October 13, 2020
20 days till National Vocation Awareness Week
#6 in a series of 25
My Canonical Year
I talked about “Formation” in an earlier piece as a time of discernment before making final vows with the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon. This process can take seven and a half years in our community. After finishing six months minimum as a “candidate”, I wrote a handwritten letter to ask to become a novice with the community. This then began a two year “novitiate” and for the first time, we were then referred to as “Sister.”
The first year of novitiate is generally referred to as a “Canonical Year.” This year is dedicated to prayer, studying all aspects of the vows and really learning about religious life and the unique charism or spirit of the community. The second year of the novitiate is often spent in furthering education or ministry. In my case, I entered after college but went on to get a fifth year at Portland State while teaching part time at the high school and engaging in formation classes at the convent.
I clearly remember the gift of my canonical year as I had the time to think, pray, work, study and come to really know the community. Some interesting aspects of the year included ringing the electric bell which reminded us hourly to say a prayer and turn our thoughts to God. The switch for the bell was located in chapel and I had to remember to ring it on the hour. I found a simple egg timer to remind me as it was well before I phones with timers!
Canonically, most of our time was to be spent at the Motherhouse and we could make few trips outside to do things. It was a year set apart, a special year and not one that was to be in competition with the distractions of the world. I did not listen to music, watch TV, or go to movies that year.
I cleaned the tables in the grade school cold and hot lunchrooms after their lunch each day which gave me an opportunity to meet people who taught or worked at the grade school. My classmate and I also led a rosary every day at 1:00 to pray for vocations to religious life. The elder Sisters would join us in the chapel.
We learned all aspects of setting up for Mass each morning. The Sacristan would teach us everything about the liturgical seasons, the rites and rituals and it was our job to carry it out. It was very interesting to me and I appreciated this knowledge.
There were many projects we were kept busy with during that year along with formation classes, writing papers on the vows and deepening our prayer lives. By the time the canonical year was finished, we had a sound foundation about religious life, the sisters, prayer, the ministries of our community and much about ourselves.