Rome, Italy, May 18, 2015 / 13:51 pm
As the Church brings the needs of the family to the forefront with the upcoming Synod this fall, one Dominican sister says it is no surprise that Pope Francis should also dedicate this year to the consecrated life.
"One nourishes the other," explained Dominican Sister Maria Magdalene in an interview with CNA. "You don't have vocations just materialize out of thin air. They're fed by good families."
"I think it's really beautiful that Pope Francis has called this Year for Consecrated Life," said the Chicago, Illinois native, observing the year's overlap with a period in which the Church is giving special attention to the family.
The Year for Consecrated Life began Nov. 30, 2015, and will conclude Feb. 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
It coincides with two major Church events dedicated to the family: the World Meeting of Families this September, and the Synod on the Family in October, which follows a synod on the same topic last year.
Having entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist 15 years ago, Sr. Magdalene described the mystery of discovering one's vocation as not unlike that of finding a spouse.
"Vocation is a mystery," she said. For instance, when two people are getting married, one might ask: "Why that person?"
"It is kind of a falling in love. You trust in the Lord, and you trust where he's leading you."
Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist was founded in 1997 by four members of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia – commonly known as the Nashville Dominicans. As of 2014, they have over 100 members.
Sr. Magdalene recounted her own story, explaining that while she had considered a vocation when she was young and growing up in a large Catholic family, she had drifted from the idea of religious life.
It was not until what she described as a "reconversion" after college, following a broken-off engagement, that she began to seriously consider the possibility of a vocation.
"I really just started falling in love with the Lord, and going to Eucharistic Adoration," she said. "The thought of religious life just kept coming back to me."
Although she had not verbalized her thoughts about a vocation to anyone, her parents told her about a retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, during which she experienced a "moment of grace" in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
"I felt more attracted to this than I'd ever felt to anything else, and knew I was free to say yes to Him, or free not to," she said. "But, if I was really going to be honest with myself, this was where my happiness was."
She said she was particularly struck by one of the community's mottos: "to contemplate and to give to others fruits of contemplation."
Unlike a simply job searching, Sr. Magdalene explained, the discernment process is about a call, not comparing benefits.
She never had the desire to go visit numerous other convents to "discern what they had to offer," she said. "It's not a career. It's a vocation."
The charism of the order is in keeping with the Dominicans, founded by Saint Dominic in the 13th century, as an "Order of Preachers."
For the Michigan-based order, the central apostolate – which is education – flows from prayer, especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Eucharist is at the center of the sisters' lives, Sr. Magdalene explained. "Dominicans are very at home in the sanctuary."
A teacher for the past nine years, the Dominican sister was sent to study for one year in Rome at the Pontifical University of Thomas Aquinas, otherwise known as the Angelicum.
"Being in Rome here as a consecrated is just pure gift," she said. "I can be here again in the footsteps of the saints, and receive first hand some of the experiences that will be given to us as consecrated."
Asked whether this Year for Consecrated Life will inspire new appreciation for the religious life, the sister observed that while religious vocation remains "a little on the hidden side," the awareness is increasing.
She recounted an anecdote from when she was younger. A former roommate – who was not discerning at the time, but would later enter the religious life – once said: "If I were a man I would be a priest!"
"We saw around us good priests," she explained, "but we didn't really see sisters as much. It took going to my community to see a lot of sisters all in one place."
"If every parish is praying for vocations to the priesthood and to religious life, or doing hosting events, or doing things to foster this year of consecrated life, then you hope that yes, of course, that there will be more of an awareness."