By: Sr. Patty Johnson

"The overarching emphasis of this time [at the Federation canonical novitiate] would be to further develop skills for being a discerning woman with a developing relationship with God. This interior movement compels one toward compassionate engagement in mission. It would be clear that coming to know oneself as a Sister of St. Joseph is the primary goal of this time." —Unified Vision for Lifelong Formation

The novices: Sisters Tram, Sarah, Sally, Chizuru, and Jennifer.

Five wonderful novices have significantly deepened their relationship with God, developed or enhanced their skills as discerning women, and have come to know themselves as Sisters of St. Joseph at this year’s expanded 10-month Federation Novitiate. Don’t take our word for it. Watch this video of the presentation that the novices conducted with their home novice directors as part of the closing of this year’s novitiate program. 

When asked what was the most significant impact on them during this ten-month period, the responses were varied but the theme was clear. It was a time for interior deepening that has well-prepared them for their life as Sisters of St. Joseph. The extended time moving from an 8-month program to a 10-month program added 6 days a month for "deepening days," where the novices together reflected on how to integrate what they were learning into their life and practice.

After a day of sharing with the novice directors, we had evening prayer followed by a wonderful dessert and sharing.Sr. Sarah Simmons (Congregation of St. Joseph) shared that this time was "an invitation to deepen prayer and spirituality. I was able to lay out my life, put God in the center, and orient my life around God. My [novitiate] community was a safe space that gave me the opportunity to heal and test new waters as I grew." Sr. Chizuru Yamada (Carondelet-Los Angeles) said, "I was in touch with my spiritual self through prayer, deep communication, sharing the State of the Heart, loving each other, especially people I meet in my ministry day and interaction with sisters." Sr. Tram Nguyen (Orange) said that she learned, "it’s how we are that is more important than to help fix a problem. This speaks louder than just doing the work."

Sisters Tram, Sarah, Sally Koch (Carondelet-Los Angeles), and Jennifer Berridge (Congregation of St. Joseph) commented together about what it meant to have a safe community where they could be more vulnerable and seek their authentic self. This involved risking sharing parts of themselves with others that had previously been private, trying out new ways of being, asking for feedback, and experiencing what happened. They noted that because they were doing it all together, it was easier to take risks or push themselves beyond their comfort zone. The results were something very special. Sr. Sally shared, "The people who make up this community have helped me be more vulnerable. This has been transforming." Sr. Sarah said, "This has put a fire in me. Ministry is every moment and with every person I meet." Sr. Chizuru noted that she has deepened her experience and understanding of unifying love.

The novices shared among themselves what is meaningful for them in religious life.The home novice directors asked what advice the novices might have for the congregations to which they are returning.  Several of the novices noted that many say to them, "you are the future." They said they are more interested in the "Now" and walking in the now together with their sisters. Sr. Jennifer offered, "Meet us and get to know us, not try to change us. Be there for us and with us." Sr. Sally commented, "My desire is for everyone to work on their inner stuff so that we are all transformed. Sometimes communities are solidified and not open to change. I hope that as a new person joins a community there is an openness to transformation." While not denying the median age of her congregation, Sr. Sarah shared, "I want to grow into the future together."

Sr. Marie Benzing (Congregation of St. Joseph), one of the home directors commented, "I have heard so much more an emphasis on Order of the House [in your talking with us]. You have had much more experience with that. You can help the groups that you live with to grow in that way. Your modeling being vulnerable will help with that."

As the novices prepare to leave their home in Rochester, Sr.  Tram’s comment speaks to this next phase of their life journey: "being able to look through the lens with new eyes and start again, much of this is a paschal mystery. Life is always ending and transitioning to something new." We wish them well as they return to their congregations.

[Sr. Patty Johnson is executive director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph]