“Compassion, acceptance and openness is what makes this Order special …”
Sister Cathy Arnold, OP, Vocations Minister, St. Mary of the Springs, Columbus, shared her thoughts about vocations to this Dominican congregation of Roman Catholic Sisters who began in 1830 and have been headquartered in Columbus since 1868.
Life as a Religious Sister is a call to a deeper relationship with Jesus and serving God in daily prayer and with a lifestyle of service to others.
“It is really about developing a deeper relationship with God and to be of service. You are following Jesus and working at the deepest level of yourself to follow Him and to fully respond to the Triune God,” said Sister Cathy.
Historically, Dominicans are known for the Charism of Preaching the Gospel. The Order was founded by St. Dominic in 1206 and is in the midst of a ten year celebration of its 800th anniversary. Sr. Cathy explained that for the Dominican Sister today, “preaching” means living the gospel message through a life of prayer and service and sharing many diverse gifts.
“If this means preaching in prayer services, we do that, teaching in the schools, offering spiritual direction, working in parishes and in dioceses, ministering in the prisons and to the sick, and working abroad. Preaching for us in 2008 is the way we live our lives in Christ with compassion.”
As Sister Cathy further explained all Christians are asked to pray and serve God in their daily lives, workplaces, and places of worship, no matter their vocation. We can all grow closer to God no matter our state in life: Holy Orders, Single, Married, or Religious/Consecrated.
“Can a lay person do the same work that the Sisters do? Absolutely. Can a lay person build a deep relationship with Jesus? Yes. But some of us are called to serve as Religious Sisters and called to the ideals of the Dominican lifestyle.”
With a recently built Motherhouse adjacent to Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, and 246 Sisters, St. Mary of the Springs is thriving in its ministry and mission. The Motherhouse is home to 65 sisters whose ministry of prayer and outreach assists organizations such as J.O.I.N., Holy Family Soup Kitchen, Nazareth Towers Housing and various Congregational ministries. Other Sisters are actively serving in many different roles throughout Ohio, 15 other states, Peru, Honduras and in outreach to Africa.
“There is a mystique about Religious life. We love to have people come out and visit us as the building is big, beautiful and connected to nature. There is so much going on here and there is a joy here; you see it in the Sisters and staff when you are here,” said Sister Cathy.
Since Vatican II, the number of Religious Sisters worldwide has declined, but as Sister Cathy describes it, lately she has seen “renewed interest.”
The inquiries are from women in college, but also from women who are 30-45 years of age, who are widowed or divorced with approved annulments. Typically, women are 45 or under when they begin the 6-9 year process of becoming a fully professed Sister, but there are exceptions.
“It is a very individualized process. We look at the gifts of the individual and where they are in their life. The process requires a long period of discernment to make sure this is one’s true calling.”
How does a woman considering religious life know which particular Order is right for them?
“Whatever speaks to your heart. We find that when someone gets to know the Sisters, you know pretty quickly if this is where you would like to begin your discernment. It is
similar to selecting a college or a seminary.”
Beginning the process of discernment with an Order means learning about the commitment one would be making to God in a community of religious women to “bring God’s love to others.” You are living and working with other women with similar values. Living in a community helps the Sisters establish connections with each other and provides a support system. Besides a large Motherhouse community, a number of Sisters live individually or in small groups, some near the Motherhouse and others
throughout the country and abroad depending on the place of ministry.
St. Mary of the springs had two final professions in 2005 and currently have one Novice and two Sisters in temporary profession. Sister Cathy describes “consistent interest” from those seeking to become a Dominican Sister.
How does Sister Cathy, as Vocation Minister, reach women today? Since there are not as many teaching Sisters in the schools, it is important to get the word out about the vocation in many ways.
“I try different approaches. Some work and some don’t, and we keep adjusting to find the best way to reach women that might be interested, such as ‘Come and See’ weekends, meeting with college students, responding to Internet inquiries, offering spiritual programming, and posting information on our web site.”
St. Mary of the Springs also has an active Associate program in which men and women, single, married, widowed, clergy, and laity – young and old – come together to learn and pray and to adopt the Dominican principles of spirituality and service and apply them in their lives and vocations. Columbus has 175 Dominican Associates throughout the country. They partner with vowed members in living the Dominican mission in families, churches, neighborhoods and cities.
“The Associates are yet another witness to Christian life, to Dominican life. Associates are involved in prayer, study, and service, preaching the Good News through the voices of their work, art, and lives.”
In summarizing what St. Mary of the Springs means to her, Sister Cathy talks about a joyful commitment.
“It is not what we do, but who we are as people that matters. We have made a commitment to vowed Dominican Religious life. We have a desire to seek God. We have a commitment to prayer and a commitment to community life. Like any vocation, it has its joys and its challenges, yet it is a fulfilling life of love and service.