Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Celebrating Blessings

Life certainly took some unexpected turns this month.  At the CDN we’re grateful to be safe and well, and our thoughts and prayers are often focused on those struggling in any way with or because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We also are aware of and grateful for our many blessings. 

SPOP's in the CDN Chapel

Like so many people who are separated from family, friends and loved ones, we’re also experiencing some separation.  Jessica and Janice, the Providence members of the SPOP’s, are sheltering in place at St. Mary of the Woods, where they had been on Spring Break.  We miss them but are grateful to be able to stay connected as a community using Zoom.  That same technology is also allowing us to continue with classes, the ICN and “Contemporary Issues in Religious Life.”

Enjoying the sisters' hospitality at Heartland Farm

I was very fortunate that my planned Spring Break visit to our sisters in Great Bend and Garden City, Kansas with Dominican Sister of Peace Diane Traffas and our candidate, Annie Killian, happened before we were advised to shelter in place and maintain social distance.  As we are so often reminded, religious women are prophets and ministers, working on the margins where people and creation are suffering the most – the sisters in Kansas are no exception.  Sisters who in other circumstances would have been retired for years create an oasis for body, mind and spirit at Heartland Spirituality Center and Heartland Farm ecospirituality center.  Others devote countless hours to knitting, sewing, crocheting beautiful craft items, and turning pounds of fresh fruit into jams and jellies, all of which will be sold at an annual bazaar that raises tens of thousands of dollars for ministries combatting poverty and other challenges in Kansas and Nigeria.  Still others companion their sisters in the infirmary wing, and made sure that Annie and I heard about their sisters’ lives and accomplishments.  

Touring St. Catherine's Hospital in Garden City, Kansas

In Garden City, where the sisters once had a much larger presence, the hospital they established several decades ago still maintains ties to the congregation and provides outstanding healthcare with the same generous Catholic spirit that the sisters instilled. 
Today, one sister ministers at St. Dominic’s Church, a parish of about 850 families, while two others have been walking with and ministering to people in and around the city, including immigrants, refugees, and women and children who have been impacted by trafficking and other forms of abuse.  As we drove around the challenging neighborhoods where many of these families live, they told us the stories of successes and disappointments (their own and those of the people they serve), and helped us understand more about the systems that keep so many people from thriving.  At the same time they told us about the many activities and learning opportunities that they and others have built in Garden City, and took us to places like Emmaus House where individuals and families can go for a hot meal, a safe place to spend the night, or food from a well-stocked pantry.  Woven through all of our conversations were the sisters’ deep love and concern for all of the people they serve, and rootedness of their almost palpable faith.  Sharing evening prayer that night and lectio divina the next morning were as moving as the stories they told. 

Emmaus House Kitchen
Emmaus House Food Pantry

The gift of that Spring Break was not just a change of scene and a chance to spend more time with sisters, and with Annie.  It was a witness to the fact that sisters continue to listen deeply to the signs of the times, discern the needs and the best opportunities to minister in response to them, and preach God’s message of love and compassion.  In this unexpected time of isolation and national and international distress, both the legacy and the on-going presence of these and so many other quietly dedicated religious women give me comfort and hope.

Lenten Display at St. Dominic's Church

Annie with some of the Great Bend sisters

More Great Bend sisters

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Presenting to the CDN Board

They say that the Canonical Novitiate year at the CDN flies by, and it certainly does.  I’m amazed that the CDN Board meeting that I’ve been hearing about from former novices for such a long time is actually over.  The opportunity to meet so many Dominican formation directors and congregational leaders was enriching and affirming – the interest and support in the room were palpable.  In my short visit with these sisters, I heard conversations here and there that made it clear that these women are filled with new ideas, and open to new possibilities for religious life, formation and ministry in the future.  Once again, I found myself filled with hope for the future.

The opportunity to present my experiences this year to the Board reminded me again of how rich the year has been, not only with community, classes, ICN meetings, and ministry, but with some unique experiential opportunities.  Our Fall semester visits to a number of Dominican congregation sites (as well as my visit with Jessica to St. Mary of the Woods), and events like the RFC Congress brought home to me how pioneering religious women in the US have lived, and continue to live the Gospel and turn their passions into action such that their lives become a visible preaching:
  • Sisters’ Pioneering History – St. Catherine’s, KY; St. Mary of the Woods
  • Care of God’s Creation – Jubilee Farm, Springfield, IL
  • Addressing the Signs of the Times – Sr. Eileen Gannon’s discussion of her work at the UN, during Aquinas Institute Dominican Day, St. Louis, MO; and Sr. Norma Pimentel’s presentation on her work with immigrants at our border during the RFC Congress, Louisville, KY
  • Sisters in Community in Action – Fundraising Bazaar for Nigerian Sisters, Great Bend, KA 

S-Pops with Sr. Sharon Zayac, OP at Jubilee Farm

Dominican Sisters of Peace with Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ

Of course, the presentation also gave me a chance to see how much my prayer life, personally and in community, has grown, as has my understanding of how critical that part of life is to everything else we do.

Community Prayer in the CDN Chapel

As I was preparing for the Board meeting, it was a relief to know that while I am the only Dominican novice this year, Janice and Jessica would also be presenting to the Board.  With so much to talk about, it was also helpful that they took the lead on sharing the essential inter-charism aspect of our CDN experience this year, while I focused more on other aspects of the year.  At the same time, we all emphasized two key points:
  • Sharing our two charisms in the deeper way that living together has allowed has enriched all of us – God’s Providence has a much deeper meaning for me than it would have if I’d only been hearing about it through the ICN
  • As much as we appreciate each other’s charisms, we each feel more drawn than ever to the charisms of the congregations we have been discerning with since entering

Dominican Days, CDN Orientation, May 2019

Friday, January 31, 2020

Christmas Gifts

Jessica and Ellen in the "Christmas at the Woods" nativity scene
It’s hard to believe the Christmas season and our semester break are over!  Mine began with Jessica at St. Mary of the Woods where we joined her sisters and their local friends and families at the Sisters of Providence “Christmas at the Woods” celebration, complete with a life-size nativity scene, hayrides, crafts and a chance to pet the sisters’ alpacas.  The next day, I thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the Mother House and was moved by my visit to the Shrine of their foundress, St. Mother Theodore Guerin.  My tour guide, Sr. Kaye, brought her alive for me as we went through the museum area, and I found myself very moved as we both sat in silent prayer near her tomb.  Like so many of the women who contributed to Catholic life and established congregations of religious women in America in the 19th century, she faced and overcame seeming overwhelming obstacles, leaning on her faith in God, and God’s providence.   

Dominican Sisters of Peace Columbus Mother House Chapel at Christmas
Grateful for the opportunity to visit the sisters and experience “The Woods” that are so much a part of Jessica and Janice’s lives, I headed to Columbus to celebrate Advent, Christmas and New Years with my Dominican sisters there.  

So many written reflections and homilies in December speak to the presence of both darkness and light and the importance of not losing sight of both.  Funerals for four sisters who passed away in our nearby health care center (Mohun) during Advent were a stark reminder of the shared presence of darkness and light in life. 
Blessing a sister 
Yet there were blessings as well. As a woman in formation in the 21st century I am very aware that there will be many more losses in the next few years. I found strength, inspiration and peace watching the women from the Mother House visiting Mohun.  They ministered to and joked with the ill and injured, kept vigil at their dying sisters’ bedsides, prayed together, and comforted each other, sharing stories, prayers, and faith in God’s love and compassion. They have learned to accept darkness and light, sadness and beauty, as a part of life and a part of their own journeys with God. 

I was also struck by the impact the sisters have on the very high quality professional staff at Mohun who do their work with a joyful caring I’ve never encountered before, and I’ve visited many nursing homes.  The senior managers tell me it’s because of the loving and prayerful atmosphere that the residents – primarily sisters – create and the way they treat and pray for the staff.  They demonstrate God’s love as a way of life, and preach God’s word in everything they do, in spite of their own pain and suffering.  Their generous love and faith are contagious and their example was a Christmas gift I have brought back with me to the CDN.  I will be thinking of them while I pray, study scripture, and read about and discuss Dominican life with Srs. Cathy and Lorraine.  As I explore the possibilities and challenges of religious life and discern who God is calling me to be, these sisters have inspired me with their witness of faith that God does indeed have a plan, and that God’s plans, in whatever direction they take me, offer hope and a bright future.

The SPOPs back home for the winter at the CDN

Saturday, November 30, 2019

CDN Celebrations

It’s hard to believe that we’re already celebrating Thanksgiving weekend!  This semester has flown by, and as I was reflecting on all that has happened, I was struck by how much we have had to celebrate.  This semester has offered me an opportunity to explore and celebrate the richness of the Catholic faith and the diversity of ways of living and expressing it. 

We’ve participated in many celebrations of the mass at a number of different parishes in St. Louis, some very traditional, some offering beautiful music from a range of periods and cultures, and others focusing on social justice.  Each week we also join the Aquinas community for mass, where Jessica sings and I’ve had opportunities to serve as lector and Eucharistic minister, and the Dominican brothers at the Priory where chanted morning prayer before mass is so beautiful that getting up extremely early is worth it.  We also chant at home, and have had opportunities to learn different prayers and celebrate feast days from both the Dominican and Sisters of Providence traditions. 

The ICN singing God's praises

 At the ICN, and in the A.I. Vows class, which most of our fellow novices from the ICN are also taking, we’ve celebrated the gifts of the different charisms we’ve each been called to, and the cultural approaches to worshipping God that we bring to our gatherings.

The ICN Novices

We’ve learned some of the myriad ways available to us to learn about, be in relationship with, and praise God in sessions on topics such as spirituality, theological reflection and the Christ of Faith.  As we each lead morning prayer, or evening worship during overnight gatherings, we’ve learned different prayer styles and traditions, including body prayer and TaizĂ©.   Two days on contemplative prayer, specifically centering prayer and lectio divina, have brought my personal prayer life to yet another level. 

So, too, have sessions on the joys and challenges of intercultural and intergenerational living, further enhanced by the diversity of cultures represented in this year’s ICN.  We have men and women from Africa, Asia, Poland, and Central, North, and South America. Each brings his or her own cultural traditions and individual wisdom and perspective to our discussions and our community prayers.  As our vows class comes to an end, I am so grateful that the ICN will continue to offer us the opportunity to share with and learn from each other, and I look forward to the mass we are coordinating next week as it will include music and prayer from our different cultures and languages – a community celebration of God’s love of diversity.

Playing Canadian game Crokinole for Lorraine's birthday
At the Cardinals baseball game

Of course, community life has included many celebrations as well!  All 3 of our novice directors celebrated birthdays this semester. Lorraine, who is from Canada, introduced us to the game Crokinole as part of her birthday celebration. We've shared meals that felt like celebrations with visiting Dominican Sisters and Sisters of Providence.

Missouri Botanical Garden

We celebrated the beauty and abundance of creation at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and American culture at a Cardinals baseball game.


A CDN community celebration

Because of sisters coming and going over the holidays we celebrated Thanksgiving twice, and had much to be thankful for this year.
As we enter into Advent, we hope that your own season of preparation for the coming of Jesus will be abundantly blessed.

Wishing you the blessings of peace and joy during the holiday season

Thursday, October 31, 2019

P Stands for Preachers

Several years ago, when I first learned that the “P” in “OP” meant preacher, I thought “Oh, this is definitely a mistake, I can’t possibly belong here!”  I very quickly learned that I was confusing preaching with proselytizing, and that Dominican preaching encompasses not just public speaking but a whole world of ministries that support the mission of bringing the light of God’s truth to the world.  That was something I could get excited about. 

