On July 28 2011, we had the honour and privilege of attending the First Profession of Vows of our eldest daughter, Michelle - who has taken the religious name Sr Mary Helen (after Mary of the Cross Mackillop), in the congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, in Nashville Tennessee USA. This took place at the beautiful Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.
Her decision came after a long and committed journey to listen to the call of Christ in her life. She is an intelligent woman. Qualified as a chemical engineer, and having completed further studies in theology and anthropology, she has always had a keen mind as well as a love for souls. She worked for Catholic Youth Ministry in the late 1990's and worked for NET ministries for a year during a break in her university studies
One of the first things people ask us is "why America, or overseas, why not here in Australia?
When our daughter gained a graduate placement at a well known chemical organisation after her university graduation, one of the biggest "opportunities" was the chance for international placement for periods of 6 months or longer, in a number of countries. This was seen by all as the "opportunity of a lifetime". Therefore, in response to all who ask us now "why America?" we answer that surely this is the opportunity of her lifetime and we are even more excited about the purpose of her relocation than if it was for her employer. The world is much more accessible now than ever before, and yes, distance is a tyranny too, but we have learned to communicate the old fashioned way again, by letter, and when the big occasions arise, such as her Profession of Vows, we try to plan for at least one member of her family to be there. It was almost a miracle in this instance that our whole family was enabled to attend this grace-filled occasion.
The presence of this congregation at World Youth Day in Sydney 2008, as well as the many other religious orders in their habits, was the opportunity for many young women to meet and spend time with the orders to follow up their own personal enquiries, seeing or enquiring about how the charism of the order is lived on a daily basis. None of the orders already present in Australia were attractive to our daughter or many of the young women she came to know who were seeking how to answer God's call. During our visit to Nashville, it was obvious that a big attraction to this order is that the average age of the Sisters there was in the mid-30's, vastly different to what we see in Australia.
We attended Mass for profession of Perpetual Vows, a Mass for sisters renewing their vows three years after initial profession, and then we witnessed our daughter join with 14 other intelligent women from all walks of life - a college basketball champion, a registered nurse, others with college degrees in a variety of disciplines, - in professing the simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, according to the rule of St Augustine and the Constitutions of the Dominican Sisters of the congregation of Saint Cecilia. (The Dominicans are a teaching order, however there are a few special cases in which the Sister will continue in a particular profession, for example, as a doctor or as a nurse. )
Whilst there, we also met the Australian postulants who were in their uniform one day, and then in white habits the next day, with their new religious name. There was a brief period when the existing Australian novices had yet to profess their vows, so there were five Australian novices for about 12 hours - in their white habits and veils - and our daughter managed to catch this moment in picture. The next day, on July 28, there would two black veils in amongst the Australian contingent, with another Sister about to travel to Sydney to stay at the convent in Regents Park, and another 4 postulants from Australia about to embark on their discernment in Nashville later in August . It is intended that the Australian sisters will return to Sydney after their initial studies at the Motherhouse. This is an added joy to our family.
In this congregation, we see that our daughter has found a home where she can continue to live according to God's plan, as well as continue to grow as a whole person. She is intelligent and practical and we see her now being able to serve Christ, grow in love for Him and bring His love to others in a practical way, yet utilize and develop her intelligence as well.
It seems that the tyranny of distance is no barrier to responding to God's call and we are thankful that our daughter is brave enough to put Him first. We have no doubt that our daughter is just where she is meant to be and we have no doubt that God's plan for her is unfolding in ways we cannot fully fathom.
One of the new novices wrote in a letter to her parents recently: "I don't know what the Holy Spirit has in store for Australia, but nine vocations in 3 years certainly suggests that He is cooking up something good".