We are grateful to God for the gift of our vocations, and we seek to be good stewards of this gift by making formation a priority in the life of our community. Our initial formation program introduces the sisters to our spirit, charisms, and mission and assists them in the discernment and integration of our way of life. After a sister is perpetually professed, she still is attentive to ongoing formation in the community and in her personal life.
Every religious community has a number of steps on the path to perpetual profession of religious vows. These are the stages in our community’s formation.
Once a woman has been accepted, she is invited to become a postulant with the community and live in the Formation House. This stage of formation lasts for about one year (but could be extended to two), and allows for a time of transition from lay life to the consecrated life lived in community. During this time, a postulant becomes acquainted with all the aspects of our way of life and gradually adjusts to our schedule.
Postulancy is a time for discernment of her vocation, and the classes that she takes during this stage are designed to help her with that process. Among other topics, she studies scripture, prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the life of St. Francis. She also contributes to our life through helping with the household tasks and participating in our ministries.
She wears a simple, white blouse and a black skirt. As our Franciscan Third Order Rule states, “Led by the Lord, let them begin a life of penance, conscious that all of us must be continuously and totally converted to the Lord. As a sign of their conversion and consecration to gospel life, they are to clothe themselves plainly and to live in simplicity” (TOR Rule 6).
She is also given a Tau Cross to wear, indicating her desire to embrace conversion as a way of life. The cord on which it hangs around her neck is tied with three knots which symbolize her desire to eventually live the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. The goal of this period of formation is to prepare the woman for entrance into novitiate.
As a postulant feels continued peace in living our life and the discernment of her vocation is clear to both the community and herself, she requests of the Reverend Mother admittance into the novitiate. This is a time set apart in religious life, reserved for the deepening of a sister’s relationship with Christ, the Church, and community.
The day of investiture (entrance to novitiate) is one of excitement for the whole community – it is then that two important questions are answered: How will the postulant look in gray? and, What will her name be? At the time of reception into novitiate, the postulant receives our Rule and Constitutions, a gray jumper, a white veil and a religious name. From that time on, she is known as “Sister”. The Reverend Mother entrusts her at this time to the care of the Novice Formator, who will teach her about our way of life. Novitiate lasts for about two years, and is reserved by the Church as a special time for prayer and study, especially of the evangelical counsels which the sister hopes to profess: chastity, poverty, and obedience.
The novice also prayerfully studies our Rule, Constitutions, history, spirituality, and charisms and participates in our life and mission. Central to the novitiate experience is the opportunity for her to concentrate on deepening her intimate relationship with Christ through liturgical worship, meditation on Scripture, and other forms of prayer. Contacts outside community are lessened at this time to aid the sister in growing closer to Christ and to free her from any unnecessary distractions. The novitiate is an intensified time of discernment of and preparation for vowed life. Novitiate usually lasts about two years.
When a sister meets the requirements of the novitiate and if the discernment of her vocation is clear to both the community and herself, she vows to live in chastity, poverty, and obedience for one year. The Reverend Mother receives these vows in the context of the Mass and the newly professed sister receives the habit of the community. This consists of the gray habit, which is shaped like a Tau Cross, a crucifix, a long white veil, and a cord with three knots, which represent the vows. Supported by the prayers of the community, the newly professed sister enters more fully into the life and mission of the community, with times reserved for class at least twice during the year. As her vocation is tested and mutual discernment continues, she accordingly renews her vows yearly until the time of perpetual profession. “Let them put aside all attachment as well as every care and worry. Let them be only be concerned to serve, love, adore, and honor God, as best they can, with a single heart and a pure mind” (T.O.R. Rule 7).
Following several years of temporary vows, a sister professes her perpetual vows, thereby making a permanent commitment to follow the chaste, poor, and obedient Christ in the context of our community. This day is a celebration of her espousal to Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church. At the profession ceremony, which occurs in the context of Mass, the sister receives a wedding band (a plain gold ring), which she wears as a sign of her spousal commitment to Christ and His Church, lived in the community. For the first part of the ceremony, she is clothed in a white cape and a crown of roses. The white cape is a reminder of the nuptial character of her profession and also calls to mind the sister’s Baptism, the day when she was first initiated into the death and resurrection of Christ. Religious vows are a deepening of the baptismal promises. The white roses of her crown symbolize the sister’s “white martyrdom,” that is her call to lay down her life daily for others. The red roses remind her of our charism of crucified love. The sister also receives a crown of thorns, which serve to recall to her mind and heart the sufferings of her Crucified Spouse in order to inspire her to follow Him always and to unite her sufferings to His.
“As Christ poured Himself out for the life of the Church, through our consecration we give ourselves with Him for her continual life and growth in holiness. By God’s grace first received at baptism, we accept His invitation to follow more closely the poor, chaste, and obedient Christ, embracing the evangelical counsels as God’s gratuitous gift and special means to grow in holiness, which is the perfection of love. Through living the evangelical counsels in a spirit of ongoing conversion, we become freer to love, worship, and serve God with an undivided heart. Throughout the ages, holy men and women have been a source of renewal in the Church. We recognize that the greatest gift we can give to our Beloved and His Church is the witness of a transformed life made visible by our total dedication to love of God and neighbor. Our call as religious is not only to give witness to Christ’s loving presence here on earth, but to show that the Incarnate Son of God is the eschatological goal toward which all things tend, the splendor before which every other light pales, and the beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart. Our life of chastity, poverty, and obedience—forsaking the treasures of this world—gives striking witness to the priority of the kingdom of God and the fullness of life and glory that awaits the faithful in heaven, when we will meet Christ our Bridegroom face to face.” (Constitutions 23)
I, Sister ___________, vow to Almighty God to live for the whole of my life the counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience according to the Rule and Life of the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis and the Constitutions of the Franciscan Sisters Third Order Regular of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. With our community as witnesses, I freely make my profession in your presence, (name of Reverend Mother). Relying on His mercy, I entrust my life to the chaste, poor, and obedient Christ. I freely choose to join our Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the cross, and, with St. Francis as my model of Gospel living, I place myself at the disposal of this religious congregation, to glorify God and to make known His merciful love.