Early in my formation as an Ursuline Sister, I was a Catechist at St. Stephen Cathedral and prepared the second-grade glass to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist for the first time. On the day of First Communion I was invited to attend a luncheon with the family of one of the First Communicants whose father was a local doctor. During conversation at the meal, the father asked me how long it takes one to become a sister. When I replied that the formal formation process can last anywhere from 8-11 years, depending on the individual, he responded with a laugh and said it was almost like becoming a doctor. The process to become a religious (sister, nun, monk, brother) is not immediate, one does not simply approach the convent door and say, “Here I am, can I start today?” Rather, I would describe it as one saying, “Here I am Lord, how do you want to use me?” This is a lifelong commitment and one that should not be made in haste.
Discernment (stepping back and looking at the big picture in the context of prayer) to religious life starts with relationships: first, a personal relationship with God and, second, a relationship with the members of the religious community that the individual is interested in joining. How does one get in touch with or become familiar with a community? I encourage seekers to visit area communities, talk with sisters that minister in their school or parish, and/or visit the Vision Vocation Network website www.vocationnetwork.org to explore the many options available and where the person’s gifts can best be used in ministry.
Each community is different when it comes to formation but many aspects are the same. A woman chooses to enter formation through responsible freedom…she is not forced or coerced to do so. These are the stages of formation for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph:
- Contact program: A time of non-residency (the discerner remains in own home and does not live in community with other sisters) and lasts from 6 months to 2 years. A time for discerning more deeply her desire to enter the postulancy.
- Postulancy: A time of residency (living in community with other sisters) and lasts from 9 months to 2 years. A realistic experience of community and discernment to enter the novitiate.
- Novitiate: 2-year period, one of those years is called a canonical year, the other is an apostolic year. During this time the novice is preparing, in a deeper way, to live the vows in the Ursuline Way of Life
- Temporary Profession: Novice enters into membership in the congregation. Professes vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and instruction for a 5-year period. The newly professed lives the vowed life according to the community Constitutions for a definite period of time.
- Perpetual Profession: A sister becomes a full member of the congregation and makes perpetual profession of vows — for life.
This may seem like an eternity when reading about it…in reality the time is devoted to learning more about oneself and falling deeper in love with our Lord each day that the time doesn’t seem to matter. This quote from Saint Angela Merici, founder of the Ursulines, says it best: “A good beginning is never enough without perseverance.”