Telling Our Stories

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George, OPA

I remember as a young child of elementary school age wanting to write stories.  I even requested one of those writer’s kits to have my writing evaluated for publication.  I’m sure the publishing house that received my request must have known I was a young child and so they responded kindly, assuring me at my tender age that I had some writing talent.

We all have a story. Stories are an important part of our lives. Wherever we are and wherever we go, we tell and hear stories from sunrise to sunset. Stories emerge from the moment we wake up and recall our dreams to the stories we share with each other throughout the day.  Stories can be told in words, images, laughter, tears, dance, music, art, film, theater, and so many other forms. Each form evokes or conveys emotions that tell us about the human journey and connect us to each other. Stories can be uplifting and inspiring or thought-provoking or heart-breaking. All stories are important and deserve to be told and heard.

From the earliest of times, we know that stories were carved on cave walls to entertain, to inform, and to convey the culture, history, and values held by prehistoric societies. Stories are part of our oral and written traditions, where archives and museums exist to preserve humanity’s stories.  How stories are communicated may have changed over the years, from cave art and paintings to emoji’s and texting in our modern times.  But, it is clear that we have a longstanding, instinctive need to tell our stories and this holds true for the living and the dying.

One of my fondest memories as a hospice volunteer was the honor of assisting a dying man record his stories for his young children. He wanted his young children to know about his parents, his childhood, and his marriage to their mother—as seen and told by him.  He wanted to share his values, what was important to him, and his special memories with his children. Sharing this time with him was both heartbreaking and endearing. In telling his stories, he was finding meaning in his life and reconciling with the loss of not being around as his children grew up.  His life’s stories would give his children a connection to him even after he was gone. What a beautiful gift he was giving to his children!

Biographies and autobiographies are my favorite stories because they take us along a journey, where life unfolds often through poignant revelations and sacred recollections of where a person has been. Two starkly different stories, Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl captivated my attention as a young child and teenager.  Helen Keller’s story as a deaf-blind person and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, gave me hope and confidence in achieving success as a hearing-impaired person. (One person’s story can be a lifeline for another person.) Anne Frank’s journal of her family’s time in hiding during the Holocaust and her experiences as a Jewish teenager taught me not only about the inhumane atrocities that occurred in Nazi Germany but also about the resiliency of the human spirit to forge on even in the midst of dire circumstances.  Courage and fortitude are just some of the characteristics that these woman’s stories tell.

Whether a story is about hope or despair, or survival or loss, we can find meaning in the telling and listening of our stories.  Whether the telling of a story is about the past, the present, or future dreams, there is a liberating, affirming, and healing component to a story’s message.  Stories can empower us or disarm us, paving the way to new possibilities or awakenings.

When the Vocations team hosts retreats, discernment groups, and outreach programs, women participants always want to hear the vocation and ministry stories of our Sisters. The Sister’s stories help them to reflect on where they are, what their gifts are for ministry, and to envision what religious life is about.

Part of the application process for becoming a candidate within this community even includes writing an autobiography, where a woman can share her life’s story and spiritual journey as she reflects on God’s imprint on her life.

Are you ready to tell your story? To use your story to lift up others? To offer stories of healing and hope to others?  Want to know more about our story as Dominican Sisters of Peace?  We’d love to hear your story.  Contact a Vocation Minister today.

Posted in God Calling??

My Discernment Journey

Blog by Sr. Mai Dung Nguyen

The discernment process about a vocation call is unique for every individual because each person is called differently. Individual preferences influence how a person hears this call. Discerners often evaluate a religious community by their prayer life, mission, wearing a habit or ordinary contemporary clothes, vowed living, community living, and more. I know this was the case for me.

I grew up in a traditional Catholic environment that included personal or communal adoration, Mass, rosary, Gospel reading, and rituals. When I was first discerning God’s call, I was only interested in the beautiful habit, growing a deeper relationship with God, and helping the poor. I visited some traditional religious communities where the members wore the habit–and I liked all these visits. I listened to them and followed what they suggested to do when I was there. However, I was not asked to do any personal reflection on what I liked or did not like about this visit, what inspired me (their community life, prayer style, for instance) or what I might be resisting about a call to religious life, etc. They did not ask me whether I had had any spiritual director. One community, after I visited, gave me the application file to apply.

Later, I encountered the Dominican Sisters of Peace. When I first met these sisters, I was shocked by their contemporary clothes because I had never thought a Sister would wear such clothes. However, having a conversation with them at their vocation booth and reading their materials inspired me. The way they addressed my current situation and my questions was so open, making me feel they were listening to me. I came to realize that the habit was not the main factor for deciding whether to join or not join a community. I contacted them to explore their community. Two months later, I decided to move to Boston to be closer to these Sisters for my discernment.

The first weekend in Boston, I was invited to attend a reflection day at one of their ecological centers. The sisters showed me how to connect with God and God’s creation through the process of making, baking, and breaking bread. I have never thought of finding God deeply in these simple daily experiences, I was so inspired with this finding.  Then, the confusion came to me when I listened to the Sister’s presentation about the universe. Even though science and engineering are part of my background, I had considered science and engineering as worldly things, not as “God’s thing.” I thought I would have had to give up science and engineering when I joined religious life.  Thus, listening to this talk, many questions showed up in me: “Are they really Sisters? Why do they talk about such earthly things? How do they get such ideas? Are they not spending time helping the poor or working in the church, instead of learning such “non” Godly things?  Are they following or opposing the Gospel teachings?” It reminded me of the Pharisees and the people around ASKING Jesus when he was showing them something different from what they had been practicing their faith daily.

I felt torn between embracing what I just heard and this new way of practicing our Catholic faith that I was not familiar with at that time.

Instead of making a hasty conclusion that this kind of religious life did not fit me, I reflected and prayed. I appreciated God for “God knows who I am more than I know myself.” I gradually felt a sense of the affirmation between me and what the Sisters said. Then, I wanted to explore more. Whenever I had a chance to be with a sister, I asked her about her stories and how she lived. I took it to heart, reflected and prayed with the insights. I started to recognize God in a deeper sense as I looked around: in the mission and in daily life with a wider view. I decided to join; and my life has flourished since then.  I love every moment of living out my call with the Dominican Sisters of Peace.

We just had a “Come and See” weekend retreat in Kentucky. Looking at the discerners, I can see in the discerners the images of myself in the past and in the present. Believe me, discernment to seek God and to respond to the needs is never ended.  No matter how you practice your faith, I encourage you to keep your mind and heart open, to be reflective and courageous, and to trust that God is working within you and through those who are journeying with you. Contact us if you have any questions.

Posted in God Calling??, News

Looking back at our Come and See Retreat

Blog by Sr. Beata Tiboldi

Last weekend, some of us participated in a “Come and See” Retreat – where discerners come to one of our motherhouses and visit for a weekend along with others interested in exploring religious life. The weekend is structured around the four pillars of Dominican Spirituality: prayer, study, community and (learning about) ministry, and each retreat has a different theme.

Just as St. Dominic prayed nine different ways, so, we too, prayed with a variety of prayers. We chanted the liturgy of the hours, we prayed in the Taize style, and we let God’s words sink in and inspire us through Lectio Divina. We also had the opportunity to pray communally and to pray individually, with words or by reflecting in silence.

We learned about discernment, about the difference between discernment and decision-making, about ways to listen actively while we examine and deepen our relationship with God, about being aware of our feelings, and about seeking confirmation. We also learned from women in formation about the joys and challenges of discernment and the stages of formation – what formation looks like and feels like nowadays. Fun fact:  Would you ever have thought that there was a Sister who was working for the FBI prior to entering religious life?

