NOW...For the first part of the process...
Step 1--Contact (As long as it takes :) )
This is the very initial inquiry stage. It's basically, "Hi, I'm Katy...I'm thinking about religious life, or maybe not, or maybe yes...but I'm going to come and hang with you all for a little while and see how this operation works. (Or if you are me...you hang out for a LONG while...oh like 6 years).
And the SSSFs say, "Cool! Come to this and come to that and meet these people, etc. We also want you to meet with a Sister who will help you figure this stuff out." So you hang out and discern and have meetings with your Vocation Director (Not vacation…although that would have been a nice bonus!) until you're ready to take the plunge...Your vocation director is helpful with the discernment process too...she encourages you and asks tough questions and makes you share stuff with her. As one of my vocation directors put it, “I’m here to help you discern what’s in your heart.”
(Olden days this was called "postulancy", many communities call this stage "candidacy" or "pre-novice")
Step 2--Affiliate (6months-1 year)
This is when you say, "Ok...I think this is where God is calling me. So let's see what living is like." So, when you get the A-OK, to move forward, you get to plan a nice prayer service for your Acceptance into Affiliation. Then you party! Wooo hoo! (Remember, Franciscan = Joy, Joy = pray and party)
As an affiliate, you move in with a living group and live in community. You continue to meet with your director and discern whether or not community life/religious life is a fit for you. Your director continues to encourage and asks tougher questions to help you with this process and your personal integration. You also gather a group of Sisters for a "reflection group" where you learn about the constitution of the community, the history, and some fun things too (We did the enneagram...THAT was an experience!).
The best part of affiliation for me was the ICPN (intercommunity pre-novitiate)! 1 weekend a month you gather with other "pre-novices", men and women, and your directors. They bring in really good speakers to talk about different important things that pertain to entering religious life (remember the culture?). In between the speakers...there is a lot of vegging out and we had so much fun! I found it just a great time to be with peers who were also on this crazy religious life path as well. I learned a lot about myself and community living...it really rocks.
Finally, as an affiliate you remain financially on your own. So I continued my job as a teacher and paid rent and expenses to my living group.