A real Sister Act

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Dominican Sr Mary Catherine and Discalced Carmelite Sr Mary Rose.
Dominican Sr Mary Catherine and Discalced Carmelite Sr Mary Rose.

Over the past 10 years, Sisters have become more visible in parishes, schools and universities in Australia, by participating in youth festivals and through offering “taster weekends” enabling potential discerners to find out more about religious life.

While many Orders like the Josephites, Presentation Sisters and Sisters of Mercy are familiar to us from childhood, there are others which are not as well known to the average Australian Catholic and who have their Mother Houses overseas.

Orders like the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, in Nashville, have increasingly attracted young Australian women after being invited to help with the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney.

However, with more than 50 congregations for women offering everything from a traditional monastic way of life to being more involved in the apostolic work of their communities, there is plenty of choice available right here in our backyard.

Carmel Biddle, who has two siblings in contemplative Orders in NSW, said she is constantly surprised by the numbers of women unaware of what’s on offer for Australian women interested in religious life.

“I have experienced on several occasions young women discussing their vocation with me and being astonished that there are orders here in Australia that fit the life they are being called to,” she said.

“The vast majority of Australian nuns go unrecognised as they no longer wear a habit.

“It’s such a blessing having two religious sisters in contemplative orders in our family. I love that my kids see the religious vocation as a very normal life path.”

Sr Mary Catherine O.P, a Conventual Sister of St Dominic and Sr Mary Rose O.C.D., a Discalced Carmelite Extern Sister are both consecrated as religious sisters as well as siblings.

Both had different career paths prior to entering their orders and both generously answered the same questions about their vocations put to them by The Catholic Weekly.

Read more about their Orders below.

Sir Mary Catherine and Sr Mary Rose with their parents and six siblings. PHOTO: ANNALISE DAY

SR MARY CATHERINE – DOMINICAN

Q1 Did you have a lightbulb moment about your vocation or did you discern for many years?

Well, serious discernment can only begin when you enter a religious community as an aspirant, but prior to that I had about a year of trying to let go of what I wanted (finishing uni, missionary work, dreams of a large family,) and trying to be open to what God wanted for me. A Franciscan told me to visit communities which made me act rather than wait until I felt ‘worthy’ or the time feels right.

Q2 What were some notable influences on your vocation in your youth?

My seven siblings and I were blessed to be raised by ‘John Paul II’ Catholic parents, and growing up I saw them choose the harder road because they put God first. They taught us to be counter-cultural and to be prepared to follow God’s intended vocation for us, no matter what. We owe them so much!

Q3 How would you describe your Order in a few words?

My community is part of the 800 year old Order of Preachers, whose history and traditions focus on the salvation of souls through preaching the Truth. My community of the Conventual Sisters of St Dominic leans towards the contemplative aspect of the Order’s charism, while engaging in some apostolic work.

Q4 What aspect of your community resonates with you the most?

Although I knew very little about the Church’s Liturgy when I came, I love our emphasis on the Liturgy in which we retain rituals and prayers from our medieval Dominican liturgical heritage. This, along with contemplative prayer, is the most important and powerful service we offer the Church.

Dominican Sr Mary Catherine.
Dominican Sr Mary Catherine.

Q5 What advice would you give to someone considering religious life?

As a postulant I read that following God’s Will takes ‘grace, goodness and guts’. I thank God He sent me a priest who told me I must learn about religious life from religious themselves. We religious don’t want to ensnare you, as some young people think, but to encourage you to do God’s Will.

Q6 What’s the most common misconception about your life?

Even some well-meaning people focus only on what we give up and not on the huge benefits we gain by living a life of consecration to God. They pity us for not having a spouse and family of our own and for the fact that we can’t make our own choices. They have no idea how fulfilling consecrated life can be – even with the sacrifices it involves. Obedience is the greatest and most precious of the vows, allowing us to live- as my Rule says – “as free women emancipated by grace!” In 2015 my community published a booklet called ‘Religious Life: Thumbnail Sketches’ to bust those myths.