Preaching respect for God's creation by participating in the Climate Strike

Today I’m at the CDN, and my Introduction to Preaching class with Sr. Sara Fairbanks, OP, has been a much richer experience than I dreamed it could be.  Although I have been going to mass all my life, I never understood the difference between a homily and a sermon, nor did I appreciate the concept that good preaching doesn’t simply occur between two parts of the liturgy, but rather it draws us from hearing God’s word to celebrating the Eucharist.  The semester isn’t over and already I listen to preaching during mass very differently, and find myself focusing more deeply on the Gospel in light of the gift of the Eucharist.   

Dominican Panel Night with Elyse Ramirez, OP; Ed Ruan, OP;
Brother Andrew Martin del Valle and Sara Fairbanks, OP

Social media is not my comfort zone, so our first assignment – writing a preaching tweet for each of the daily gospels for a week – was more than a little daunting, but the challenge was rewarding.  Capturing the key point and a meaningful message from the gospel in only 180 characters, and then finding an image to pair with the words, required a whole new level of reflection.  It turned into an opportunity to explore prayer styles like lectio divina and Ignatian spirituality in new ways, with new kinds of fruits.  Since we posted our tweets on a private electronic bulletin board, we were able to see and learn from each other’s work.  It seemed each of us found a different jewel to highlight in each Gospel reading, and a different way to reflect that jewel’s beauty and wisdom.

Luke 6:1-5  We’re tired, hungry, and wondering if the road will ever end.  
We need nourishment if we’re going to keep going.  And there’s Jesus, 
standing in a field of grain, arms open wide saying “Don’t be afraid, 
see what my father has provided – come, take and eat of God’s goodness!”

The same has been true of our oral preaching in class.  Fortunately, my knees don’t knock and my hands don’t shake nearly as much anymore, perhaps partly because I’m so excited to hear the insights my classmates offer in their preaching.  Each one brings such creativity to presenting their insights and challenging us to incorporate the Gospel into our lives.  Somehow, God’s word speaks to each of us in ways that are as unique as we ourselves are.  The Gospels remind me of a rainbow, the Old Testament symbol of God’s covenantal relationship with us – myriad shades of color woven together into a visible manifestation of God’s love and creative power.  I now understand that oral preaching itself is a gift that is as diverse and as exciting as that broader Dominican definition of preaching.

Luke 5:1-11  Simon fell at Jesus’s knees in astonishment; he would have been more astonished to
know about the blessings that leaving the life he knew to follow Jesus would mean for himself and
the world. We too can’t imagine the future our loving God has planned for each of us.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A New Community

A new look for the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate
SP-OP Community Living


What is SP-OP?
The Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN) is a joint effort by the sisters in the Dominican Order in the USA to provide its members in initial formation with an experience of the larger Dominican Family. Each year a new group of novices comes together to create its own unique experience of community with fresh spirit, abundant gifts, and eagerness to grow in the Dominican tradition. The purpose of the canonical year in the CDN is to provide a quality experience of community life, prayer, study, ministry, exposure to and practice of preaching skills, and personal growth. The process of this collaborative experience is intended to offer a rich novitiate experience, encourage a supportive peer group, share the giftedness and resources of the congregations involved, and promote the charism of the Order.

With one novice this year in the Dominican congregations, and with a request by the Sisters of Providence (SP) of St Mary of the Woods, Terra Haute, IN, to share space with us at the CDN, we, the co-directors, CFR’s, and the Board of the CDN, agreed to the idea that we share space and community life with the SP novice director and novice.  Their bios are included in this newsletter so that you can get to know them, too.  The Dominicans and the Sisters of Providence each retain their own times for formation in their specific charisms.  We do share prayer, community life, meals, and participation in common elements of both programs, including the intercommunity novitiate, Aquinas Institute’s vowed life class, talks related to social justice, and social activities.  We are mindfully attending to the blessings and challenges, especially how this may affect the novices.  Please pray for us that we may each be true to our charisms while building bridges and learning more about the charism of each.  We have informally named ourselves the SP-OP Community at the CDN.

