Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Before I write, I want to make sure you know that our vow ceremony will be live-streamed this Saturday.  Even if you can’t be present physically, you can watch online from wherever you are!  Just go to at 4:00pm EST.  The live-stream should be right there on the homepage.


                What a special time this is!  I can hardly believe that I’ll be professing my first vows in three days!  Of course I’m filled with all kinds of emotions, but deep in my heart, I know:  I’m ready. Andrea I and have spent the last year in prayer, reflection, and conversation about the vows that we are soon to make.  It’s time!

You’ve probably heard the vows named: poverty, celibacy, and obedience.  But what do these vows mean, especially in today’s world?  If you’re at all like I was early on in my discernment process, you might wonder why anyone would want to make these vows!  My perception of the vows was a sort of black and white list of No’s.  You know the sign, “No shirt, no shoes, no service”?  I imagined a sign on the convent door: “No money, no sex, no freedom.”  Debbie Downer, right?!

Obviously, there is much more to the vows than loss and sacrifice, if women and men have joyfully built their lives upon them through the ages!  The theology of the vows has evolved with the time, but a whole-hearted commitment to God has always been at the center.  And that loving God to Whom we vow has always been there, calling and accompanying and loving, giving women religious all they need to live out their vocation.

Let me share with you a bit of my understanding of the vows.  It is, of course, far from complete, but it will give you some idea of what is in my heart when I say "yes" this weekend.

The vow of poverty expresses itself externally in that we sisters share all things in common with our congregation.  We don’t own property or have personal bank accounts at our disposal.  Any salaries earned go directly to central checking, and each local house community makes a budget for what they need from the “common purse.”  However, this vow is about much more than money.  Through our vow, we try to create a community in which everyone has what they need.  We attempt to model a system based on collaboration, sharing, and generosity instead of the prevalent culture of consumerism, greed, and getting ahead.
Beyond our community, we vow to work for the common good of all and to align our worldview with those people living in economic poverty.  We try to “live simply in a complex world,” interiorly and exteriorly.  Perhaps even more profoundly, this vow calls us to single-heartedness with God as our focus and purpose.  We vow to recognize our own poverty and weakness and our need for dependence on God and one another.  We vow to be deeply grateful for all that God has blessed us with, knowing that all is truly gift.

The vow of celibacy, of course, involves that we choose not to live life with a romantic partner but instead in community with our sisters and associates.  I rejoiced when doing reading about this vow through the year that the word “love” was mentioned so often!  Rather than being a vow that cuts us off from love, it calls us to love widely, embracing the whole human family and all of creation!  The vow of celibacy frees me to respond to the needs of the world.  The vow of celibacy means that we sisters aim to be in healthy, loving relationship in community, ministry, and personal lives.  We treasure friendship!  We treasure being members of our religious congregation and the whole world community of women religious!
The vow of celibacy says that our hearts are oriented to God above all else and to the whole human family and Earth through God.  Because my primary focus is not on a spouse or family, I vow to focus my energy in a unique way to be an instrument of justice and peace in society.   Although not sexually active, celibate people are called to give life and love in many ways!  Sisters are some of the most creative and generative people I know, channeling their sexuality into building the kingdom of God and giving of themselves generously.  In the words of Simone Campbell, I vow “radical availability” when I vow celibacy.

And last but not least, we vow obedience.  Our dear sisters gone before lived a very different model of obedience than that which has emerged since the Second Vatican Council.  Obedience in the past meant following the orders of the “higher-ups.”  Sisters would receive what was called a mission slip telling them where they would be going to do ministry (sometimes to do something they absolutely did not want to do) and when they would leave to go (sometimes the very next day!).  The way we live it has changed, but at the heart, obedience is still about vowing to do God’s will, personally and communally.  It is a commitment to listen deeply to God’s voice, in our hearts, in our sisters, and in the whole world!  Personally, when discerning ministry, it is now a much more mutual process.  Instead of being told what to do, a Sister discerns God’s call with the help of peers, mentors, and a membership of the Leadership Council.
The vow of obedience, however, goes far beyond individual ministry decisions.  As a congregation of women who vow obedience, we promise to listen together as best we can to make decisions, choose our direction, and be a presence of Love.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the central mandate of our lives.  We vow to follow Christ and try to do as he would do in the current times.  We vow a life of faithful discernment and of saying “yes!”

I am humbled and proud when I think about the women who have made these vows through the years.  What courage, what commitment, what love they have brought to the world!   These vows are indeed the way I want to give my heart and my life.  I am grateful for your prayers as I profess them on Saturday.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to let me know!  And if you’d like to read more of my and Andrea’s thoughts on the vows (some of these same thoughts fleshed out in different ways), check out these 3 articles:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Some "Splainin"

"What are all these
steps for?!"
This blog is mom-inspired!  As she and I talked about vows last week, she shared that it might be a good idea to write about the different steps of the journey I’ve been on and about what it means to make first vows as a religious sister.  Considering that I knew almost nothing about the process before I entered, I imagine that many of you, too, might be wondering about all the steps and would appreciate a little “splainin.”

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!