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.
July 7, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – At a time when many worry about the future of religious life, Sister Katherine Frazier, an Adrian Dominican novice, gave an encouraging vision of a new group of women who are responding to God’s call and facing their future as Sisters with courage and hope.
Sister Katherine, who is at the Adrian Motherhouse for the summer, took the opportunity July 6 to speak to those on campus about her recent experience at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN) in St. Louis, Missouri. “The [canonical novitiate] year was definitely a confirmation that this is the community where I belong,” she told the Sisters.
Sister Katherine shared the experience with two novices from the Dominican Sisters of Peace: Sisters Ana González and Margaret Uche, as well as two Co-directors, Sisters Joye Gros, OP, a Dominican Sister of Peace, and Megan McElroy, OP, a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids.
The CDN was established more than 25 years ago to give novices of U.S. Congregations of Dominican Sisters a rich novitiate experience and a sense of the larger Dominican family. Currently, 17 Congregations participate.
Sister Katherine recounted the novices’ busy weekly schedule: Morning and Evening Prayer together every day, worship at the local parish of their choice on Sundays, and ministry for four hours on Mondays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the novices attended classes at Aquinas Institute of Theology and at the novitiate, including a specific course on vowed life and Foundations of Preaching. Wednesdays brought them together with novices from a variety of women’s and men’s communities for prayer and workshops. Each week concluded with a day of reflection on Fridays and some free time on Saturdays to catch up on cleaning and other chores.
Throughout the year, the novices also took turns cooking meals for one another and met weekly with their director as they continued discernment for vowed life. In addition, they hosted panels of Dominicans who spoke about their own experiences living out the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Sister Katherine spent her ministry time at the Mary Ryder Home, which provides housing for older women who, for various reasons – including addictions, mental issues, and developmental disabilities – are unable to live on their own. “I helped them with various activities, such as games, and accompanied them on shopping trips,” Sister Katherine said, adding that one of the difficulties of the novitiate year was the limited time she could spend in ministry. “It was hard to be there for just four hours and to know that the needs were so much greater than I was able to provide for,” she said.
The novitiate year also included key experiences that deepened Sister Katherine’s understanding of Dominican life and of the Dominican family: a trip to a motherhouse in Kentucky, which was the first U.S. foundation of Dominican Sisters; the Dominican Preaching Colloquium, sponsored by Aquinas Institute to celebrate the Order’s 800-year Jubilee; and a road trip that involved visits to several communities of Dominican Sisters in the East.
During facilitated house meetings, Sister Katherine said, the novices engaged in discussions of difficult topics, such as the future of religious life, given the smaller numbers of women entering. “I think the biggest fear is the fear of the unknown, not being entirely sure what the future will look like,” she said. Yet, “each of us felt called to be in the novitiate. Each of us felt called to be in the place where we were. I think there was also a sense that the future is a call to trust.”
Sister Katherine’s own vision of the future includes greater collaboration among Dominican Congregations and an outward perspective. “The future will involve an outward focus … always looking outwards to the needs of the world around us.”
Sister Katherine’s second year as a novice will focus on study at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and community life with local Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Watch the video of Sister Katherine’s presentation.
At the novitiate in St. Louis are, from left, Sister Joye Gros, OP, Co-director; Sisters Ana González and Margaret Uche, novices from the Dominican Sisters of Peace; Sister Katherine Frazier; and Sister Megan McElroy, OP, Co-director.