Retirement had already represented a major transition. Now that my husband and I no longer punched a time clock, we had entered a new chapter of our lives and – as part of my spiritual direction journey – I had started asking myself a serious question: “What should this next chapter look like?”
Then COVID-19 upended our lives even more. After a year and a half of pandemic restrictions, Pete and I were beginning to feel like characters in the movie Groundhog Day – living the same day again and again … and again. Last fall, a scary hospital experience convinced both of us: “Groundhog Day is over!” Time to turn the calendar to a new day, we decided.
So, we embarked on something quite new and different: We began the formation process to join the Associates Program for the Dominican Sisters in our community.
Dominican Associates are people who embrace the Dominican traditions of prayer, study, community and ministry. Associates undertake individual volunteer ministries in their own churches/parishes and communities. They may also join the Sisters on committees and boards, work side-by-side with the Sisters in their ministries, or provide logistical support for the Sisters’ public events.
As the Dominican Sisters’ website (link HERE) says – and I just love this: Associates “respond to God’s call to share the Gospel by preaching it through the witness of their lives.”
Pete and I had long admired the Dominican Sisters. During our 20-plus years of working for human service agencies (for me) and teaching at the local Catholic university (for Pete), we saw up close the many valuable contributions the Sisters made to our community (mentoring and helping not-for-profit organizations by serving as board members or in other volunteer capacities) and in other parts of the world (working with the Christian community in Iraq and Kurdistan).
Over the years, we also got to know some of the Sisters very well personally. One Sister in particular was a wonderful mentor to me professionally during my career in human services, coaching me on everything from how to manage a staff to locating possible funding sources for the agencies where I worked. We did lunch together often and she remains a personal friend. Two other Sisters have provided spiritual direction for Pete and me.
When we learned that the Dominican Sisters were seeking applicants for their Associates Program, and that this opportunity was open to all baptized Christians, Pete and I very quickly decided we would be honored to partner with them in some way.
We completed a several-months-long formation process in which we learned about the dimensions of Dominican life as they are interwoven in study, prayer, community and ministry. The formation process concluded with a one-day retreat during which we were asked to discern the next step of commitment. Pete and I appreciated that the formation sessions were offered via Zoom so we could participate despite our pandemic restrictions.
One of the things we focused on as part of our formation process was discerning where God wants to use us next. We were asked to come up with “commitment statements” in which we agreed to join the Sisters in preaching the Word and witnessing Gospel values through various activities. These activities could include a renewed commitment to things we were already doing, or something entirely new.
Among other things, we learned that Associates in our community assist with the local Sisters’ social justice activities. A couple of these proved particularly attractive to Pete and me – the Sisters’ anti-racism efforts and their coordinating committee working on environmental issues. We decided we will join their efforts in these areas.
We will continue to be involved in our own church congregation as well, but in some rather new ways. When COVID broke out and many of our own church activities moved online, we found new ways to contribute our time and talents. I have been serving on our church’s community service committee (via Zoom) and helping keep our church’s micro pantry stocked. Since the beginning of the year, Pete and I have been leading an adult faith formation group on Zoom.
Our formation process as Dominican Associates was formalized and celebrated this past weekend through a commitment ceremony held in the convent’s beautiful chapel. In the photo below, I’m reading my commitment statements while my sponsor stands by my side.
Here are my commitments as I join the Sisters in preaching the Word and witnessing Gospel values:
- Continuing with spiritual direction, in which I examine my relationship with God, prayer, my personal values, my investment decisions and various lifestyle choices.
- Continuing to be an active member of my own church congregation by teaching (with Pete) a “Sundays @ 6” faith formation class offered via Zoom, serving on the congregation’s community service committee and helping with food pantry efforts.
- Serving as a bridge-builder for peace and reconciliation through my writing, my interpersonal relationships and my involvement in social justice work. This will include participation in the Dominican Sisters’ anti-racism efforts.
- Doing my part to preserve and protect the environment through my own habits, such as better recycling, environmentally-friendly gardening and lawn care, creating flower beds for pollinators and reducing our household’s use of fossil fuels. I will also be joining the Dominican Sisters in their Laudato Si’ Action Platform efforts.
Pete and I are definitely looking forward to this new chapter in our spiritual journey.