Entering the formation process – the actual process of becoming a sister -has practical aspects – the who, what, where, and when of it all, yet there are bigger questions too. Will I be able to live this life? How much will I need to change? In spite of the fact that so much time has been spent preparing for this step there can still be some trepidation. Women wonder, what is expected of me? What will the sisters I’ll be living with be like? What will they think of me? At the same time there is so much to be excited about. When women enter formation it is often with a head full of questions and a heart full of hope. The idea of finally taking that step you’ve been waiting to take, the living out of a dream that you’ve been looking forward to is pretty amazing.
Being One of Us
“There is a definite transition from ‘knowing about’ us to ‘being one of’ us.” says Sister Elaine Davia, director of formation for the Sisters of Bon Secours, describing what happens in the hearts and minds of women in formation. “This time is to help them get to know the Sisters of Bon Secours – our history, charism, traditions, and culture more deeply,” explains Sr. Elaine, “especially as it fits with the Church and the needs of the world.” Formation gives you the opportunity to see the life of a sister up close and participate in ministry serving people in need. You live the life: a life of prayer, of service, of community.
An Ancient Process
Formation is an ancient process within the Church dating back before the sixth century. It intentionally takes time and does not happen overnight. Sr. Elaine explains, “I see the value of the formation process as gradually deepening a woman’s understanding of God’s call and her desire to “become more deeply one” with us. It’s a long process and may seem slow, but I see it work both in the women who choose to leave because it’s not their calling and even more so for those who stay.” Often at the beginning, women wonder why the process is so long. Some may think, “I’ve had a lot of life experience, why do I need to go through this?” However, the formation process has a long tradition in the Church and shows its effectiveness as a woman comes to a deeper and deeper understanding of herself, her life as a consecrated religious woman, and as a Sister of Bon Secours.
Part of the formation process includes a period of study and a season of deeper questioning. This is known as the ‘novitiate. Women react to this time in different ways. “For the woman who has been working slowing down can be a challenge.” says Sr. Elaine. “Stopping work and movement -most new members have a little difficulty settling into a quieter routine, especially at first, and some just take to it more easily. Some are very self-directed about using the quiet time and others need a lot more direction.” Fortunately there are spiritual guides all around. One of the best parts of formation is your connection with community members who are all praying and hoping the best for you and your journey.
Living in Community
One new member described the dynamic of living in community this way. Before entering, she would go out and do things with friends, but always come home and have the house to herself. This is the difference in living in community. Coming home to others you live with. That was a turning point in her understanding religious communal life. This dynamic was a complete reversal of what she was used to, but not necessarily a bad one.
Sr. Elaine: “For a while there is some “walking-on-eggshells” until the new member feels comfortable with the sisters and they with her. Priorities when you live alone are very different than when you are living an intentional and committed life with others. Many of the women who come already have a strong prayer life, healthy personal life and are involved in an active, meaningful ministry and professional jobs. What is very different for them is the adjustment and commitment to living with others, especially sisters they don’t know well yet.”
With Greater Love
Women in formation benefit from the richness and variety of the women that become a part of their daily lives. Different sisters share different gifts with new members. Some do fun things with them; others will teach classes or share on specific topics. Many participate by attending discussions with the new members, or inviting them out for a casual meal, movie or other activity. “Some just share informally what this life means to them or they share their own history of formation which helps the new member to get to know us better and maybe even understand her own formation. Over time, says Sr. Elaine, I see a change in the new member – her love and close affection for the sisters as they get to know each other better. With this greater love, comes recognition of God’s great love for her and her love for God. I also see her gain the freedom to share this relationship with the sisters.”