Mingling of the soil, watering of the soil, and planting

“Step down, Sisters. You have arrived!” Well, Sr. Jessica Vitente and Sr. Janice Smith didn’t have to step down as St. Mother Theodore and her companions did because the 21st century SPs arrived not by coach, but by car – actually two cars! On August 15, the SPs were warmly welcomed by Dominican Sisters Cathy Arnold, Lorraine Reaume and Ellen Coates. The two congregations refer to their new communities as “The SP-OP Community Novitiate.” However, they now affectionately call themselves the “S-Pops!” So in addition to the shared work of formation, the S-Pops know how to add a little fun into their new community life.  The S-Pops all send their greetings to everyone in our SP and OP communities and cordially invite you to “meet them in St. Louis” if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Meet the OPs

Sister Ellen A. Coates, OP
Dominican Sisters of Peace

I was born and raised in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.  After receiving a BA in art history from the University of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill and working for a Smithsonian Institution art library for a couple of years I shifted to a more service-oriented career in public health. My degree in international public health from Boston University opened the door to a challenging and rewarding career, focused primarily on women and children in the developing world.  I also served as a Eucharistic Minister in my parishes in Washington, DC and Massachusetts. Although I loved opportunities to live and pray with missionary sisters during professional trips abroad, it wasn’t until after taking time off to care for my parents that I began to feel a call to religious life.  I had made several retreats at the Dominican Retreat in McLean, Virginia, so when I realized that the pull toward religious life was growing I went back there and met with Sr. Agnes, who put me in touch with a sister in vocation ministry.  In 2017 I entered the Dominican Sisters of Peace and as a candidate I lived at their House of Welcome in New Haven, Connecticut and taught English to adult immigrants at their Siena Learning Center.  I am very grateful and excited to be starting my canonical novitiate year at the CDN, and hope to deepen my relationship with God and my understanding of religious life and the Dominican charism.

Sister Lorraine Reaume, OP
Dominican Sisters of Adrian

I am a Dominican Sister of Adrian, originally from Toronto, Canada, and am excited to be starting my second year with the CDN and to be able to minister on behalf of the many Dominican Congregations that make up the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate. My own CDN experience in 1998-1999 grounded me in the Dominican Family and gave me a solid identity as a Dominican.  I look forward to walking with women on that same journey and to broadening our experience by sharing our home with the Sisters of Providence Novice Director and Novice this year.  My undergraduate degrees are a BA in English and Psychology (University of Waterloo), and a B.Ed. (Lakehead University).   also have an MDiv and an MA in Theology from Catholic Theological Union. I have a certificate in Spiritual Direction and have completed the Collaborative Leadership Development Program. I am finishing up the ForMission program offered by the Religious Formation Conference. Before religious life, I was a teacher and then a Lay Missionary in Bolivia. I also co-coordinated the Lay Mission Program for Scarboro Missions for four years. In religious life, I have served as a Campus Minister at Siena Heights University, as a Pastoral Associate with a focus on Hispanic Ministry in both Anchorage, AK, and Detroit, MI, and as Formation Director. I love to walk with others as they discern and discover how God is calling them to life.

