How does one become a Dominican Sister?
The most important prerequisite for the religious life is to have a calling! This statement may sound a bit like a challenge – but do I know that it is a vocation? How am I to be sure?
We reason here, of course, it’s a vocation to a religious life. Well, after all those we have met in clergy cassocks and religious habits, we begin to realize they, also, had to go through some level of uncertainty, having to entrust and to make a “leap in the dark.” They all had to bring that undetermined “something,” caught uneasily internally and present it to a Church in particular to a religious superior. They agreed to launch and embrace the religious life as the voice of God. Very often one has to overcome the barriers of their own insecurities and fears, but, also, the negative reactions of others who do not understand this choice.
Requirements for entering the congregation are: ages 18-35, a high school diploma, good physical, mental and emotional health and a pastor’s or spiritual director’s letter of recommendation.
This first formation period lasts anywhere between 2 weeks and 1 year and is adjusted to the objective needs of the Congregation and the local Church/culture as well as the subjective needs of a candidate. During aspirancy candidates begin to gradually participate in the life of the community by attending its prayers as well as helping with external works. Candidates will continue to dress in lay clothing. The purpose of aspirancy is to assist with the final discernment, that is, whether or not a candidate displays the signs of a vocation and is truly ready to begin canonical formation.
Postulancy is the time of transition when a candidate progressively abandons the way of life characteristic of a lay person and assumes a consecrated lifestyle proper to our Dominican community. The main lines of formation stress the human and emotional maturity, interpersonal skills, as well as Christian and religious virtues. Postulants learn how to live daily by Scripture and the liturgy of the Church. They attend classes in theology of community life, consecrated life, morality, salvation history and spirituality. The goal of postulancy is to choose a free, more mature, and better informed manner characteristic in pursue of religious life in our Congregation. During these 6 to 12 months, postulants wear white blouses and black skirts.
This crucial stage of formation officially begins with the ceremony of vestition when novices receive the white habit of our Congregation, black mantle, and a white veil as a sign of probation as a religious. Canonically, novitiate lasts 12 months and reaches its peak at the first profession of religious vows. In the course of novitiate, novices practice fully the lifestyle proper to our charism and learn how to harmoniously combine contemplation with apostolic activity according to the Dominican motto Contemplare and contemplata allis tradere – “contemplate and pass on the fruits of contemplation.” Formation focuses on the in-depth studies of theology of religious vows: chastity, poverty, obedience, history and spirituality of the Order of Preachers and our Congregation, the Congregation’s Marian and Eucharistic charism, apostolate (education, preaching of the Word, and health care) and its Constitutions. In general, novices only engage, on occasion in active apostolate.
Having professed the first vows, Sisters begin formation called juniorate. As a rule, in Congregation it lasts 6 years although it may be shortened to only 3 years or extended up to 9. The purpose of the juniorate formation is so the Sisters may deepen a sense of consecrated identity as Dominicans while engaging in the active apostolate of the Congregation, further education and full practice of religious vows. This phase of formation is divided into: “first juniorate” – yearly formation in the novitiate community when Sisters gradually become involved in the Congregation’s apostolate and slowly take over the responsibility for their own spiritual growth in faithfulness to the grace of vocation; Sisters remain in the house of formation,
“second juniorate” – lasts anywhere between 4 and 7 years in various mission houses of the Congregation; Sisters, by now, are fully engaged in the apostolic ministry, studies and co-responsibility for a community life,
“final juniorate” – one year of immediate preparation to the final profession of religious vows in our Congregation; in its nature this stage of formation resembles novitiate when sisters spend more quality time in prayer, meditation, studies and community formation.
As the Church and our Constitutions indicate, religious formation is an ongoing process that occurs slowly and lasts an entire life. For this reason, our Congregation undertakes various forms of permanent formation, such as formation sessions, days of recollection, retreats, etc. to aid and vitalize this process. According to our charism, the Eucharistic and Marian spirituality are the guidelines for specific formation applications.