There are various ways religious communities live out their prayer lives. The rituals of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon include Morning Prayer also known as The Divine Office and the Prayer of the Church. This prayer is said in common each morning before Mass and again each evening as the day comes to an end.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows morning prayer where we are fed by the Word of God and Body of Christ as we prepare for our daily ministry. It is a fortifying way to start each day and I am always impressed by the consistency of the Sisters. We are also asked to get an additional hour of contemplative prayer in during the day or evening.
“Prayer is being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who, we know, loves us – Saint Teresa of Calcutta
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.
In 1982 I began teaching at St. Mary of the Valley High School while also attending Portland State University to get my fifth year and participating in formation classes. I taught a couple of classes at the high school then went to PSU for the rest of the day until around 4:00 when I returned for classes at the convent. I was a busy little “first professed” as I continued to learn the ropes. I enjoyed teaching at the high school very much and could see myself full time in the future. I really appreciated teaching at our community high school.
My main assignment was to teach religion and I found enjoyment in coaching the jv Softball team. Prior to 1991, St. Mary of the Valley was an all-girl school which went co-ed and changed the name to Valley Catholic. My school experience as a youth had been co-ed and I was more at home in that environment. I think it is good for youth to be with the opposite gender at school while they have their feet under their parent’s roof. There are a lot of lessons best learned at home.
I realized how fortunate I was to be called to religious life and what satisfaction I got out of it. A religious who dedicates their life to Christ has the time to do things that a married person with the responsibilities of family would not have in many cases. I realized the many talents God had given me and I had the time to develop them.