Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pauline Discipleship Week

Lauren Renke (Michigan) shares an insight,
while Alyson Klimitchek (Texas) and
Gina O'Melia (New Jersey) listen.
A guest during vacation or holidays is nothing unusual, even in the convent. The company we keep, though, may be a little out of the ordinary. Over the past six days our Boston community has hosted the annual Pauline Discipleship Week, a retreat/live-in experience during the Christmas season for young women seriously considering religious life as Daughters of St. Paul. “The Holy Spirit has been active these days – both in the discerners and in the Sisters!” says Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis, the US/ESC province’s vocation director. Unlike our Come and See weekends throughout the U.S. and Canada, or our St. Paul Summer Program for teens, this intensive week opens up our own experience of the charism (the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us Paulines) to young adults in deeper ways.

This year four women in their late teens and early twenties encountered this charism in interactive classes, extended times of prayer, work in the Pauline Books & Media publishing house, fun with the community, household chores, and a cultural excursion or two. Really—what other community would take a tour of Louisa May Alcott’s home and connect it with evangelization through the written word?

During a moment of prayer, co-foundress
Venerable Sr. Thecla Merlo (1894-1964) companions
these young disciples of Christ and St. Paul.
Why “Discipleship”? Anyone who has even occasionally read this blog gets the sense that Jesus Master, Way, Truth, and Life, is at the center of our spirituality. This approach of the whole person to the “whole” Christ, this following of Christ (discipleship), characterized St. Paul’s relationship with him, too. In fact, as Blessed James Alberione, our founder, often repeated, no one else understood the mind, will, and heart of Christ as Paul did. Paul, then, becomes our “in” with Christ Jesus and becomes a model for the women who consider joining us.

Since mission is both an outgrowth of this discipleship and one of the principal ways we live it, we like to include in the Week a few hours in the publishing house. When I first visited Boston as a prospective postulant, I thought it was the coolest thing to help out. It wasn’t frontline, but it was still meaningful: I knew I was preparing a feast for the Word that someone somewhere would be nourished on. Lauren caught that too. While she really got into the silent retreat over New Year’s Eve—she had never made a silent one before and felt that God graced her in a special way—she “loved the apostolate, working with the books,” and assembling introductory kits about J-Club, our Catholic school book fair program. Katie got to help out in our small Brazilian center; even though she doesn’t speak Portuguese, her Spanish stood her in good stead. They all went “quote hunting”: searching for usable quotations for Pauline Books & Media’s Facebook wall, and then prepared bookmarks for a new initiative, Mission One Million.

Sr. Margaret Michael

Sr. Margaret Michael has organized these events since 2003. She designed this “place of openness and listening,” as she calls it, to provide a deeper level experience for those who’ve attended any of our other programs, as well as to offer pre-entrance formation for the young women who want to apply for the postulancy later. Various sisters teach classes, mentor the participants in apostolic areas, and plan the evening social events. While certainly not all participants sign on, all those who’ve joined since the first one—eleven of us—have participated in this Discipleship Week.

Katie Endrey (Pennsylvania)
The silent retreat and daily Eucharistic adoration appealed to all of them, as did the length of their visit. Alyson noticed how on retreat, what usually distracts her from “thinking deeper things” wasn’t there. For Gina, the hour of adoration on New Year’s Eve beat out “Dick Clark’s Count-down Special.” She drily commented that it gave her “a bit more profound way of bringing in the New Year.” Unanimously, though, the 6:10 A.M. wake-up call was the hardest aspect of the whole week. Full days—sometimes a little too full, according to Katie—made for very short nights!

One thing that stood out for them was the prominence of Christ as Word in who we are, what we do, and even how we decorate our home. The connection between Word and Eucharist is equally strong: in our prayer, on the emblem around our necks, in our Pauline Books & Media Centers, even in the Gospel enthroned strategically in our common areas and the publishing house. Lauren, who loves the Liturgy of the Hours and prays it regularly, encountered the richness of the Word there, although she wishes we would use it more in our prayer than we do. Unlike other communities, the Daughters of St. Paul historically were not required to pray the Divine Office; the hour of adoration, our “school of the Divine Master” substituted for it. Since Vatican II, however, we have more often given it pride of place in our Morning and Evening Prayer, even though we still incorporate into it prayers bequeathed to us by our founder.

Gina shoots a little pool.
Evenings were lighter. The first night, “Meet and Greet” helped them break ice with the sisters and with each other. Board games and a viewing Of Gods and Men filled other evenings. Touring a portion of the Freedom Trail took them out on the town on New Year’s Day. This group was praying for snow—last year’s group got snowed in—but this time common sense prevailed up above. No cabin fever!

Alyson offers her perspective.
Levelheaded as they were, I asked them if they had any advice for other young women in discernment. Alyson recalled something Sr. Margaret Michael had said earlier: “It’s not about the doing; it’s about the being. Don’t worry about what you’re called to do. Focus on what you’re called to be.” Gina advises: “Get a good spiritual director. At retreats or conferences, if there’s a good speaker, it’s easy to get caught up in what they say and then forget to listen to your own heart. A director helps you do that.” Lauren cautions seekers not to limit their search to congregations’ and orders’ Web sites, but to visit communities, so they can “see the joy that religious sisters have. On some Web sites you can’t tell what they do or how they live.” A visit can be a real eye-opener.

Many Pauline Faithways readers want to keep informed about religious vocations among the Daughters. In fact, according to the blog’s “Stats” pages, the article about our postulants, “Irrepressible Life” (July 13, 2011), has consistently held first or second place among the most read posts published here. Many friends and donors contribute generously to our vocational discernment and formation programs, but there is always a need for additional funds to maintain and develop them. In fact, the St. Mary Seminary Outreach Trust Fund from Cleveland, Ohio, just issued a grant, so that our postulants can attend classes at the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles and earn an Advanced Certificate in Media Literacy Education. If you would like to make a donation to our Vocation Fund, too, click the red Donate Now button near the top of the right sidebar and follow the prompts. No gift is too small. God bless you, as you help to shape the future of religious life in North America!

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