The saints were not superhuman. They were people who loved God in their hearts, and who shared this joy with others. ~Pope Francis
Having been in the monastery for only three months, I am trying to rejoice in the little mistakes I make when learning the ropes. Struggles and trials, big or small, perfect us and humble us to be who we are called to be: saints.
There were many things I had to figure out about this new way of life, such as how to follow where we are in the Divine Office (our daily prayers) and where to find our Suffrages prayers (our weekly prayers for the dead). But there is more to it than that, as part of the novitiate.
Novitiate: The novitiate, directed by the novice mistress, includes all sisters who have not yet professed final or solemn vows (which for our particular community is a six year process of formation and classes). Those in their first year (like me) are called “postulants” and then I will be a “novice.” The novitiate sisters live on a separate wing from the professed sisters and have our own library, classroom, etc. Currently I’m the only one in the novitiate but another woman my age is supposed to join me in May!
Certain tasks are assigned to the novitiate. For example, the novitiate is in charge of coordinating and cleaning the laundry for the entire community, though other sisters help us with the folding. We also cook some of the meals, keep the chapel clean, and water the altar plants. Since I am an extern, I also get to work in the gift shop, answer our 24 hour prayer line (call 248-626-8253), and answer the door when food donations come in.
The novitiate also rings the bells and adjusts the sound system and microphones. All throughout the day, chimes ring to remind us it is time for prayer. I hit the mallet on the right chimes and it rings throughout the house on our sound system. I also ring the outside church bells so the surrounding area hears our call to prayer throughout the day. When I was learning the ropes for the bell ringing, it was overwhelming. You have to know the schedule, be on time, and know how to adjust the knobs so that the right rooms are hearing the right microphone. With 3 months under my belt, I’ve now become more comfortable in my new home.
Striving for Holiness
Feeling overwhelmed with the high learning curve and my need to do everything perfectly, I realized that there is joy in imperfection. Imperfection points to the perfection we can look forward to in Heaven. We make mistakes — we are human, but we can strive for the perfection that really matters: trying every day to be a little holier, to be a saint. We can say, “Jesus, perfect my imperfections” and have hope in the Perfector of all things. If we have the right attitude when we make mistakes and can laugh it off with God’s grace, each moment becomes an opportunity to grow in holiness and become a saint.
The saints weren’t perfect, and neither are we. Sometimes we see these great saints like St. Dominic who spent his nights in prayer weeping for sinners or St. Teresa of Avila who was so close to God she was in ecstasy, and we don’t see the relatability. We think, “I could never be THAT holy.” We put the saints on a different plain. I am sure if we saw them performing an ordinary everyday task like washing their clothes or the miscommunications that happened between them and those they lived with, these saints would seem more real. We would see them as the ordinary people they were. They laughed with their friends, ate meals together, and were sinners. They weren’t perfect, but they strived for God’s will above their own desires. In their imperfection, they asked God to perfect them in the things that really matter, getting to Heaven.
When people meet cloistered nuns, they often carry misconceptions. When people see the veil on our head and a rosary attached to our waist (well, once I’m a novice), sometimes they put us on a pedestal. They may see us as different from themselves or unrelatable, but really sisters are just normal people. We know how to laugh and have a good time, but we are also sinners. We whine, complain, or have disagreements among our sisters. We’re human. We’re not perfect, but I CAN tell you that these women have committed to following God. They are striving for holiness. Each has individually been called by God to live in community and be of “one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32 and emphasized in our Rule) in this search for “Truth,” a key component to who we are as Dominicans.
Hidden Saints in the Cloister
Sr. Mary Rose of the Holy Spirit is always the first nun to raise her hand when we need someone to cover an Adoration hour.
Eucharistic Adoration: In the Catholic faith, we believe in the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist—in Mass and in the monstrance to adore. During Mass through the priest, the bread and wine become Christ’s flesh and blood. In our religious community, we have perpetual Eucharistic Adoration. We adore Christ throughout all hours of the night. There will be at least one sister present in the chapel to pray at all times and this has been ongoing in our monastery for 112 years!
Sr. Mary Rose is a 90 year old Polish nun who is always found in Adoration. When you look at her face in the chapel, with her eyes closed and looking about 20 years younger than she is, you see her peace and intimacy with her husband, Jesus. Then you see her in recreation and she’s teasing the nuns at the Pinochle table, poking me with her cane to get my attention, and enjoying life. Although her eyes and ears don’t work as well as they used to, she always has a story or a smile for you. She’s been to Vietnam to help found our Dominican monastery there (while wearing secular clothes because she needed to blend in due to the situation there) and was asked to be the Mother Angelica of Canada but declined because she claimed she was too shy for the part (but don’t let her fool you). If you listen to her voice, she really does sound just like her!
God bless you and keep that Easter joy alive. He is risen!
Photo by Sister Jamie: Some everyday saints in the rogation procession held in the sisters’ cloistered backyard. Sr. Jamie is looking forward to her first rogation procession, held in the three days leading up to the Ascension of Jesus.
© Jamie Leatherby 2018