promote peace.

Take a few moments to consider these and pick one to do today.  Perhaps, you would like to write your own top ten, or have it as a topic of discussion around your dinner table or zoom room today.  I can’t wait to talk about it with my Dominican Sisters as we gather around our table this evening.  For me, that is true community and joy in the Lord.

I would love to hear how your reflection and conversations go.

Blessings and much peace,

Sr. June

Posted in God Calling?, News