By: Sr. Maryellen Kane
"To have come this far, this far, is very far from the beginning, and yet we are still beginning to be who we are"
These words began the ritual for the ending of the novitiate year for Rachel Carey (Rochester), Kristina DeNeve (Carondelet-St. Louis), Trish Doan (Orange), and Leila Sullivan (Springfield).
The year started in August 2019 with the coming together of the novices, their home directors, former U.S. Federation executive director Sr. Patty Johnson (Carondelet-St. Louis), Leadership Council representative Sr. Marie Hogan (Congregation of St. Joseph), and the Federation novice directors, Sisters Michelle Lesher (Philadelphia) and Barbara Staropoli (Rochester).
Rochester, which has been the home of the U.S. Federation novitiate since 2018, has played a wonderful host to the program. Since the beginning, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester have been a welcoming, supportive presence to the novitiate community. The city of Rochester provided the novices with many opportunities for service, recreation, and ministry sites.
The new structure of the program provided the novices with time to go deeper into themselves and their relationship with God. This was a time of discernment and deepening for each. Twenty topics related to religious life, the vows, catholic social teaching, the Charism, CSSJ mission, history, and the primitive documents were explored over the course of the year. The novices commented on the quality of the presentations and the witness of the presenters as to how they lived their lives. The presentations were followed by integration days, a weekly prayer day, sharing of the heart, and a monthly opportunity for spiritual direction.
We are proud of all the challenges the novice directors and novices overcame this year, specifically regarding the changes put in place due to the pandemic. Coronavirus required a stark change in the last three months of the novitiate year. The novitiate community committed to collectively discern how the novitiate could continue for the common good. After a discernment process, which included all in the novitiate community, it was decided that the novices would return to their home communities for the remainder of the novitiate year. Sisters Barbara and Michelle designed a program that included new and creative ways for the novitiate community to come together in spirit and solidarity.
Novices committed to keeping their daily novitiate schedule. Presentations, prayer, and State of the Heart all continued via Zoom. The chief learning of the three months was that technology is a friend that enabled the completion of the scheduled program – minus some travel experiences. The local home communities benefitted from the novices sharing their experiences and responses from the daily presentations.
Sr. Michelle commented that she had witnessed what happens when you create a structure and stay faithful to it. The entire novitiate community was a witness to faithfulness during a difficult and challenging time. The Closing Ritual concluded with a blessing given by Sisters Barbara and Michelle to the novices as they continue their journey of becoming who they are.
As this will be Sr. Barbara’s final year as novice director for the U.S. Federation, we extend our thanks for her years of service to the novitiate and her commitment to formation of our novices. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester for their gracious hospitality. We are grateful to Sr. Michelle who will continue as novice director when the novitiate resumes in Philadelphia in August 2021.
[Sr. Maryellen Kane is executive director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph]