How do I become a sister?
If you are seriously thinking about this then it’s a good idea to look at a number of Congregations (i.e. Communities or groups of sisters) and to chat it through with someone you can confide in, if you can, with a spiritual guide.
Broadly speaking there are three main groupings of sisters, known as:
- Religious Sisters
- Missionary Sisters
- Contemplative Sisters
The work sisters are involved in, their lifestyle and prayer all vary from community to community. You can find out more general information on communities from web sites such as www.vocationsireland.com or www.godknowswhere.org.uk
There may well be a number of communities that attract you and you could investigate those…maybe one will appeal more than any others. If so, get in touch with one of the sisters there in person if you can.
Once you have found a particular community, joining it takes time since it is such an important step. Before joining it is good to spend some time getting to know each other. If you do ask to become a member, you can expect to spend more time deepening your knowledge of one another through visits and other experiences for a period of time (usually 6 months to a year). This helps both you and the community know if it would be good to take the next step which is a time of formation and training called novitiate (2 years).
This is the moment when you live in community and test out if religious life is for you. It is also a time of preparation where you learn about the history, spirituality and ministry of the group. If, during novitiate you discover that the life is not for you, then of course it is possible to leave. If following novitiate, you desire to belong to the community and the community agrees, then you would make your first vows, your initial commitment. At this point you will continue your preparation for final vows whilst working or studying and playing a fuller part in your community. After a number of years, you would make your final vows.
How did you decide to join La Retraite?
After a few years of working, I had reached my mid-twenties and was wondering what I was really cut out for. I had been very happy in my job, but there was something else that began to make me restless. Was it just a question of changing jobs or was there something deeper that was not being satisfied?
I needed to ask God. How to do this? I decided it was something to do with prayer…..after all, isn’t praying the way to talk to and hear from God? That’s what I reasoned to myself then, so I joined a prayer group at church (to learn more about praying) and started chatting with one of the Sisters who came to it. She happened to be a Sister of La Retraite.
Over a couple of years, I helped out at church and other social action things that caught my attention; made a couple of day/weekend retreats (nothing heavy); looked over some of my past and current relationships; and considered other jobs including one in New York! In all this, I continued my contact with the Sister and eventually asked what I’d have to do if I became a Sister of La Retraite. I had also contacted two or three other congregations that did other things that I thought were important in the world, but I felt most drawn to joining these women who helped people pray.
In a way, I didn’t worry about my friends and family and what they’d think. But when it came to saying that I really was going to leave my job and try religious life, even my family got disturbed and took a while to settle with my choice. Some friends were glad that I’d finally decided something! Others couldn't’t see me as a ‘nun’ at all, but overall people just wanted me to do what was right for me. Anyway, it was only a ‘try out’ – to see what would happen. So I did. I stayed!
Can't I serve God just as I am? Why join La Retraite?
Absolutely, you can serve God right now, just as you are. In fact, I hope you are and expect you are. How might I guess that? Because you are even asking the question. Serving God is already part of you and in your mind and heart. So, I guess you’re putting it into practice somewhere in your life? Maybe as a volunteer somewhere, or simply giving a hand whenever you can; perhaps ‘talking’ to God or some other kind of prayer; a bit of spiritual/serious reading; by your choice of job and leisure; or even actively joining in a church event or public witness of a justice issue.
Why join La Retraite? Why indeed. What difference would it make to you?
You would be looking to join a purposeful group of women. This group has been around for over 350 years. Think of the hundreds of women who have joined in that time! They have all had as their inspiration to know, love and serve God and help others do the same. Those who have joined La Retraite have a desire to belong to a group of women committed not only to God but to each other.
It’s perfectly true that the work can be carried out in your life right now, and with absolute commitment to God. But, in joining La Retraite, you move into another context for the work. Belonging to a group, officially recognized by the Church for the loving service of God, brings an added dimension to your life. Do you want this added dimension?
What difference would it make to you?
What do you do for money?
We pool all our resources in common. This means whatever money is earned or gained is shared according to the needs of the sisters. Additional funds are shared with others in need. In this way we learn to live in greater simplicity and mutual inter-dependence.
Is it true you can’t get married?
Yes, it is. When a woman joins La Retraite she makes a vow of chastity, a commitment of her whole self. The visible sign of this is celibacy, i.e. refraining from the genital expression of sexuality. We see our celibacy as a way of freeing our capacity to relate lovingly to others and God.
Why don't you wear a habit?
We used to, but in our case it was based on the simple daily dress of French women hundreds of years ago. It was also based on other things applicable hundreds of years ago, e.g. role and place of women in society, in the Church, society’s norms and expectations.
These aspects are still around today, but in our contemporary culture, the 21 st century, we wear simple daily dress of women in today’s world.
How come the change after hundreds of years?
During the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, the Church document “Perfectae Caritatas” (1965) invited religious to consider their role in and connectedness to the modern world. It made sense to us in La Retraite, as we considered our relevance to the world, to also look as if we were a normal part of it.
Over the centuries, with changes in society and church, religious women all around the world have had to alter their ministries and way of life, including their appearance. Other women religious have retained the veil and have their reasons for doing so.
I should also add that there is a difference between us (‘apostolic’) out and about in society, and enclosed orders (‘monastic’) who still wear the habit much of the time. Again, each community must speak for itself.
In La Retraite, we have chosen plainer signs of our way of life and commitment to God, that of our small congregation cross and wearing a ring. In wearing ordinary contemporary clothes, we feel more able to carry out our work of being alongside people from all walks of life who wish to grow in their relationship with God.