Monday, September 2, 2013


Faithful friends, I apologize for the long time between entries!  Andrea and I have been busy being novices.  As I explained in my last post, Novitiate is a special, sacred year in the formation period of a religious.  Because of the year's focus on prayer and a deepening relationship with God, I won’t be online as much and will rarely reply to emails.  I still love reading comments, though, so feel free to send them along!  Let me catch you up on the first two months of Novitiate.           


Just call me Sister Freshman.

Elizabeth and I on our second day as roommates
August 2004
I had a dream while on retreat in July that I was moving into the dorm room I lived in as a college freshman.  How could I ever forget Room 793 in University of Dayton’s Marycrest Hall?  It’s where I cried when Mom and Dad left to go home to Cincinnati after move-in weekend and I stayed in Dayton; where my roommate Elizabeth and I danced to Disney music to remain sane during long hours of studying; where the RA’s wrote us up for having alcohol in the room the weekend before final exams.  Oh yes – lots of living and learning happened in that room.

Mom and Dad helping me move in to Room 793.
Clearly I am being very helpful.
In the dream, the beds are bunked, just as Elizabeth and I had them for the first few months of our college careers.  I’m moving in with someone I don’t know well, and I’m finding out that a friend of hers is moving in with us as well.  This surprise roommate is proving to be obnoxious and inconsiderate already, throwing her belongings wherever she pleases.  Overwhelmed, I run out of the dorm room into the hallway.  The panic only grows as I find myself in a sea of unfamiliar faces.  Everything and everyone is new!  I wonder how I’m going to make it through and if I’ll ever feel settled in this madness…

My retreat director chuckled as I recounted the dream during one of our conferences.  “So…is there anything going on in your life right now that might be making you feel like a freshman?”

Andrea and I at the Motherhouse
"First day of school" picture
July 1, 2013
I thought that I was prepared for the transition back to Ohio and into Novitiate.  I’ve moved a lot in the last few years and lived with many different people both in college and after.  I’ve been looking forward to Novitiate year.  And although I haven’t lived here for about ten years, I’m back in my hometown.

But I was reminded again just how difficult transitions can be.  It surprised me, like that time I was running from third to home in junior high softball.  On an easy jog in to score while the ball was still in the outfield, I tripped over my own feet.  It seemed like I was falling for minutes until I landed on home plate almost face down.  I was happy I made it but certainly hadn’t planned on the stumbling involved in the arriving.

Through the first few weeks of Novitiate especially, I experienced many of the emotions expressed in the dream.  So much was new:  new community mates, new Director, new routine.  Cincinnati isn’t new to me, but it is different being here as an adult in a new stage of life.  Living in the Novitiate House right near the Motherhouse, I am surrounded by people I know but not well (and people who know me but not well).  I’ve caught myself thinking thoughts similar to ones I probably had in Marycrest Hall Room 793 at UD:  “I hope I fit in!”  “I wonder when (or if) this will feel like home?”   “How on earth am I going to learn all these names?”  “How will I ever measure up to the ‘upperclasswomen’?” J

“I just feel so unsettled!” I told my retreat director, and he smiled playfully. 

“Really?!  After two weeks of being in this new place and role, you don’t feel perfectly at ease?  What’s wrong with you?!”

I smiled, too, and exhaled a bit, appreciating the truth in his banter.  “Transitions are rarely perfectly graceful.  Change can be jarring in surprising ways,” he reminded me.  “Be gentle with yourself, and give it time.”

I suppose the gift of feeling unsettled is the chance it gives us to rely on God and to test out the wings of faith.  As novices, Andrea and I are invited to turn to God as the primary relationship in our life.  The loss of solid ground to stand on forces me to find my footing in God and remember, again, to trust.  It is a time for deeper discovery of who God really calls me to be – the authentic self at my core that doesn’t change no matter how much my surroundings do.  It is a time to be fully in the present and to come to know the voice of the Good Shepherd that guides us through straight paths and treacherous terrain.  It’s a moment to practice living one day at a time, which is how the “upperclass” Sisters tell us they have made it through.

