ARCHDICESE OF MELBOURNE REPORT-Friday 16 September 2011
By Laurel Hill
On 28 July 2011, our family had the honour of attending the First Profession of Vows of our eldest daughter, Michelle – who has taken the religious name Sr Mary Helen (after Mary of the Cross MacKillop) – in the congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, in Nashville, Tennessee. This took place at the beautiful Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.
Our daughter’s decision came after a long and committed journey to listen to the call of Christ in her life. She is an intelligent woman. Qualified as a chemical engineer, and having completed further studies in theology and anthropology, she has always had a keen mind as well as a love for souls. She worked for Catholic Youth Ministry in the late 1990s and for NET ministries for a year during a break in her university studies.
One of the first things people ask us is, ‘Why America, or overseas, why not here in Australia?’
When our daughter graduated from university, she had the opportunity to take an international placement for six months or longer in several countries. This was seen by all as the opportunity of a lifetime. So, when people ask us, ‘Why America?’, we answer that we are even more excited about the purpose of her relocation than if it was for her employer.
The presence of the Dominican Sisters, and other religious orders, at World Youth Day in Sydney 2008, gave many young women the opportunity to meet and inquire about their charism. During our visit to Nashville we realised that a big attraction to this order was that the average age is the mid-30s, vastly different to what we see in Australia.
The world is much more accessible now than ever before. Distance is a tyranny, but we have learned to communicate in the old-fashioned way, by letter. When the big occasions arise, such as her Profession of Vows, we plan for at least one member of the family to attend. It was almost a miracle in this instance that our whole family was able to attend this grace-filled occasion.
We attended a Mass for Professions of Perpetual Vows, a Mass for sisters renewing their vows three years after initial profession, and then we witnessed our daughter’s First Profession, alongside 14 other women from all walks of life – a college basketball champion, a registered nurse and others with university degrees. They professed the simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, according to the rule of St Augustine and the Constitutions of the Dominican Sisters of the congregation of St Cecilia. The Dominicans are a teaching order, although in special cases the sister will continue in a particular profession, for example, as a doctor or as a nurse.
While there, we also met the Australian postulants, who were in their uniform one day and in white habits the next day, with their new religious names. For a brief period of about 12 hours, when the existing Australian novices had yet to profess their vows, there were five Australian novices – in their white habits and veils. The next day, on 28 July, two of these women exchanged their white veils for black after professing their vows. It is intended that the Australian sisters will return to Sydney after their initial studies at the mother house. This is an added joy to our family.
In this congregation, we see that our daughter has found a home where she can continue to live according to God’s plan, as well as continue to grow as a whole person. We see her being able to serve Christ, grow in love for him and bring his love to others in a practical way, yet use and develop her intelligence as well.
It seems that distance is no barrier to responding to God’s call and we are thankful that our daughter is brave enough to put God first. We have no doubt that our daughter is just where she is meant to be and we have no doubt that his plan for her is unfolding in ways we cannot fully fathom.
One of the new novices wrote in a letter to her parents recently: “I don’t know what the Holy Spirit has in store for Australia, but nine vocations in three years certainly suggests that he is cooking up something good.”
Kairos Catholic Journal Volume 22, Issue 17