Okie-dokie...the 2nd half of the process...
Step 3—Novice (2 years)
So you boogied through the affiliate year and said to the community, “Yup. I’ve discerned and I want to be a School Sister of St. Francis.” And the community says, “Yup. We’ve discerned and walked with you…we want you to be an SSSF!” Yay! You plan a liturgy ceremony which is called your Reception (you are being ‘received into the novitiate’). At this ceremony, the Provincial (one of the leaders) welcomes you as a School Sister of St. Francis. You get the title of Sister and also the Tau Cross (which is our symbol). Then…you’re right…we party!
The first year as a novice is the Canonical Year. This is a year of introspection. It’s a full-year dedicated to furthering your discernment and really taking time and space to listen to God and decide if this is the life for you.
I spent a good chunk of my Canonical year away at a Franciscan Novitiate Program (CFN) with 4 other Franciscan novices from different congregations. This year includes some study, some volunteer ministry, and a lot of time for prayer and discernment. For me, the change of pace and s-l-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n was a bit challenging. You don’t have the distractions that you’re used to and inevitably you have to look yourself in the face and say, “Who is this person and what is God saying to her?” Ugh…heavy stuff. It’s a difficult year, but a good and important one.
Your second year of novitiate is called the apostolic year. It’s the year of integration. You spent all that time discerning, praying, and growing…don’t just sit there…INTEGRATE! Everyone’s apostolic year is different depending upon what experiences you’ve had prior to your convent days! This year you are also getting ready to take your vows!
I am currently an apostolic novice. For me, my apostolic year was finishing graduate school, a little bit of ministry (part-time), a reflection group to study the vows, visiting some of our sisters in other parts of the country, etc.
You also have a novice minister whom you work with. Similar to the vocation/affiliate director, you meet and talk about your journey. My novice minister and I have done some neat things with different prayer styles. My favorite thing has been when we broke open Scripture together. My novice minister is really brilliant with scripture and she always has these insights that I would never think of; I find myself hearing the scripture passage again down the road and having a totally different experience! It’s very cool.
Step 4—Temporary Professed (3-6 years)
After your apostolic year, hopefully you are still feeling called toward making your commitment a vowed commitment. If the answer is YES, then you make your first vows with the congregation.
We take three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. When you profess vows in our congregation, you become a “full member”. However, because this is your temporary vow period, you still are in discernment before you go and make that life commitment.
Yes…you plan another liturgy and of course there’s another party! At first vows, we receive a simple, gold band to symbolize our vowed commitment. We may take vows for 1, 2, or 3 years and then renew them for up to 6 years. When we feel we are ready (as early as 3 years) and the community is ready, then we prepare for the final stage of formation—Perpetual commitment or final vows.
Step 5—Final vows and On-going formation
When you make your final vows, you are making your “life commitment”. The process of formation is designed to be developmental and helpful in your discernment process. There isn’t much room for hasty decision making.
Just because you make final vows; however, doesn’t mean that you stop discerning and reflecting on your commitment and community life. You move into life of “on-going formation”, meaning we commit ourselves to growth as Sister throughout our lives.