|"What are all these|
The process of becoming a sister varies from congregation to congregation, but many of the elements are the same. I’ll tell you about the process we follow as Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, and I’ll try to relate it to more familiar dating terms. Of course, you understand that this journey is very different and can’t be compared exactly to the development of a romantic relationship. It can help to frame and clarify.
The Sisters of Charity outline this process on our website here. I’ll use some of that language and then add my own.
Step 1: Pre-entrance “is a period of preparation…which enables the individual and the Congregation to become acquainted and mutually discern her call and readiness for affiliation with the Sisters of Charity.”
To compare it to a romantic relationship, this is like the time when two people are into each other but not formally dating. They spend time together to get to know one another, and there is clearly some mutual interest. A woman in pre-entrance is interested in the Sisters of Charity. She has a contact sister from the congregation with whom she talks on a regular basis to learn more about the community and explore her possible call. The length of pre-entrance varies from person to person but is usually six months to two years. I did my pre-entrance in New Mexico in 2012. It only lasted three months because I had already lived with the Sisters there for eighteen months as a volunteer.
Step 2: Affiliation “is a period of gradual involvement in the Congregation. As an affiliate a woman lives in a Sister of Charity community while continuing to work and discern her readiness for further commitment.”
Affiliation is like “going steady,” or whatever the cool kids call it these days. The woman has decided that, yes, this is the congregation she wants to discern with. She formally enters the congregation and moves into our Affiliate House in New Mexico, where she lives for a period of one to two years. This is an important time in which she learns what day to day life is like as a Sister, participating fully in the house community and doing ministry. In most cases, she is still financially independent. She meets bi-weekly with her Affiliate Director to reflect on how God is calling her. Andrea and I began our Affiliate year on June 24, 2012. We will always count our years in community from that date; we’re almost to three! :)
Step 3: Canonical Novitiate is a special year in which the novice’s focus is “to learn more about religious life, to deepen her connection to the Congregation’s roots and history, and enable her to develop an integrated apostolic spirituality.”
Novitiate is a period of two years that could be looked at like engagement. Novices move to the Novitiate house community on the Motherhouse grounds in Cincinnati. At the beginning of the novitiate, women forgo their financial independence and assume the title "Sister."
This first year is a sacred year rooted in prayer and solitude, allowing for time to deepen one’s relationship with God. There are a few days of classes each week on spirituality, theology, congregational history and values, Church history, and more. There is one day of ministry and one day for prayer and reflection. During this time, novices participate in the life of their local house community and the congregation at large, getting to know Sisters in the Motherhouse and Mother Margaret Hall, our nursing facility. Novices also meet each week with their Novice director to process the journey. Andrea and I began our canonical year in June 2013.
Step 4: Apostolic Novitiate “is a time to integrate full-time ministry or study with living religious life in a local community.”
This is a continuation of the “engagement” process with more focus on a novice’s call to ministry as well as preparation for vows. An apostolic novice does ministry a few days a week; I’ve been at the Catholic Social Action Office at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The novice meets with the novice director bi-weekly, and there is still a day for prayer in the week, allowing for deepening spirituality and balancing work, community, and prayer. This year also encompasses what is like Pre-Cana for women religious. Andrea and I read various articles about the vows and reflected on them with our house community and other sisters. We wrote about our experience of each vow and kept them in our hearts through the year, aware of our evolving feelings, questions and joys with each one. Andrea and I began our apostolic novitiate last June, 2014, and have just a few weeks left until…
Step 5: First Vows! For the first time, a woman professes “the vows of poverty, consecrated celibacy and obedience. [This] allows a woman to live as a Sister of Charity for a temporary period of time. During this time she discerns the call to life commitment as a Sister of Charity.”
When Andrea and I profess vows on June 27th, we will become consecrated women religious! This is a monumental day that could be compared to a wedding; although we do not vow our lives to a person, we vow our lives to a purpose, to our God and God’s people, and to our congregation. According to canon law, a sister must be under first vows for three years before she can profess final vows. This doesn’t signify that first vows mean less. The intent is not temporary. No, on our vow day, we profess those vows because we believe that we are called to live them our whole lives. If, within the three year period, we feel God calling us differently, we can leave the process more easily than if we had professed vows for life.
During this time, there will still be a flexible process of discernment and formation; we’ll each choose a mentor sister to be our companion. For the most part, however, we will be living as vowed Sisters of Charity, ministering full-time and living community. We will have a “voice and a vote” in the congregation. After at least three years, if we and the congregation feel so called, we will profess final vows as Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, confirming that the commitment made this June 27th is one for a lifetime.
Hopefully that was helpful! Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. And stay tuned for another blog explaining a bit more about each of the three vows we will be professing. I’m looking so forward to sharing the special day with those who can come, and I’m grateful for the prayers of those who will be here in spirit!