Becoming a Sister in the 21st Century
By Sister Patty M.
On Sunday, August 18, Mercy Sisters Amanda and Nordia arrived in St. Louis to begin their novitiate experience where they will spend two years in formation and discernment as novices. Sister Rayleen G., the Sister of Mercy who oversees the novitiate experience for Sisters Amanda and Nordia during their time in the novitiate, warmly welcomed them.
What is the novitiate and what does it consist of in the 21st century? The novitiate is a two-year experience beginning from the time of reception in the novices’ home communities. The first year, called the Canonical Year, is a 12-month consecutive experience that focuses on studying and living the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and service. The second year, called the Apostolic Year, focuses more on ministerial involvement.
According to the Sisters of Mercy Constitutions, our foundational document, “The [two-year] novitiate experience provides the opportunity for the novice to intensify her commitment to prayer, community living and service to deepen her understanding of the charism (special characteristics) of Mercy within the church, and to discern the authenticity of her call to the profession of vows” (#36).
In order to achieve the goal of providing these opportunities, the program is multi-faceted using the skills and experience of Sister Rayleen and others in offering classes and workshops as well as participating in a weekly inter-community program to connect with other women and men discerning a call to vowed membership in other religious communities. Amanda and Nordia attend classes twice a week in the novitiate on such topics as Christology and Catholic Social Teaching as well as classes exploring Mercy’s Constitution, vows and Mercy founder, Catherine McAuley.
Participation in the inter-community program is an important experience as it offers perspective of religious life beyond Mercy. In meeting and coming to know women and men in other communities, novices recognize their unique call to Mercy. Experiencing the charisms, the special characteristics, of a variety of communities provides input into their discernment as they find a “home” in Mercy. The inter-community program meets weekly throughout the year with some local presenters and other national presenters with specialties in religious formation. Over the first few months, the topics will include Transition, Communication in Community, Eco-Spirituality and Religious Life as Culture. The content and topics are well balanced between the classes within the Sister of Mercy novitiate and the offerings in the inter-community program.
This novitiate time is not all about classes, workshops and studying. This is a year like no other for the novices; it is a year of balance. The novices commit to one full day of ministry per week for the entire year. Diverse ministry sites are available for novices to come to be Mercy and to know Mercy in God’s suffering poor. From neighborhood ministry and parish-based outreach for immigrants and refugees, to a children’s hospital and a Catholic Worker House, the ministry year provides the novices an opportunity to encounter those in need, especially women and children.
In order to integrate ministry and the other components of the program, prayerful reflection is essential. Weekly reflection with Scripture and spiritual writing combined with days of solitude provide the space for the novices to deepen their relationship with God and to continue their discernment of vowed membership. To assist in reflecting on their relationship with God, they meet with a spiritual director monthly.
Yes, this is a year like no other for the novices, but they do not do it alone. In addition to weekly conversations focused on their ongoing discernment with Sister Rayleen, both Amanda and Nordia have the support of the members of their entire local community who have made a commitment to live in community with the novices. They will pray together, play together and struggle together like any community, and they will always be grounded in Catherine McAuley’s call for union and charity.
Let us commit to pray with and for Amanda and Nordia during this special time as they journey to a greater freedom to say “yes” to their life in Mercy.