Sister Cathy Arnold, OP
Dominican Sisters of Peace

Beginning my second year at the CDN feels different from the first having had a year of experience, plus welcoming the Sisters of Providence to share community life.  I am happy to continue to help provide a nurturing and life-giving environment in this new SP-OP community at the CDN. I participated in the CDN as a novice from 2000 to 2001 and have many wonderful and, yes, some challenging memories, which helped me to grow more deeply into Dominican life, especially in building relationships and on social justice issues. My educational background includes a BS in chemistry from Marietta College, an MA in theological studies from the University of Dayton, and completion of the Religious Formation Conference ForMission program. My final project for ForMission involved developing and leading an Intercultural Living mini-workshop with our Sisters and Associates. Since then I have also completed the Collaborative Leadership Development Program sponsored by LCWR.  In the past, I participated in a Peace Ambassador Training program and helped coordinate a Leadership for Peace program for college age students.  I have also ministered in special education and high school education. From 2007 to 2018, I served as a vocation minister and then as Coordinator of Formation for the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Walking with women in formation is a gift, privilege, and a sacred task as they and we discern how the Spirit is working in the discernment of becoming Dominican. For fun, I enjoy baking bread, walking, reading, biking, gardening, and sharing time with friends and family.

Meet the SPs

Sister Jessica Vitente, SP
Sisters of Providence
St. Mary of the Woods, IN

I am a Filipino-American born and raised in Southern California. I consider Pomona, CA as my I am a Filipino-American born and raised in Southern California. I consider Pomona, CA as my hometown. I am an only child and grew up with a large extended family. My educational background includes an AS in accounting from Mt. San Antonio College and a BA in human development from Cal State University of Long Beach. My most recent employer was a distributing company, Mutual Wholesale Liquor, where I worked for 7 ½ years as an assistant manager. My ministerial background includes serving as treasurer and corporal works of mercy/outreach coordinator on a core team for young adult ministry. When I was seeking direction from the Spirit as where to begin my discernment process as a future woman religious, I providentially met the Sisters of Providence Saint Mary of-the-Woods, Indiana when I attended the 2015 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress at the Anaheim convention center. On September 10, 2018, I entered the SP community and spent the next ten months at our motherhouse ministering as a volunteer at our Providence Spirituality Conference Center and our HOME (helping each other meaningfully engaged) team. I am excited to spend my canonical novitiate year at the CDN in St. Louis, MO. I am looking forward to deepening my relationship with my God through studies of history, scripture and theology, and deepening my understanding of Providence spirituality through the charisms of justice, love and mercy. For leisure I like to go running, biking, hiking, watch Netflix and color mandalas. 

Sister Janice Smith, SP
Sisters of Providence
St. Mary of the Woods, IN

As I enter my eighth year as Director of Novices for the Sisters of Providence, I am excited about the opportunity to walk with the Dominican sisters of the CDN in this new community living experience of the Canonical Year.  I have always supported the idea of participating with other experience of the Canonical Year. I have always supported the idea of participating with other communities in this special year of discernment. Like others, I have found the sharing of the novitiate year with other communities very rewarding when I was a novice in the early 2000s. The Intercommunity Novitiate program helped deepen my relationship with my God, my global relationship with God’s creation  and connected me more closely to my own community’s spirituality and charism of Providence and our founder, St. Mother Theodore Guerin. During my spirituality and charism of Providence and our founder, St. Mother Theodore Guerin.  During my academic studies, I received a BA in Ancient Studies from the University of Maryland, an MA in Greek and Latin from Ohio State, and an MTS in Theological Studies from the Franciscan School of Theology at the GTU. In addition to my current ministry, I was director of Adult Faith Formation at a parish in California, campus minister and theology teacher at Guerin Prep High School in Chicago, and an English instructor for Biblical and English Studies at Providence University in Taiwan. Prior to religious life, I taught German and Latin in a public school in Columbus, Ohio.  At Hewlett-Packard in California, I was an instructor for computer systems and a manager for Customer Education for 14 years.  Living throughout the United States and in Taiwan has certainly given me a love of the diversity in our world. Living life as a woman religious has opened my eyes and heart to the needs of God’s most vulnerable and our imminent call to care for Earth. I enjoy reading, traveling and having steamed crabs and beer when I am home with my large Polish-American family in Baltimore.