Then, we learned how Sisters live the vows as a daily commitment to God, to others and to self, and how Sisters discern communally for obedience/ministry in the light of what the world needs at this time, pointing to and witnessing to God’s reign to come and for compassion. We learned also about how one answers the call for various ministries. Pope Francis encourages us: “The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. (…) Do not be afraid to go and bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away and most indifferent. (…) Wherever we are, we always have an opportunity to share the joy of the Gospel. That is how the Lord goes out to meet everyone.” (Christus Vivit, #177.) In what ways do you feel called to share the Good News?

Being in St. Catharine, KY, where nine women answered the call to religious life and became the first Dominican Sisters in the USA, we visited the site of the original motherhouse as part of a hayride, and we toured other sites, like St. Rose Church and the place where the pioneer Dominican Sisters’ cabin home stood.

The Sisters at our motherhouse in Kentucky couldn’t have been more welcoming. Each participant of the retreat had a ‘sister-companion,’ who journeyed together in faith during the weekend. Other Sisters either shared during presentations or during panel conversation. We also reconnected with Sisters during prayer times and Mass, during meals, and there were also the Sisters who made our weekend go smooth as they gave us a tour, accompanied us in music, or made sure we had refreshments. As some discerners arrived a few days early or stayed a few days late, our Sisters helped us out very generously. Some made sure we all had a room, some accompanied us, some prayed with us, some shared about their ministries on-site, etc. They rock! We are very grateful.

Living out one’s vocation is a response to God’s call. Twelve women came to our Come and See Retreat who responded to the call to ‘come and see.’ Some got clarification, some became more energized, and some found peace in being able to share with a companion about their discernment. Responding to the call as a vowed religious Sister is a life-long journey that always requires openness to God, others and to self, compassion, passion for the mission, and at times, even courage.

Do you feel God calling you or nudging you? If you would like to talk to someone about it, please contact us at

Posted in God Calling??, News

Come & See

Blog by Sr. June Fitzgerald

The two disciples followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi”, “where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying,
and they stayed with him that day. (Jn 1:37-39)

I attended my first Come and See discernment retreat when I was 24 years old. I was terrified and excited at the same time. It was a beautiful fall day and as I drove to Pennsylvania, questions and concerns swirled in my mind and heart. What would it be like? Who else would be there? Do I have what it takes to be a sister? I arrived at the Motherhouse and was greeted by several novices who had been charged with getting us settled. Their joy and laughter settled my nerves and I finally took a deep breath and relaxed.

It was a transformational time for me, and one of great blessing. I remember sitting in the chapel late one evening and seeing the fireflies outside floating about the lawn. Deer were grazing on the hillside and munching on acorns as the sun moved lower in the sky. The smell of candles, incense, furniture polish and paint from a recently completed mural were also present. A deep sense of God’s presence was with me and for the first time I truly opened my heart to believing that God was calling me to religious life. It just seemed right. I sat there and prayed for over an hour. When I left the chapel, I knew that whatever happened, God was leading me. I just needed to remember to follow and to trust.

Fast forward to 2019 and here I am on the other side of the equation. I am on the Vocations team and we are preparing for our Come and See retreat this weekend at our Motherhouse in Kentucky. It has been a few years since that first Come and See retreat and I am celebrating my 25th Jubilee this year. With a bit more of life lived and religious life embraced, I would like to share the answers to the questions that plagued me on that drive to my first retreat so long ago.

So, here it goes:

1. What will it be like?
It will be a program designed with you in mind. The retreat will include presentations by sisters on discernment, the vows, life in community and the history and charism of our Dominican Order and Congregation. Each day will begin and end with prayer in common. You will have time for private prayer & reflection, group conversations, fun, good food and even a hayride on our farm. You may even see some fireflies.

2. Who else will be there?
Other women of faith, like yourself, who have heard God calling them to something more – who are exploring religious life. Some are in their first years of college and others have graduated long ago and are involved in professional careers. They are accountants, doctors, nurses, social workers and pastoral ministers. Along with the retreatants, there will be sisters who will serve as speakers, spiritual companions, prayer leaders and tour guides. Of course, God will be present in a special way to you.

