Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Irrepressible Life

One question that we often get is, “So how are vocations?” Donors, no less than anyone else, look to the youth among us to gauge our community’s viability. While there are several reasons for a slump in any community’s numbers, understandably people want to support what they perceive as new life and a promising future.

Theresa and Laura after dinner dishes are done.
Life we’ve got. Our two novices here in Boston were joined last week by our four enthusiastic postulants from St. Louis, who are on summer break from their formal studies. These four young women had already become acquainted with us here as they began to discern their call from God before entering the congregation last year. Their postulancy is now introducing them more deeply to religious life and to our “version” of it, our charism, or our “color,” as the founder, Blessed James Alberione, sometimes described it. This two-year period assists each of them in the next step of their discernment and prepares them for their two years as novices, if that’s where their these years of formation take them.

Allow me to introduce you to:
Cheryl Galema, originally from the Philippines then from Toronto, Ontario
Jackie Gitonga originally from Nyeri, Kenya
Theresa Noble from Tulsa, Oklahoma
Laura Nolin from Newport, Vermont.

You can read up on each of them at their blog: Let Christ Be Formed in Me. Before you do, read on. I’ve got an exclusive for you! Just like the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—these four spoke about what God in Jesus is doing in their world and, as they told me about their lives, they inadvertently revealed something about themselves….

When Pad Thai isn't enough.
 What do you like best about being a postulant? Theresa: “The sense of adventure and never knowing what God has in store for you….” (Theresa says she would be up to “hiking through the Amazon” someday, but even more, “traveling by myself for a long time in India.” Adventure, all right.)
Jackie: “The combined experience of our apostolate, prayer and community life…has provided me with some pretty grace-filled moments to grow in love of God and neighbor.”
Laura: “I like the variety of people we meet and the many different ways we meet them through our apostolate.  We go out to some, and some come to us.”
Cheryl: “All the new things that I am able to do and discover about myself, like cooking. I wasn’t very comfortable in the kitchen because I was always afraid of burning myself or the house. Since I entered, I’ve helped cook a few meals and have recently learned to make Pad Thai. It was a hit!”

What’s one of the most challenging things for you?
Laura: “Living in community is probably the most challenging.  I really enjoy it most times, but sometimes it can be very difficult too.”
Cheryl: “Waking up early in the morning (and sleeping earlier than what I’ve been used to). Also, doing homework for our classes. It’s been a while since I was in school, so reading and writing papers have been challenging.”
Theresa: “There are a lot of interior struggles for me as I make these first steps of discernment in religious life. The inner wrestling with myself and with God is the most challenging.”
Jackie: “Community life, growing in love, stretching my heart to love all my sisters as well as people of God in ministry, just as Jesus does even with and through our differences.”

Our Boston community, centered as it is on the Pauline Books & Media publishing house, is dedicated primarily to the creative and technical phases of our mission. Some of us do carry out various forms of person-to-person outreach—book and media center, exhibits, and presentations—but the majority work behind the scenes. However, our branch communities, like St. Louis, serve people primarily one-on-one. A few years ago, it became possible to situate the postulancy there. Now it offers the young women in this early stage of formation a unique opportunity to share in the diffusion, or outreach, aspect of our mission. It gives them a chance to better understand what they’ll probably live for a good part of their lives, if they go on to profess chastity, poverty, and obedience among us. Maintenance, grocery shopping, scheduling, liturgy in common both with us and with the parish and archdiocese, and the countless details of life in a small community offer a more diverse experience of our Pauline religious life. Together with prayer and study, this is indispensable to them as they discern their vocations.

By the way, the novices also go for a similar stint several months during their formation. See Pauline Faithways of October 20, 2010 for Sylwia’s and Emily’s “apostolic experience.”

As Cheryl pointed out, study is a major component of the postulants’ days. In addition to theology courses at the accredited archdiocesan Paul VI Institute, they participate in other  seminars and, when offered, semester-long courses from the seminary. They receive their Pauline religious formation in house. At times, other Daughters of St. Paul are available to teach special intensive sessions, for instance, last year’s ten-day course on media literacy and the Church’s documents on media.

