Serving as a Model of Vowed Dominican Life
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by Lori Golaszewski

Last summer, Sisters Mary Jones and Jackie Stoll embarked on their year at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN) in St. Louis. When they got there, they found they weren't alone, because not only were other novices waiting, but also Adrian Dominican Sister Kathleen McGrail, OP, who had recently begun her ministry as co-director of the CDN.

Sister Katie McGrail escorted a group of novices to the School of the Americas rally last year.

Sister Katie, along with Pat Hanvey, OP, an Amityville Dominican, is responsible for carrying out the CDN program while the novices live in St. Louis for 10 months of their canonical novitiate year. The program is built around the four pillars of Dominican life: prayer, study, community and ministry. A fifth component is focused on human development.

Twenty-two congregations participate in the CDN. St. Louis is the chosen site because it's where Aquinas Institute of Theology and a large number of Dominican friars are located. The novices take a course at Aquinas each semester and frequently join the friars for liturgy and study. St. Louis also is home to the Intercommunity Novitiate Program, which gives novices in the CDN an opportunity to interact with their peers from other communities.

The canonical year is a time for discernment and for absorbing the Dominican charism, Sister Katie said, and its focus is primarily contemplative. The role of Sisters Katie and Pat is to form the novices "for conversion and transformation." Ministry, study and other components are carefully balanced with prayer and reflection.

The co-directors and novices reside in a large, three-story house where they live out and study these elements of Dominican life. "A part of the responsibility I accept is to model on a daily basis the healthy and integrated living of religious life," Sister Katie explained. "My role involves listening to the novices in their uniqueness and in their developing vision of vowed Dominican life today."

Jackie Stoll and Mary Jones
with their CDN peers

In addition to Sisters Mary and Jackie from Adrian, there are five other novices representing three congregations at the CDN: Sinsinawa, Amityville and Elkins Park. "It helps me feel particularly at home to have novices from my own congregation," Sister Katie noted. "When we have study topics related to our respective histories, constitutions, traditions and practices, Jackie, Mary and I can combine our input. I enjoy the opportunity of getting to know the newer members of our congregation."

All of the novices bring a rich variety of backgrounds and educational and professional experiences to the program, Sister Katie said. They have lived many years as independent adults and have now made the choice to live an interdependent life in community as vowed religious. "I am tremendously inspired by this and by the sharing of their faith life and their vocational stories," Sister Katie said. "They come seeking a deeper relationship with God, lived out with others in community. They come to be something 'more,' to which they feel called deep within their beings. And, they come to do all of this in the service of God's people and for the needs of our world. I stand in awe at the courage, hope and vitality I experience in these women. They have not come by their decisions easily and they are serious about their discernment. This is a challenge to me in my own commitment to our life."

Sister Katie said it's exciting to be involved in this ministry and to be part of forming the Dominican family of the present and future. Her ministry enables her to be consciously engaged in the elements of Dominican life and with the broader Dominican family. The role, however, is not without its challenges.

"There is the human challenge of living and ministering, 24/7, with eight other women, all at different stages of growth and development," Sister Katie said. "That challenge is also a wonderful gift that keeps me very alive. There is the challenge of understanding and providing for the formational needs of each individual novice, in my relationship with her and in our programming. There is also the challenge, particularly in this first year, of learning all the parts of this ministry."

"To me, the challenges are well balanced by the blessings," she continued. "I deeply love our Dominican life."