3. Do I have what it takes to be a sister?
Well, I cannot answer that one but I do know that each of us is a child of God – and have been called to something special from the moment of our conception, which was sealed in the waters of baptism. God loves you and calls you by name. I invite you to respond in faith and trust. The answer will be revealed.

We are preparing to welcome 13 women for this Come and See retreat. They are coming from around the country as are the Vocations team who will accompany them. Please keep us all in prayer.

If you are feeling that God is calling you to something more, take courage and contact one of us here. Blessings and much peace, Sister June

Posted in God Calling??, News

Work as Purpose

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George

Have you ever been unemployed?  Or, do you know someone who has experienced being unemployed?  Why is work or ministry so important to how we feel about ourselves? Beyond a paycheck, does work matter?

If you’ve ever experienced job loss, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, you know the accompanying feelings of doubt, despair, and loneliness that come from not working. Even when we are not occupationally employed, work of any kind matters to our sense of well-being, to our ability to interact and connect with others, and to contribute to our communities. Work gives us meaning and a purpose for our lives.

Having just celebrated Labor Day, I think it’s fitting to take a moment to reflect on the value of work. What does being able to work or not being able to work mean to you?  How does your work or ministry affect how you feel about yourself?  Do you take being able to work and to perform a job or task for granted?  What makes your work or ministry meaningful?  Is there some work you would never want to do?

What makes work meaningful to me is to see it in the context of ministry, that is, as a way of serving God and of using my gifts to help others. When I see my work as ministry, my work becomes more than a job or task to do.  By viewing work as having a spiritual or ministerial component, I find it easier to carry out whatever tasks I need to do and to see my work as having a deeper purpose and meaning. Thus, in my administrative role here with the vocations and formation teams, I see my work as a way of serving God, of using my gifts to help the Sisters in their ministry with women who are discerning religious life.

What I learned also from my years as a hospice caregiver is to appreciate that by simply being present to others and by listening to the women I visited, a reciprocal relationship of ministering to and being ministered to can happen.  Wanda, who was one of my hospice patients, for example, taught me to quilt and her gift has blessed me immensely.  So, when we adopt a service attitude and work from the heart, it  can change us and perhaps others. Through our work or our ministry, we can become the hands, the feet, the eyes, the ears that bring love, hope, peace, and healing to a broken world.

Work is an important part of who we are and gives us an opportunity to share our gifts, to be in community with others, and to contribute to some mission or to someone.  We are each called to be workers in the harvest of God’s kingdom.  Our work or ministry is also one of the tools God uses to transform us and to teach us life lessons.

As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Or, another way to think about our calling in life is to recognize what Frederick Buechner once said, and that is, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”

There are many ways that our work, our ministry, our calling can be beneficial to ourselves, to others, and to our communities.  Perhaps you can think of ordinary people whose simple or extraordinary work has contributed to the well-being of others.

Work can be physical or intellectual, creative or mechanical, domestic or industrial. All work matters and has the potential of making someone else’s life better, bearable, or more enjoyable. For example, an athlete or musician can entertain us in different but joy-filled ways or a scientist can discover a life-altering cure, or an artist can help us see beauty around us, an electrician can assure that a building is wired properly, a housekeeper can make a nursing home patient feel special just by tidying her personal space.

Even if we have physical or intellectual disabilities, our “work” or “calling” can make a difference in the lives of others. Do you know of someone with physical or intellectual limitations whose simple presence brings you joy—a Down’s Syndrome person, a blind or deaf person, or some other person who has learned to use their gifts for the betterment of others?

Whatever work we do, how we do this work is important also.  Do we do our work with a cheerful heart or with drudgery?  Are we hospitable and compassionate when working with others?  Are we competitive or cooperative?

As God’s work of creation, we are each endowed with gifts given to us for a purpose. Our work matters to God and it is through our work that we can serve God and others.

What is the work you enjoy doing?  Are you being called to put your gifts at the service of others as a religious sister?  Come and be a part of our work and our mission to preach the Gospel in every season.  Begin the journey of discerning your calling by contacting one of our Vocation Ministers.

Posted in God Calling??, News