Sister Marge Farfsing, a delightful 91 year old Sister, took my hand in the dining room this week and told me, “Honey, you gals that are entering the religious life today, I know you’re giving up a lot. But let me tell you, anything that I have ever given up in my time as a Sister has come back to me a hundred-fold in blessings.”

The Novitiate House community: me, Carol, Nancy,
Maureen, Terry, and Andrea
And the blessings are abundant.  With each passing “one-day-at-a-time,” the surroundings are evolving into “home.”  Andrea and I have been novices for two months now.  Our house community of Carol, Maureen, Nancy and Terry as well as our Director, Donna, have been wonderfully supportive to us.   We’ve felt the Sisters of Charity love from all of the other dear Sisters, Associates, and staff.  We’ve had a chance to spend time with more of them (and we’ve learned more names).  It's been a joy.  

 Our classes and seminars are in full swing.  We have learned much about the history of our congregation and about the many good works happening in Cincinnati.  We’re exploring the community virtues and studying Vatican II.  We’ve also both chosen the place that we’ll do volunteer ministry one day a week.  I’ll be working with S. Barb Hagedorn at Good Samaritan Free Health Center in Price Hill, a diverse, historic area of town with many people in need.  It feels good to have a more regular schedule in place and exciting to have so many inspiring experiences.

The excitement, of course, is the flip side to the freshman jitters.  It is thrilling to enter more fully into the life of the congregation.  The more I learn about who these Sisters have been, what they have done, and how powerfully they have touched lives, the prouder I am to become one!  It is thrilling to dream about the future and wonder where Andrea and I might be in twenty years and who might be with us.  It is thrilling to be welcomed into this legacy of being urged by Christ’s love started by Elizabeth Seton over 200 years ago.  We are so grateful to all those walking with us.

Novices and Novice Director on the Way of
Elizabeth.  Can you guess where?
Sisters of Charity Alice Ann, Andrea, Judy,
Donna, and Regina on the Staten Island Ferry, July 2013

In July, S. Judy Metz, the community archivist and historian, led Andrea, Donna, and I on “The Way of Elizabeth,” a week-long pilgrimage to the significant places in Elizabeth Seton’s life.  She grew up an Episcopalian in New York City at the outset of the American Revolution and ended up founding the Sisters of Charity in Emmittsburg, Maryland, in the early 1800’s.  In between, she was a wife, mother of five, widow and convert to Catholicism (read her story here).  After her death from tuberculosis at age 46, the small community of Sisters of Charity that she started continued to grow, and her influence flourishes today all over the world.  She was canonized in 1975.

Sisters Judy, Tracy, Donna, Andrea, and Pat in
Emmitsburg, MD, at the site of Elizabeth's first school
As we walked her footsteps, I was struck by Elizabeth’s faith.  Yes, she is a Saint, but my goodness, was she human!  She would probably have been dumbfounded to know that one day she would be canonized.  I am sure she felt like a freshman many times.  Now, we can see the whole picture, but she had no idea what would be in store around the next corner.  At each step of the journey, she simply said “Yes” to what God placed in front of her.  She took risks and found her footing on the solid ground of Grace.

During morning prayer on August 28th, Elizabeth Seton’s birthday, Terry led us in a reflection on Elizabeth’s great faith.  One of the quotes we prayed with is from Pope Francis’ encyclical Light of Faith: “Faith is not a light which scatters all darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey…In union with faith and charity, hope propels us to a sure future.”

Donna, Andrea and I on "Elizabeth's rock" where
she taught catechism

As a freshman in Marycrest 793, I could never have guessed the great blessings that would flow from my years at UD or where it would take me.  Thank God I  stayed through the tough, “unsettled” times.  Now, a “freshman” in a different way, I am invited again to trust the journey.

I hope to treasure this time to learn and grow as a novice, knowing that God is lighting just the right amount of path Andrea and I need to keep walking.  Elizabeth’s example of faith can inspire all of us - freshman or senior, Sister or spouse, student or teacher, novice or veteran.  As we say yes one day at a time, the One who loves us goes ever before, “propelling us to a sure future.”

Memorial to Elizabeth Seton at Emmitsburg, MD