July 19, 2017, Seattle, Washington – The Adrian Dominican Sisters living at Assumption Convent recently bade a sad farewell to a beloved friend. Sister Lan Thu Thi Nguyen, OP, a young Dominican Sister from Vietnam, recently left Seattle to make some visits in the United States before returning to her home country after spending 2 ½ years with the Sisters.
“It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience,” said Sister Cele Gorman, OP, Coordinator of Assumption Convent. “No one will ever forget Lan, and her spirit will remain here.”
The Sisters at Assumption Convent had no idea 2 ½ years ago how positively they would be impacted by their decision to allow a Dominican Sister from Vietnam live with them. Sister Lan had been sent to the United States by her superiors to study pastoral ministry. After spending a year with the Houston Dominican Sisters to study English, she was to attend Seattle University to earn her master’s degree in pastoral theology.
Sister Cele received a call asking if Sister Lan could stay with the Sisters at Assumption during her studies. “We had a meeting to see how everybody felt, and everybody was very open to it and excited that a young Sister was coming,” Sister Cele recalled.
Sister Cele described Sister Lan as very outgoing, a young Sister who enjoyed new experiences and adapted well to new situations. “She was very open to new ideas, very accepting of people, and respectful of her elders,” Sister Cele said. She was also very studious, taking difficult courses and studying frequently – while still being engaged in community life at Assumption.
Along with her studies, Sister Lan served as an intern at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, helping with a weekly dinner for people who are homeless. In addition, she served as a catechist for children in a Vietnamese parish in Seattle.
But she also ministered to the Sisters at Assumption, even as they supported and encouraged her in her studies. “She shared her youthful energy with us,” Sister Cele said. “She was 39 when she came. We were her grandmothers and great-grandmothers.”
The differences in age, however, did not prevent Sister Lan and the Sisters at Assumption from forming a close community. The Sisters – particularly Sister Alice Marie Schmid, OP – helped Sister Lan with her English as she wrote her theology papers, and encouraged her as she faced the challenge of studying theology in a language that was not her own.
In turn, Sister Lan introduced the Sisters to the food and culture of Vietnam. “She took us to a Vietnamese restaurant when she first came and told the waitresses what to prepare for us,” Sister Cele recalled. “She was delighted. She loved her culture and she shared it with us.”
Sister Lan frequently took advantage of the large Vietnamese section of Seattle to buy Vietnamese food and prepare special meals for her U.S. Sisters. “She was very generous in sharing that part of her culture,” Sister Cele noted. Sister Lan also taught the Sisters some of her language and celebrated Vietnamese holidays with them.
In addition, Sister Lan connected with the Vietnamese community in Seattle, as well as with a community of Sisters from Vietnam who were ministering in Seattle. An intelligent and independent young woman, Sister Lan quickly learned the transit system in Seattle, using the light rail to attend classes at Seattle University.
Recently, Sister Cele said, the Sisters were delighted to meet Sister Lan’s brother, who had come for her graduation and joined the Sisters for dinner at Assumption Convent. Sister Lan left after graduation to make some visits in the United States before returning to Vietnam. While her exact ministry back home is still unknown, Sister Cele said, she will most likely make use of what she has learned in pastoral theology.
In the meantime, she has certainly had a positive impact on the Sisters she has left behind. “It could not have been a better situation for her or for anyone else,” Sister Cele said. “We were just very blessed and sorry to see her heading back to Vietnam. It was truly a gift and a blessing.” Sister Cele believes that her time at Assumption was also a blessing for Sister Lan. “I’m sure it’s an experience that will be with her for the rest of her life.”
Feature photo: Celebrating Sister Lan’s graduation are, from left: Sisters Cele Gorman, OP, Francine Barber, OP, Sharon Park, OP, Iva Gregory, OP, Alice Marie Schmid, OP, Patrice Eilers, OP, Lan Thu Thi Nguyen, OP, Virginia Pearson, OP, Sister Lan’s brother, Son Bui Nguyen; and Sisters Judy Byron, OP, and Jean Marie Lehtinen, OP.
By Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP
July 13, 2017, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – “I’m learning the art of listening: to the person I accompany, to God in the person, and to myself!”
“I was deeply moved as I engaged in spiritual companioning and experienced sacred ground.”
“It was such a liberating experience, full of joy and surprises!”
These are a few of comments by 12 cloistered nuns from six monasteries and traditions as they completed four weeks of Introduction to Spiritual Companioning. The course was sponsored by the nine-member spirituality team of the Conference of Religious of the Dominican Republic (CONDOR) and coordinated by Sister Carol Ann Gross, OP, and Dr. Angela Lopez, a lay psychologist.
Visitandines, Franciscan Capuchins, Clarissas, and Discalced Carmelites from across the country gathered in the Carmelite Monastery of St. Teresa of Jesus in Santo Domingo for the month-long course. They came to take instruction and to learn the tools and skills they needed to accompany others in their attentive and personal responses to God.
During the first week, they received an overview of Spiritual Companioning, listening skills, and personality types, and shared their own history of spirituality. The team demonstrated modes of accompaniment, after which the nuns practiced with each other. The week also included follow-up and supervision of the new companions by the coordinating team.
The second week dealt with the area of psychology and personal growth, and a retreat workshop on a review of personal history. Applications of the Exercises of St. Ignatius followed, with models of discernment and specific practices of accompaniment. Special cases such as group accompaniment and areas of affectivity, sexuality, and forgiveness were covered in the fourth week. Throughout the month the nuns delighted in presenting their own monastic traditions and in learning about the traditions of the others.
After the formal course, the team offered follow-up and supervision of the nuns in their settings, as well as group supervision. The group gathered again in May for a personal directed retreat and follow-up in the practice of accompaniment.
“Beginning the course with the contemplatives, we of the team were a little nervous,” Sister Carol said. “We know these women are dedicated to prayer and silence and to God in a very special vocation. But within two days we started to relax and give to them what we had learned from our experience and study while they received us with exemplary openness. We laughed and cried together and we all learned about the presence of God in our lives: contemplatives, laity, priests, and sisters in active congregations. The course has been a gift of grace and growth for all!”
The course, a unique ministry in the Dominican Republic, already has a long history. Sister Ana Feliz, OP, with the support of Sister Nancy Jurecki, OP, launched the program in 2002 as a course in Spiritual Companioning, sponsored by the CONDOR. Sister Carol and Sister Eneida Santiago, OP, were participants.
Others contributed in specific areas of input. Sister Arlene Kosmatka, OP, accompanied the groups with her expertise during the summer courses for several years. This Adrian Dominican-launched ministry in spirituality found fertile ground in the Dominican Republic – and the mission continues!
Top: Students prepare for class. Bottom: The 12 participants represent six monasteries and six traditions.