Sister Gina and I were “received” as novices in our respective Dominican home congregations last week before the Feast of St Dominic. At the Caldwell motherhouse, Gina preached on John’s account of Jesus post-Resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalen, then affirmed her desire to continue the journey of discernment with that community. At evening prayer at the Sinsinawa Mound, I requested the opportunity to explore the questions: “Is the truth of my life the Dominican story? Is vowed life as a Sinsinawa Dominican Sister the truest expression of God’s call?”
In being received as novices, Gina and I officially became “sisters” (though we admit we are still not accustomed to answering to “Sister” yet!) amid many hugs and more than a few tears and an outpouring of loving support. Thus began Gina’s and my “canonical novitiate” – a period described in the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate Handbook as an “experience of Dominican community life, prayer, study, ministry, exposure to and practice of the charism of preaching and personal growth.
The Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN) was birthed by Sisters from many Dominican congregations around the United States who sought to give their newer members a richer formation experience and connection to the larger Dominican family. Gina and I are the most recent in a long line of Dominican novices from various congregations over three decades who have spent this year in St Louis to live in community with other novices and with novice directors at the CDN. At the CDN, novices dive head first into Dominican life, participate in an inter-community novitiate with women and men novices from different communities, study at the Aquinas Institute, deepen our lives of prayer, and intensively discern God’s call.
After being received as novices, last Friday, we were “sent” to the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate – Gina via an early-morning flight from Newark, and me along the highways of Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri – fueled by the prayers and blessings our sisters had offered us and accompanied by our respective candidate directors. We were sent from our home congregations with full suitcases and full hearts – bringing with us both practical items like clothing and school supplies, as well as tender memories of sisters, friends, family, and colleagues that we have left behind in order to whole-heartedly begin this new chapter of life at the CDN.
Though this is our first time in our Dominican lives of being “sent” by our communities, God willing, it will not be our last. Itinerancy is a hallmark of Dominican apostolic life – reflecting the desire to respond to the demands of the gospel and the signs of the times. The word “sent” appears in the Sinsinawa Dominican Constitutions eleven times. The Constitutions challenge us “to be ready to be called and sent in the spirit of Father Samuel,” the founder of the Sinsinawa Dominican congregation. As Gina and I are discovering, this willingness to be “sent” requires a deep trust in God and a detachment from all that is beloved and familiar in order to step into a new place and a new moment.
Our home-making in this new place has meant many things. Along with our novice directors Sister Joye Gros (Dominican Sisters of Peace) and Megan McElroy (Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters), we have begun to develop a daily rhythm of shared prayer. We’ve shared our respective vocation stories and the surprising and beautiful ways that God has brought each of us to where we currently are. Of course, we have attended to (and will continue to attend to) the many logistics of common life like the nitty gritty of how to share cars, distribute house responsibilities, and care for this beautiful (yet large and old!) house that we share. We’ve unpacked our boxes and suitcases and begun to hang photos on the bedroom walls. Perhaps most importantly, we have shared our hopes and dreams with one another about this community that we are building, knowing that community life itself is a part of Dominican mission and a witness to a largely individualistic society and a fractured world.
Received with love and joy by our congregations and sent to the CDN to deepen our discernment journey, we are excited and hopeful (and, okay, maybe a little bit overwhelmed, if we are being totally honest!). To our sisters, friends, family, and colleagues who have been a part of our sending – please know we carry you in our hearts. To the congregations that created and sustain the CDN – please know of our gratitude for your courage and vision in creating this home. We invite all of you to join us here on CDN blog as we share weekly some of our adventures in discerning vowed life as Dominican sisters.