Q7 What are some unique aspects of your religious life in 2021?

The Order of Preachers celebrate the 800th Jubilee of our Holy Father St Dominic’s death this year. My community is focusing on studying and sharing the truths about the Church – Her nature, Her Magisterium, Her authority and Her Liturgy. St Dominic worked to combat error in humble obedience to the Church, so I think he would be pleased to see his daughters striving to preach the ‘mind of the Church’ in these very testing times. I think our motto of “Veritas” (truth) is extremely relevant right now.

Q8 Finally, what brings you happiness?

Knowing that I am following a way of life that has been time tested and approved by the Church, which, if I am faithful to it, will make me a saint. What a guarantee to have! And I have hundreds of Dominican Saints who have shown me how! I had expected that after 5 or 10 years I might find the life routine or difficult, but, on the contrary, I am growing in my understanding and appreciation of the Church and why religious life is so central to Her life.

SR MARY ROSE – DISCALCED CARMELITE

Q1 Did you have a lightbulb moment about your vocation or did you discern for many years?

When I was 14 years old I felt an intense desire to serve Our Lord and His Church, to be a religious Sister. Up to that point I had dreamed of having my own farm with herds of cattle and lots of dogs! I grew up in the country, you see, and I’m a great lover of the outdoors and of animals!

Q2 What were some notable influences on your vocation in your youth?

I and my siblings were homeschooled, and I believe that this was the greatest influence on my vocation, due to the Faith education we received at home. In particular, Mum’s devotion to the Holy Mass and Dad’s involvement in serving others, were examples of living the Faith in action. Other things in my childhood like the poems by Fr Creede CSSR which we prayed with each decade of the Rosary, touched me deeply and fostered my love for Our Lord and His Mother.

Q3 How would you describe your Order in a few words?

The Discalced Carmelite Order consists of both Friars and Nuns whose primary charism is prayer for the Church and the world. We live as hermits within the context of community life and therefore our charism consists of a balance between times of prayer, silence, solitude and recreation with the community.

Q4 What aspect of your community resonates with you the most?

I used to understand prayer as set verbal words structured into set prayers. However I discovered in the Carmelite Spirituality that prayer is much more personal and deeper, in the words of our holy Mother St Teresa, “Prayer is spending time with Someone who we know loves us.”

Discalced Carmelite Sr Mary Rose.
Discalced Carmelite Sr Mary Rose.

Q5 What advice would you give to someone considering religious life?

I would say to someone considering religious life to be courageous! Don’t wait until you are 100% certain, take the chance, take that leap of faith and trust in Our Lord, and just go for it. Don’t be afraid. Talk to Our Lord and listen, He will let you know if you have made the right choice through the people and circumstances around you. I am glad my sister’s community told me about the Carmelites in Lismore.

Q6 What’s the most common misconception about your life?

A common misconception I often hear is that as enclosed nuns we don’t talk at all. Yes, our life is marked by general silence throughout the day, however we have recreation times together, and I assure you there is enough noise and laughter to go around! As Pope Francis said once, “A gloomy nun is a sorry nun indeed.”

Q7 What are some unique aspects of your religious life in 2021?

Living within a fast-paced society where individualism and materialism are largely evident, we Carmelites give witness to a unique and radical vocation through our total commitment to God in living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Q8 Finally, what brings you happiness?

Knowing that I’m doing what God has called me to do in life gives me great peace; and when I receive Our Lord in Holy Communion every day at Mass this is my greatest joy! In that moment He is within me; His Mystical Body on earth and in heaven are one, and so I am also closest to my family members in heaven, united in the presence of Our Lord here and now. What great joy!

For more information go to:

http://www.conventualsistersofstdominic.org/p/photos.html
https://www.flowerofcarmel.com/