Most of these lively young women never imagined that they would be “on a journey to becoming a nun!” as Jackie put it, a journey that flies them to Boston each summer. The purpose for their month here is multi-faceted. They’re spending time in the motherhouse, reconnecting with our largest community in the US/ESC* province, which is home to a significant number of us. They get to spend time interacting with our elderly, senior sisters. Lastly, they’re introduced to the creative and technical phases of the mission.
Already in St. Louis, the postulants have had opportunities to sharpen their skills and acquire new ones. Instead of nursing, Laura, finds herself living “half-way across the country from the rest of my family,…occasionally doing public speaking” on vocation talks and J-Club school book fairs.
A former Web programmer and development team manager, Cheryl is amazed that she would pack “a van full of books and drive about 13 hours to Texas with a group of women who want to give their life to Jesus and talk to college students about…responding to God’s call to religious life.” (I don’t know why that should surprise someone who pictures herself climbing mountains or flying a hang glider!) Click here for the full story.
Now in Boston, Cheryl relates, “I’m working at digital [publishing]. Sister Kathryn and I are learning how to build an iPhone/Android app using a free online tool. There’s a lot of trial and error in the process, but it’s really fun. I’m also helping with getting the Web site redesign moved along. I used to build Web sites, but a lot has changed, and the tools we’re using are different. I also don’t have very much experience in layout and design, so I’m learning from the rest of the team.”
Previously a systems analyst in San Francisco, Theresa seconds that and adds:
“Before I came to the postulancy I was working for a corporation with tons of resources. It is very different here; we have really limited resources. It becomes an exercise in creativity to work on the cutting edge. But the challenge is exciting, and knowing that God is right behind us inspiring our work and our ideas makes it really rewarding.”
Laura doubles as an assistant to Sr. Patricia in the Web store, and a sales associate in the PBM center in Dedham, a town just outside Boston. She confides:
With a picking ticket in one hand
and books in the other, Laura fills
a Web store order.

“The book center is good in that it’s helping me with my people skills (I tend to be shy), but it’s also helping me be even more confident in the things I already know about the book center. The Web store will stretch me a lot. I only know the basics when it comes to computers, so it will take a lot more brain energy. The learning curve will be steep, but I’m looking forward to learning something new.”

With Sr. Rebecca behind her, Jackie
prays for the people she met at the
PBM Center that day.
 Having earned her doctorate in human resource education right before joining the congregation (You’d never know that her secret dream is to drive an 18-wheeler), Jackie also appreciates working in both the Web store and PBM center:
“Both require people skills in different ways—face-to-face in the book center and behind the scenes [with] good customer service in the Web store. In these apostolates, I am constantly being drawn to find ways that I can bring people to Jesus by reaching out to them with utmost charity. I am also growing in my technical skills of running the Web store. In the book center, I am learning about the design and ambiance—creating an even better place where people can encounter the Lord through the media we provide.”
In case you couldn’t tell, they’ve got high hopes for the future:
Jackie: “There is such depth, breadth and height to the calling we have received as Daughters of St. Paul—to bring Jesus to all peoples using the most modern means—that I think its only going to get better and I would certainly want to be a part of it!”
Laura: “The Daughters of St. Paul are always willing to change to meet the needs of the people according to the times when it comes to evangelization and at the same time they hold fast to the teachings and traditions of the Church, that are timeless and never changing.”
Theresa: “I visited a lot of different congregations and the thing I was impressed the most about the Daughters was their reliance on God amidst a busy apostolate. It is so tempting to begin to rely on your own abilities and intelligence and to forget God’s part in it all. I do not see this playing out in the Daughters. I think this is partly because their mission is so immense, not many people would make the mistake of thinking they could tackle it on their own!”
Cheryl: “Our founder, Blessed James Alberione, had one love—Jesus Christ, and one mission—to give him to souls. I can see the sisters live this with joy and passion, even with the difficulties that they have faced through the years. It is obvious that the Lord has blessed our community tremendously and continues to do so.”
Sister Rebecca Marie Hoffart, originally from Houston, has been the postulant director for the past three years. She has a full plate, not because the postulants are all that tough to work with, but because she’s continuing her own education at the same time. She recently earned a certificate in spiritual direction, and now her Master’s degree in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University is actually within reach; she hopes to finish her thesis within the next year. So the hope the postulants expressed is not only theirs. “It’s incredible to see the Pauline charism blossoming in them,” Sr. Rebecca shared, “to see them growing closer to God, getting to know the founder and his writings, resonating with the spirituality and mission. They have a lot of hope in our mission, because they see how necessary and how vast it is, how it reaches people and how important it is.” She speaks for us all.

You’ll see on the postulants’ blog the photo of a fifth young woman, Erin Nolan, who had been a postulant this past year. The discernment process is doing what it’s designed to do also for those who do not stay: Over the past few months, Erin and the formation team realized that God is calling her elsewhere. She left with deep affection for the community—and the community’s lasting affection for her.

Laura and Jackie will enter the novitiate this August, as Emily and Sylwia become second-year novices. We’re delighted to welcome three new postulants in September, young women whom we’ve known for a few years. Two of them were frequent participants in our summer discernment programs. So that means four novices and five postulants will bring their irrepressible life among us. If you would like to donate to their formation program this coming year, click here. Sr. Rebecca is hoping to raise $6,000 for projects and specialized courses for them, so that they might continue to be a sign of the life that has nurtured them here.
* United States/English-Speaking Canada


  1. As always, a beautiful post and glimpse into the life of the Daughters!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post, Sr Margaret! And greetings from Alexandria, VA! :)


Your turn! Share your good word with us.