Frequently Asked Questions
'Be it done to me according to Thy Word'
How do I know if I have a religious vocation?
There is no one kind of person God calls to consecrated life, and religious congregations like ours are made up of women whose differing talents, backgrounds and temperaments enrich their life together. Attraction to spending time in prayer, a love for the Eucharist, a desire to serve God and his Church and a willingness to give generously of time and energy to building community life are all signs that it might be worth exploring the possibility of religious vocation.
What help is available as I try to discern where God may be calling me?
It can be enormously helpful to have a spiritual director, guide or friend with whom you can discuss a growing sense of religious vocation. This can be a priest, a religious sister or a lay person: what is important is that you feel comfortable with them and they with you. It is also a good idea to establish a regular pattern of confession. Do also keep an eye out for vocations events organised nationally or locally
What are some of the basic requirements for acceptance into the English Congregation of Dominican Sisters?
Most fundamentally, a desire to preach the Good News of Jesus’ saving love for all people, and an enthusiasm for the beauty of the truth of the Catholic faith: a desire, as St Thomas Aquinas puts it, to contemplate and to pass on to others the fruits of our contemplation. Candidates for the Congregation should be Catholics in good standing with the Church, and in reasonable physical and psychological health.
From the very beginning of the Order, Dominicans have always understood that study, prayer, community life and preaching go hand in hand, and, whilst not everyone is equally intellectually gifted, an attraction to study at some level, is therefore essential.
Is there an upper or lower age limit? What is the best age to become a Sister?
The best age is the age when God calls you! And this is very individual: from the very beginning of our history, some of our sisters entered the congregation as very young women; others – often, but not exclusively, because they were not brought up as Catholics – were much older. For this reason, we have never set an upper age limit. We do not, however, accept women below the age of 18.
What if I have been married? Is it impossible for me to become a sister?
Not necessarily. There is a long tradition within the Church of widows entering religious life, and it is also possible for those whose marriages have been annulled to apply to enter the Congregation. Each case would be evaluated in the light of canon law and taking the particular circumstances of the candidate into account, but certainly no one should feel that having been married, or being sexually experienced, is an automatic bar to religious vocation, provided that a commitment to celibacy is what you want now.
I am very attracted to the idea of being a Dominican sister, but should I finish my education first?
God works with rather than against the talents and temperaments he gives us, and an attraction to study is in itself an essential dimension of specifically Dominican vocation. In general, therefore, there might be concern about someone who interrupted her education to enter, rather than finishing a course of study and then bringing the skills, maturity and experience thus gained to the congregation. However, once again, there is no hard and fast rule. It is normal, in any case, for sisters to undertake further formal study in accord with their own aptitudes and the needs of the congregation and the wider Dominican family and Church.
I have already done a degree/undertaken professional training. Would the knowledge/skills I have obtained be put to use if I entered the Congregation?
No knowledge or expertise is ever wasted. It might be that some professional or “vocational” qualifications are not directly relevant to the work a sister is assigned once she is a professed member of the Congregation, and there is certainly no one type of academic or professional background we look for in applicants. Any such training, however, will have helped to make the sister the person she is, and it is the whole of our self we offer to the Lord in religious consecration, so whatever we bring, including our educational history is part of the gift of ourselves which we make at our profession. And there are many aspects of the life of study – self-discipline for instance – which are “transferable skills”, and which can indeed therefore be put to good use in the life of a Dominican sister
Do you have to be able to sing to be a sister?
No! The divine office is essential to our life in community, and we do sing most of it, to very simple tones. Without some attraction to this form of prayer, life in our congregation would be difficult. But our vocal ability varies enormously, and is in no sense a prerequisite; though musical ability can certainly be used!
I am attracted to religious life, but I would also love to be married and have a family. Does this mean I don’t have a religious vocation?
Not at all. The chastity required of religious sisters is not a destruction but a redirection of our sexuality, and so it is perfectly natural that we should feel attracted to the way in which most people are called to live out their sexuality, in married and family life. And, in fact, as Pope Francis has recently reminded us, women religious in particular should be motherly: the sacrifice involved in not having children of our own is real, but it need not mean a sacrifice of the maternal instinct, which both our apostolic work and our life together give us opportunity to exercise.
What about my family? I'm concerned that if I become a sister, I might grow apart from them and not be able to give them the support they might need from me in the future?
It is an act of charity required of all Christians that we honour our father and mother, and by extension our entire family, and entering religious life does not remove that responsibility. We may not always be able to be available to provide day to day care for elderly or vulnerable relatives, though arrangements for sisters to do so can be made if necessary. But there is no need to fear that religious life will distance you from your family; we are able to visit our relatives and they us, and indeed many sisters have found that their religious community has been of the greatest support at times of trial and distress in the lives of their natural families.
Do sisters have friends outside their community?
Friendship is central to Dominican spirituality. Some of the greatest saints of our Order, like St Catherine of Siena and Blessed Jordan of Saxony, have written movingly about friendship especially between friars and sisters, and such celibate friendships are both a great blessing and an important aspect of our witness to chastity. The demands of community life does of course limit the amount of time we are able to spend with friends outside the community – but this is also true of married couples, for instance. And, just as a healthy marriage is not one in which the partners focus exclusively on each other, but look outwards in charity to others, so too our friendships can strengthen both our apostolic work and our life in community. Frequently, too, our friends become the friends of the whole community, which is a source of mutual joy and enrichment.
What about the habit? Do the sisters wear it all the time?
In our constitutions, the habit is described as “our normal wear” and this means in practice that most of us wear it most of the time. There are circumstances in which it is clearly difficult to wear white– for example, when doing some kinds of messy domestic or gardening work. Sisters also have sometimes to take responsibility for deciding when it is appropriate to put on secular clothes, for example, when on holiday, and a variety of approaches are taken to this question within the congregation. What is essential, however, is that, in fidelity to the teachings of Vatican II, we regard wearing the habit as a sign of our consecration, and value it as an important opportunity to witness to Christ in an increasingly secularised culture.