Vocation Letters

Following is a series of letters concerning the discernment and formation of a fictional young woman, Melanie (now Sister Mary Rosaria), as she discerns her vocation to be a cloistered Dominican nun. How fictional is fictional? Events may not have a one-on-one correspondence with events at the monastery, as we wish to keep our day-to-day life veiled behind the enclosure, but these letters do accurately depict Dominican monastic life as it is typically lived here at Marbury. For example, does Sister report that the nuns planted corn? This doesn’t mean that we planted corn that day; but it does mean that we do garden, and sometimes do grow corn, although perhaps this year we decided to plant zucchini and did so last month!

On this page the Vocation Letters are presented beginning with the first (oldest) letter. To read them beginning with the most recent letter, see the Vocations Letters category.

Vocation Letters: Contemplative? Active?

The following is a letter to a fictional young woman discerning a Dominican monastic vocation.  It is the first in a series which will accompany her discernment and formation.  The name of the Novice Mistress is also fictional: “Magistra” is Latin for “lady teacher.”

Ave + Maria

Dear Melanie,

Prayerful Advent greetings from Marbury!  We received your letter expressing interest in our community, and sharing about your family and your own discernment.  May Our Lord be praised for what He is working in your heart!  Yes, it may be possible to arrange a discernment visit.  Would you be able to come over your Christmas break from college?  Please let us know.

In answer to your question about discerning the contemplative life, it seems to be a common misconception that “extroverts should be active, introverts should be contemplative.”  However our community history does not bear that out.  We have had outgoing, “extroverted” Sisters as well as more withdrawn, “introverted” types.  God calls people of all temperaments to live for Him in the contemplative life.  The question in discerning a vocation to a particular religious community involves two elements: first, the desire to be consecrated to God through a life of obedience in that particular charism; second, qualities suitable for the life (such as good health, appropriate maturity, etc.).  The Dominican contemplative life calls for an interior solitude with God, which might be seen as “introverted,”  along with an intense community life of prayer, work, recreation, everything—which is more on the “extroverted” side.  So really a balance is best.

We have included some of our vocation literature with this letter.  Let us know if you have any other questions!  We will keep you in our prayers as we enter this last period of Advent. The great “O” antiphons begin today in anticipation of Our Lord’s birth. We hope you have a blessed Christmas.

In Our Lady,

Sister Mary Magistra

Also see: Vocations, Vocation Contact Form.

Vocation Letters: Why Cloistered Dominicans?

Vocation Letters Cartoon
The following is a letter to a fictional young woman discerning a Dominican monastic vocation.  It is the second in a series of Vocation Letters which will accompany her discernment and formation.

Ave + Maria

Dear Melanie,

Joyful greetings on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  We’re glad to hear you enjoyed such a good Christmas holiday with your family.  Our Christmas was very beautiful as well—Father sang Midnight Mass in Latin with a solemnity truly befitting Christ’s birth.  In the monastery the Liturgy carries us through all the seasons of the Church year, so that we can experience again in ourselves the graces of each of the mysteries of Christ’s life.  Each year seems to bring something new even in the midst of all our traditional celebrations.

I am glad you asked about the role of our vocation as cloistered nuns in an Order dedicated to apostolic preaching, because this is so central to our identity as Dominican nuns.  We are contemplative nuns, “free for God alone,” as our Holy Father St. Dominic founded us to be, but at the same time we are associated with the “holy preaching” of his Dominican friars by our prayer and penance.  There is a beautiful passage from the letter of Fr. Anecitus Fernandez, O.P., the Master General who introduced our new Constitutions.  He says: “The contemplative life of the nuns is of the greatest benefit to the apostolate of the Order, not only because, like other contemplatives, they offer their prayers and their life to God on behalf of the apostolic needs of the Church, but also because their contemplation and their life, inasmuch as they are truly and properly Dominican, are from the beginning and by their very nature ordered to the apostolate which the Dominican family exercises as a whole, and in which alone the fullness of the Dominican vocation is to be found.”  It is a great motive for fidelity and joy in living our cloistered, contemplative life, to know that we are living it on behalf of and in union with our brethren the Dominican friars (and the other members of the Dominican family) in their consecration to God and in their preaching for the salvation of souls.

That is also why we recommend reading the Spiritual Motherhood for Priests booklet (PDF) published by the Congregation for the Clergy.  Although it is not about Dominican nuns, the stories it contains illustrate so vividly the value of a hidden life of prayer and penance for the salvation of souls.  We hope that is a help.

Concerning your visit, the dates you mention work well for us.  Flying is no problem; just send us your flight information and we will have a friend pick you up at the airport.  We hope your semester has gotten off to a good start, and we will look forward to seeing you next month!

With prayers in Our Lady,

“Sister Mary Magistra”

View the Vocations Page, contact the Vocation Directress.

Vocation Letters: Visiting a Cloister

Vocation Letters Cartoon with Melanie in the parlor with Mother and Sister behind the grille

This installment in our fictional Vocation Letter series is from Melanie to her older sister Clare.

JMJ

Dear Clare,

Thank you for your prayers during my latest vocation visit, to the Dominican Nuns in Marbury, Alabama. You know I have been increasingly drawn to contemplative life, but this was my first visit to a cloistered order.

You are probably wondering, “What is it like to visit a cloister?” Since the nuns stayed in the enclosure and I stayed outside, how much “come and see”ing could there be? I found the monastery to be amazingly simple and radiantly beautiful. Yes, I stayed outside the cloistered part, in the small guest area. Through a door at one end of the hall I could walk right into the chapel, where Our Lord awaited me in the Blessed Sacrament; at the other end, the door opened to the parlor, where the visitors’ section is separated from the nuns’ section by a railing and grille. I thought the grille might be an obstacle in talking to Sister, but after a few minutes I didn’t even notice it. There is also a grille in the chapel separating the sanctuary from the choir (the part where the nuns pray).

Praying the Office with the nuns was incredible. They gave me a little booklet with the chant so I could follow along with the antiphons and with the Latin psalms and canticles of Lauds and Vespers. (Compline has its own booklet—with the Dominican Salve Regina for the Salve procession!) The chant itself is so beautiful. I was also able to speak with the Vocation Directress, who answered many of my questions about discerning a cloistered contemplative vocation and about the Dominican monastic life. It was also helpful and a lot of fun to hear a few of the Sisters’ vocation stories—some more recent, one from the very first Sister to enter this monastery back in the ‘40s! She’s been here 68 years! Do you know what she told me? “It’s been the best life.”

My strongest impression from the weekend is of simplicity and peace. From the chapel, with its simple concrete block walls and holy statues immersed in peace and the presence of God, to the grounds (they have some nice wooded parts in front, lots of pine trees), to the spirit of the Sisters. It really is the spirit of Our Lady, too. Sister says that they are hidden away “under the mantle of Our Lady.” That is a really beautiful image.

I could go on and on, but I’ll tell you more when I talk with you next.  Please keep praying for me to know what is God’s will!

With love,
Melanie

The complete series of Vocation Letters can be read here. See also Vocations, Vocation Retreats.

Vocation Letters: Living the Total Consecration

The following letter in our fictional Vocation Letter series speaks of the role of Marian Consecration in our vocation as cloistered Dominican Nuns at Marbury.

Illustration of the role of Total Consecration to Mary in the vocation of a cloistered Dominican Nun at Marbury - Our Lady extending her mantle over the Sisters singing in choir, praying the Rosary, working, etc.

Ave + Maria

Dear Melanie,

Prayerful greetings from the Dominican Nuns during this month of Our Lady. It was truly a delight to meet you this past spring, and to receive your most recent letter. All the Sisters have been asking, “Have you heard from Melanie?” so it was most welcome.

How good to hear that you and your sister will be preparing to make St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary on the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption. Have you finished reading his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin? Each Sister here has made the full preparation and official Consecration. During the year we make a formal renewal using a shorter form of the Total Consecration on each Marian feast day–and there are quite a few of them! Our devotion to Our Lady is like the air we breathe–all around us, all the time, present in each activity of our lives as Mary’s Guard of Honor. Our devotion especially focuses on the “Ave Maria” (as you see at the head of our letters) because we devote ourselves to the “Perpetual Rosary” which overflows from the Hour of Guard to all the actions of the day.

Our practice of renewing our Consecration each morning upon rising (and each evening before retiring) is just one example of how interwoven our Blessed Mother is with our life, which is really to say with our giving ourselves to Jesus for the salvation of souls. Our monastery’s Custom Book holds her out to us as an example in everything: “It is indeed our desire that we should so well reproduce in ourselves the virtues and dispositions of this ever Blessed Virgin that, our lives being wholly in accord with her example, we might become, to Jesus, so many ‘other Marys.” Of course, the exterior practices are meant to intensify our interior practice of living through, with, by, and for Mary that we may live more perfectly through, with, by, and for Jesus.

We will be praying for you as you prepare for your Consecration and as you enjoy your time at home this summer. Thank you for your prayers for us, and especially for the other young women who are writing and visiting.

In Our Lady,
“Sister Mary Magistra”

Vocation Letters: Helping Parents Understand

This following installment in our fictional Vocation Letter series touches on some difficulties parents may face in understanding and accepting their daughter’s vocation to the cloistered life. Some imagine that girls who enter the cloister aren’t close to their families.  Not so!  We loved our families very much in the world, and love them even more now in Christ — and by fidelity to our cloistered vocation, we pray for an eternity with them in Heaven.

Drawing of a Dominican nun kneeling in prayer as she entrusts her family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The cloistered Dominican nun entrusts her family to the Heart of Jesus, her Spouse.

Ave + Maria

Dear Melanie,

Prayerful greetings from Marbury during this month of the Precious Blood. We hope you are enjoying summer—we certainly are here, with a good deal of rain and a flourishing garden.

The concerns expressed by your parents as you become more serious about a cloistered vocation seem pretty normal to us. Often even those who are very supportive of a religious vocation in general, find the cloistered life hard to understand and support. “My daughter is so talented! She won’t be fulfilled or happy in the cloister.” And also, of course, the reality of the sacrifice involved is often hard to accept. Many of our Sisters can tell you that their family’s first visit to the monastery helped enormously. When Mom and Dad experience first-hand the peace to be found here, and see for themselves the joy of the nuns, they understand much better why such a life could be attractive and fulfilling for their own child. Giving oneself totally to God—living here on earth a little foretaste of every person’s ultimate vocation to union with God in Heaven—is an ultimately fulfilling and joyful life.

That is not to say that it does not also involve sacrifice. The cloister does mean a real separation from family and friends—not because such relationships are bad, but because the radicality of this way of belonging to Christ includes giving up those true goods for the sake of the higher good. We still love our families dearly, of course, but it is a love in and through the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We entrust our families to His Heart, pray for them, keep in touch, and enjoy their parlor visits several times a year, but we know that we no longer live in their midst.  Our life is now “hidden with Christ in God.” Certainly, it takes time to adjust, but Our Lord showers many graces on both the nun and her family for this generous sacrifice. “We brought a whole suitcase full of graces home with us,” said one mother after visiting her daughter as a postulant for the first time. It can also be a great consolation to parents to know that this daughter, at least, is safe in the Heart of Christ, in a world in which so many children fall away from the Faith.

We will be praying for you and your family, and looking forward to seeing you again soon. We’re so glad you could squeeze in another visit before heading back to college. Keep us in your prayers too—especially the young women attending our Vocation Retreat.

In Our Lady,
“Sister Mary Magistra”

See also Vocation Letters, Vocation Retreat, Vocations Home.

Vocation Letters: The Best Time To Enter

Part of our series of “Vocation Letters” to a fictional young woman discerning religious life, the following letter considers the appropriate time to enter religious life, and the difference between preparation and delay.

Illustration of Melanie reading a Vocation Letter from the Dominican Nuns, and praying, O Mary, help me to prepare!

Ave + Maria

Dear Melanie,

Joyful greetings from Marbury on this feast of the Queenship of Our Lady! It was such a delight to visit with you this past week; Our Lady certainly obtained a great grace for you during your stay, so soon after your Total Consecration to her!  How many more she has in store as well.  We know you are preparing to return to college soon but we wanted to get this note out as soon as possible.

When is the best time to enter religious life? Without delay. Usually a time of preparation is required, at least to complete the application and settle one’s affairs; for some, this may also mean finishing high school or college, depending on the requirements of the community, or working to pay off a certain amount of debt. Preparation is different from delay. As soon as you have decided to respond to Our Lord’s invitation to religious life, and are morally certain which community you should enter, don’t delay.  Remember Peter and Andrew’s response to Our Lord in the Gospel?  “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

One of our Sisters hoped to enter a convent after high school, but when she received a scholarship for university studies she went off to college instead. During her freshman year, however, Our Lord gave her the grace to realize that the excitement of college social life and studies was distracting her from her vocation. “No,” she said to herself, “This won’t do. If I keep on like this, I will lose my vocation.  Go now.” After the spring semester ended she prepared to enter the monastery—but her brother was being discharged from the army! Should she wait to visit with him? This time our Mother Foundress was the instrument of God’s grace. “Come now,” she wrote. One delay leads to another. Jesus’ invitation is not to dawdle with the goods of the world, but to leave everything and follow Him. Sister did.

After talking with Mother, we think that it would be best for you finish your last year of college while you complete the entrance application and prepare to enter.  Your idea of bringing a group of girls down from your school sounds good as well—one of our Sisters managed to bring two different groups to visit during the nine months before she entered!

Be assured of all of our prayers for you. Please keep us and the other young women discerning with us in your prayers as well.

In Our Lady,
“Sister Mary Magistra”

What happens after one applies to enter the monastery?  Find out here: Stages in Formation. See also Vocations, Vocation Retreats.

Vocation Letters: Two Preparation Pitfalls

In this letter to a fictional young woman applying to enter the monastery, Sister addresses two temptations facing those preparing to enter religious life.  Read all Vocation Letters here.

Cartoon depicting Preparation Pitfall No. 1: what NOT to do when you are hoping to enter religious life

Ave + Maria

Dear Melanie,

Prayerful greetings from Marbury on the feast of our patron, St. Jude! It’s been great to hear from you about how your semester is going, and how you are growing in your desire for this vocation. As you continue to discern and to prepare your heart in the months ahead, you should beware of two “preparation pitfalls.”: first, “living it up” now, “while you have the chance!” and second, trying to live according to some grim penitential idea of life in the cloister.

St. Therese of Lisieux mentions the first preparation pitfall in her Story of a Soul. During the three months between her acceptance and her entrance to the monastery, she was initially tempted not to lead a life “as well regulated as had been my custom.” It’s easy to imagine this temptation: After all, a girl might think, I’m soon going to embrace a life of total abnegation! To sacrifice everything to God in the cloister! This is my LAST CHANCE to indulge myself–I’d better eat more ice-cream NOW!

But Therese wasn’t taken in by this. “I soon understood the value of the time I was being offered. I made a resolution to give myself up more than ever to a serious and mortified life.” Did she then fall into the second preparation pitfall, and try to live according to some preconceived notion of cloistered life? You know–fast every day, sleep on jagged potsherds like St. Rose of Lima, rise every night to pray for hours, deny oneself every pleasure. Ice-cream? Unthinkable!

The Little Flower did not make that error either. “When I say mortified, this is not to give the impression that I performed acts of penance. Alas, I never made any.” Instead, she says, “My mortifications consisted in breaking my will, always so ready to impose itself on others, in holding back a reply, in rendering little services without any recognition, . . . etc., etc. It was through the practice of these nothings that I prepared myself to become the fiancée of Jesus, and I cannot express how much this waiting left me with sweet memories.”

This points to an excellent preparation for religious life: fidelity to one’s daily duty out of love for God; cheerful self-sacrifice in being kind, patient, and helpful to others; and denying oneself in little things in order to seek satisfaction not in creatures but in God. So, when the occasion arises, enjoy some ice-cream! At the same time you can tell Our Lord that He is your first love, simply by taking just a wee bit less than you want, or choosing your second favorite flavor rather than your first. Ask our Blessed Mother to help you give your heart to Jesus with increasing faithfulness during this time of discernment and expectation.

I have more I should say on that, but the bell just rang for Office—“the voice of Our Lord calling me!” You are in our thoughts and prayers. Please pray for us as well.

In Our Lady,
“Sister Mary Magistra”

Vocation Letters: Good News for Candlemas

Don’t worry–in real life, the Vocation Directress writes to applicants much more frequently than the correspondence posted in this fictional Vocation Letters series!

Cartoon of Sister typing a Vocation Letter on the computer while a nun poses with a snowman outside the window

Ave + Maria

Dear Melanie,

Happy Feast of the Presentation!  This is a special feast for us, traditionally closing the Christmas season with the celebration of the Purification of Our Lady and Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  For centuries this feast was known as Candlemas, because on this day the faithful brought donations of candles to the church to supply the altars and shrines throughout the year.  Even now the liturgy retains a special blessing of candles (the Sisters work hard ahead of time to bring all the candle boxes into the sanctuary for Father to bless), and Mass begins with the Sisters processing through the choir bearing lit candles and singing Dominican chant.  Our own brother Blessed Henry Suso used to make his spiritual preparation for this feast on the theme of “candles” as well, making a spiritual “three-standed candle” by special prayers in honor of Our Lady’s virtues.

The Feast of the Presentation is also World Day for Consecrated Life—a fitting day to write and let you know that just yesterday we received the last of the papers for your application for the Aspirancy!  Now we will be able to take your application to Council.  (When one of our Sisters was applying to enter, Mother mentioned the “Council” to her.  Sister, as a young girl in the world, understandably didn’t know that much about religious life.  “Council?” she thought.  “Hm, I guess that must be something in the Vatican.  Why would they send my information there?  They don’t know anything about me in Rome!”  Happily Mother was able to explain to her that the Council is simply the group of four Sisters elected by the Chapter—all the Solemnly Professed nuns—to advise the prioress in important matters.  The entrance of a new member is certainly an important matter.)

We very much enjoyed your last letter about your adventures on the March for Life.  We have received quite a bit of snow here, too, for Alabama anyway.  Our Sisters from the North East and the Midwest are always excited to have some real winter weather!

With prayers in Our Lady and her little Son,

“Sister Mary Magistra”
on behalf of Mother and all the Sisters

Vocation Letters: Beginning the Aspirancy

Our Vocation Letter series continues with this letter addressed to her grandmother by our fictional discerner, Melanie.  It sure is hard to keep up with her progress!

Vocation Letters Cartoon: the aspirant Melanie helps the novices gather flowers in the garden

Melanie helps the novices cut flowers to decorate the altar.

JMJ

Dear Grandma,

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!  I am so glad you were able to attend my graduation.  It was such a whirlwind of finishing up finals, packing up to move back home, and the whole excitement of commencement weekend.  Me, a college graduate, and almost ready to enter the cloister?  I can hardly believe it!

Mother suggested May 31, the feast of the Visitation, as the day to begin my Aspirancy.  The nuns always like to plan important events as much as possible on significant feast days, especially feasts of Our Lady.  In traveling “in haste” to assist her cousin Elizabeth, Our Lady was responding to God’s call with great generosity and without doubting His word or His guidance.  May God grant me that same grace as I begin the Aspirancy in the cloister!

Do pray for me though, because I do want to follow God’s Will, and even amid all my excitement and the different preparations I’ve made over the past few weeks, I am still a little nervous and uncertain.  After all, I’ve never been inside a cloister before.  I’ve visited the nuns several times, spoken with them in the parlor, joined in singing the Office, but I know that actually living the life will be a very difference experience.

By the time you receive this letter, I will already be experiencing my first few days in the monastery.  I will be staying about four weeks for my Aspirancy.  I will be sure to visit you once I return home!  If all goes well, I may be able to enter for good before the summer is over, God willing.

Again, please pray for me, Grandma!  I will keep you in my prayers, too—I will be doing a lot of praying in the next month!

With love,

Melanie


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Vocation Letters: Aspirancy Reflections

What was it like inside the enclosure?  Now home from her Aspirancy, our fictional discerner Melanie writes this letter to her fictional Vocation Directress/Novice Mistress, Sister Mary Magistra.

Cartoon of Melanie remembering her time as an Aspirant with the Dominican Nuns

+
JMJ

Dear Sister Mary Magistra,

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!  I hope you are all having a wonderful July–are the figs ripe yet?  It feels like my Aspirancy ended so quickly, there is so much more I would like to experience!

Reflecting on my recent four weeks living in the monastery, I understand much better your warning that the Aspirancy isn’t long enough to know “what it’s like to be a Dominican nun.”  For the first part I was simply trying to master the rubrics of the monastic life–when to bow during the Office, how to make the processions for graces at meals, where to hang up my–I mean “our”!–apron.  But there are three things that really stand out to me from my experience: the silence, the order, and community life.

I guess I never noticed before quite how LOUD my days usually are.  Just listening to the radio on the way to the store, or chatting with my family constantly . . . not bad things, but many of them empty and distracting.  The silence in the monastery really brought that home to me.  That is one reason why the ORDER was so striking and apparent to me as well.  “Here I am at 2 o’clock, doing my spiritual reading AGAIN!”  To have the whole day almost “automatically” unfold so that all the different elements lead you to God–how awesome!  I just love the Office and the chant, and how you are always hearing the words of Scripture and letting that form your whole life.

Finally, it was such a blessed experience to be able to join you all “inside” (the cloister) in your community life.  The silence was great, but it also made me really look forward to talking at recreation!  And the Sisters are so dear, and the novices so much fun!

[Here Melanie goes on to ask some questions she has for the Novice Mistress.  We are sharing this fictional correspondence, but we can’t share everything!  For instance, since Melanie wants to return as a Postulant, she must write a formal letter to Mother Prioress asking to be accepted.  That will all happen (fictionally) behind the scenes . . . if the community accepts her, our next update here should tell about her entrance.]

Give my love to Mother and all the Sisters!  Tell them I am praying for them and ask them to be sure and keep on praying for me!

Sincerely in Christ,

Melanie


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Interested in learning more about our life?  Contact the Vocation Directress.

Vocation Letters: A Postulant’s Rosary

Our fictional postulant Sister Melanie writes home to her family in this continuation of our Vocation Letter series.

Vocation Letters cartoon of a postulant kneeling to receive her rosary and crucifix from the Mother Prioress

Ave + Maria

Dear Mom, Dad, Josh, Zach, and Tessa,

Happy feast of the Holy Name of Mary!  How are you all?  I hope your new school year got off to a good start.  Sister Mary Magistra said I could write home today, and send you this picture from when I entered the monastery last month.  You can see Mother handing me the crucifix and side rosary as part of the official ceremony of beginning the postulancy.  The crucifix I wear on a cord around my neck; the large, black rosary swings from my belt, on the left side just as the nuns wear their brown rosary.  (Where the knights would have worn their sword!)

I have become very familiar with this Rosary over the past weeks, since as a postulant I kiss it for various monastic ceremonies when the other Sisters kiss their scapular.  Both the scapular and the rosary are blessed objects, and represent devotion to Our Lady, so that makes sense.  We also pray the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) frequently to bless various activities and keep recollected throughout the day, and each time reach down to pray on a bead.  What a beautiful sense it gives me of the whole day strung together, bead after bead, for Jesus and Mary.

I am so glad that you all were able to drive me down to the monastery.  Thank you so much for your letters, and tell everyone who sent a note how much I appreciate their prayers for me.  You are all in my prayers.  I hope to write you more next month!

Love and prayers in Our Lady,

Sister Melanie

P.S. I get “Sister” before my name now since I am a postulant.

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Can you see yourself embarking like Melanie on a life totally dedicated to God and Our Lady?  To learn more, read our Vocation Page, and Contact the Vocation Directress.

Vocation Letters: I Have an Angel

This letter is written by our fictional postulant Sister Melanie to her little sister Tessa.

Vocation Letters cartoon: a novice "angel" shows Sister Melanie her place in the Office book, while her Guardian Angel hovers overhead

Ave + Maria

Dear Tessa,

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!  How are you doing?  I was thinking of you especially at the beginning of this month when we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels.  That little prayer which you like so much we pray every day here:

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.

Our Novice Mistress also read us a passage from our Custom Book about the angels in Our Lady’s service, who keep busy carrying the “sheaves of our Aves” up before the Throne of God.  How beautiful!  So I think of them as I pray the Rosary during my Hour of Guard.  Living in the monastery, so focused on God, I find that I am thinking of the holy angels and calling on their help much more than before.

I have another “angel,” too, that I wanted to write you about: this angel is one of the novices, whom Sister assigned to watch over me during the early days of my aspirancy and postulancy, to watch over me and help me learn where things are and what to do in the monastery.  She is a big help, making sure I know the rubrics to follow for the different ceremonies, helping me find my place in our Office books for the next hour of prayer, and keeping her eye out (just like an angel!) so I don’t get lost while we’re singing!  I hope that I can do as good a job when it comes my turn to be an “angel” for someone new.

When you get a chance, write and tell me how your hamster is doing with his new wheel.  Mom said in her note that it was quite elaborate!  I hope you are being “angelic” at home, too.  You are in my prayers–please keep on praying for me!

With love and prayers in Our Lady,

Sister Melanie


Read More:

Browse the rest of our Vocation Letter Series here.

Learn about vocations to our monastery, or contact our Vocation Directress.

Vocation Letters: Living the Liturgical Year

This entry continues our series of “Vocation Letters” concerning our fictional postulant, Sister Melanie.  Here she tells her family how nuns live the liturgical year.  Sister Mary Magistra is our fictional Novice Mistress/Vocations Directress—”Magistra” means “lady teacher” in Latin.

Cartoon of Dominican Nuns holding letters ALLELUIA

Ave + Maria

Dear Mom, Dad, Josh, Zach, and Tessa,

Joyful Eastertide greetings!  Christ is risen—indeed He is risen!  I hope you all had a wonderful Easter.  I was so thrilled to see all your letters in the bundle of mail Mother had saved up during Lent to give us at Easter.

When I first was getting to know the Sisters, one of the older Sisters mentioned how intense the experience of Holy Week and Easter was for her during her first year in the monastery.  She had always attended the services while growing up, but the way we live out the liturgical year here in the monastery is so all-encompassing!  Now that I have experienced both Christmas and Easter here at Marbury, I can assure you that what she said is true.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we went into Advent.  The Office books changed, and I discovered that the Advent hymns and antiphons and readings, the purple of the vestments and the Advent candles, the solemnity of the Mass without any organ accompaniment, all reflected the long dark nights of December in longing and anticipation for the coming of the Redeemer.  Then Christmas itself!  Not simply the glorious celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, but the grace of the Infant Christ overflowing into the feasts of St. Stephen, St. John, the Holy Innocents, then Mary, Mother of God and the feast of Epiphany!  What a celebration!

Lent, of course, has a different, more penitential tone of preparation and purification in union with the sufferings of Our Lord.  It’s like a desert journey preparing our souls for  “dies tua, / per quam reflorent omnia” “Your day wherein all things bloom anew,” as the Lauds hymn says: the Paschal Feast of the Lamb!  So we say special prayers, and pray the Passion Verses every Friday . . . Holy Week itself is like the summit of the mountain towards which we have been journeying.  Everything we do becomes focused on living out this week in the Liturgy—preparing the palms, the cleaning, the purple drapes and the Repository for Holy Thursday.  One of the Novices impressed me with her enthusiasm for the chants which are so powerful during this season: the chants for Good Friday, the Reproaches of our Crucified Lord and our own pleas for mercy.  And we have special chants for Tenebrae too.

Then, at the Easter Vigil, all the intensity of Holy Week bursts out into joy, joy, joy, with flowers and organ and singing and light and a whole eight days of celebration!  And more chant!  The Haec Dies, and the Christus Resurgens!  Since we don’t have to return to work or school, we can really enter into the celebration for the whole week—and everything changes, from the penitential atmosphere of Lent all throughout the house, to the radiance of Easter when now, finally, our interior joy can match the superabundance of flowers blooming all around down here in the South.

Since this was my first time being here in the monastery for the Paschal Triduum, I had to use of lot of energy just following everything and trying to turn the page at the right time, but I am so looking forward to having these ceremonies grow into a part of me over the years.  That’s what Sister Mary Magistra told me: as cloistered nuns, we don’t “go anywhere”; we “stay at home all the time”; and we don’t “do” any external apostolate (I mean, we have plenty of work here—the laundry we will always have with us!—but we don’t have the occupation of an apostolate).  So for us, it is truly the liturgy that gives direction and movement to our lives, drawing us ever deeper each year into union with the Mysteries of Christ, “whom we desire to love solely.”

That is all for now.  After finishing up this epistle I will barely be in time for “light’s out”!  I hope you all have a wonderful Easter season.  Please keep up your prayers for me—you know I always keep you in mine!

Love in Our Lady,

Sister Melanie

Vocation Letters: Preparing to Receive the Habit

Are you wondering how our fictional postulant, Sister Melanie, is doing?  She won’t be a postulant much longer!  Below is the latest update in our Vocation Letters series.

Ave + Maria

Dear Mom, Dad, Zach, Josh, and Tessa,

Praised be Jesus Christ—now and forever! I have such good news for you: I have been accepted to receive the habit and begin my novitiate on August 22, the feast of the Queenship of Our Lady!

The past month or so has been a time of evaluation. How have I been doing in the monastery, and do I want to go ahead to the next step? My answer to this: Yes! What I have learned and experienced here in the monastery since my entrance last August only makes me want to enter more deeply into this life of total giving to Jesus through Mary for the salvation of souls. After I answered some questions for Sister Mary Magistra, the monastery Council and Chapter voted to accept me to begin the novitiate. I am so excited as I look forward to this next step in formation as a Dominican nun.

I know you are wondering, “So what happens now?” Well, the Sister in charge of sewing came and took my measurements for the habit. We Sisters in the Novitiate will be helping her sew the new habits and alter a few old ones—“preparing the trousseau” as the Sisters say. Sister Mary Magistra likes to tell us that the habit is our wedding dress that we get to wear every day of our lives. The habit marks us as belonging to Jesus and Mary, although timing-wise Solemn Profession is a better parallel with the commitment of wedding vows. (As a novice I will wear a white veil to show that I am still “in training” and have not yet made vows.)

Also, Vestition is the time when we receive our new religious name. I will have to tell you about that in my next letter! I hope you are all doing well, I keep you in my prayers, and I can’t wait to see you all again when you come in August!

Love and prayers in Our Lady,
Sister Melanie

Learn more about Vocations, Vocation Visits (Retreat), or Stages in Formation; or Contact the Vocations Directress.

Vocation Letters: Choosing a Religious Name

Happy feast of the Nativity of Our Lady!  This is the last Vocation Letter from Sr. Melanie as a postulant.  We had hoped to post this letter before her fictional entrance to the novitiate on August 22, the Queenship of Our Lady, but better late than never.  A letter on her vestition will be coming “soon.”

Vocation Letters Cartoon of Sister Melanie pondering many inspiring patron saints to choose from.

Ave + Maria

August 13

Dear Mom, Dad, Zach, Josh, and Tessa,

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!  I promised to write you about how we choose our religious name, so I am trying to squeeze this letter in so that it will reach you before you leave home to come down to Marbury for my vestition.

Sister Mary Magistra told us that the custom of taking a new name has existed in our Dominican Order at least since the 14th century reform movement under Bl. Raymond of Capua (who was St. Catherine of Siena’s confessor and biographer) and Bl. John Dominic.  Taking a new name symbolizes an important change or new start in life–think of Abraham in the Old Testament, and St. Peter and St. Paul in the New.

Each community has its own customs concerning choosing a religious name.  Even in our monastery it has differed over the years.  Some Sisters were given their names by our Foundresses; other Sisters were inspired to request the very same name that the superior had in mind for them!  Usually a Sister chooses her patron and title because that Saint or mystery in the lives of Jesus and Mary has particular significance for her.  We all take the name of Mary first, in honor of our Blessed Lady.  We may also choose a second name and a title, or just a title alone.

Although the Novice Mistress and Prioress approve the name, it is a DEAD SECRET to everyone else until the very end of the Vestition ceremony when the postulant has been clothed in the holy habit of our Order.  Then the Mother Prioress reads out: “In the world, you were known as Miss N. N.; in the Order, you shall be known as Sister Mary N. of N.!”  What suspense!

Please pray for me!  Tonight I begin my private “10 day” retreat in preparation for receiving the habit.  I do so desire to make a good retreat and begin my novitiate well.  And I am looking forward to seeing you soon.

In Our Lady,

Sister Melanie

What is the difference between a postulant and a novice?  Find out here: Stages in Formation. See also Vocations, Vocation Retreats.

Vocation Letters: Sister’s Vestition

At last, our fictional postulant Sister Melanie has become our fictional novice Sister Mary Rosaria of Divine Mercy.  In this Vocation Letter she shares the story of her vestition with her grandmother.  The year of postulancy is a year of seeking to become part of the community—”postulare” is the Latin for “to request.”  Receiving the habit—Vestition—is a sign of reception into the Dominican Order, but not of consecration, which occurs through profession.

Cartoon of Sister Rosaria receiving the Dominican Habit

Ave + Maria

Dear Grandma,

Prayerful greetings during this month of the Holy Rosary!  I hope you are doing well.  I celebrated my very first feast day in the monastery last week on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  Since I received the name “Sister Mary Rosaria” almost two month ago, my daily Hour of Guard praying the Rosary has meant so much more to me.  It’s as if our Blessed Mother uses these mysteries of Jesus, all strung together in the Rosary, as the “bands of love” to draw me closer to Him and conform me more closely to His image.

My title, “of Divine Mercy,” honors the Jubilee of Mercy which begins soon, and the great mercy which God has shown in my life and which is a hallmark of our Order.  “What do you seek?” the Prioress asks each candidate at the entrance to the postulancy, novitiate, and profession.  “God’s mercy and yours,” is the response.

That is how my Vestition ceremony began this past August: asking for God’s mercy and the mercy of Mother and the Sisters as I firmly resolved to “follow the Lord Jesus according to the evangelical way of life of our Father St. Dominic.”  I knelt before Mother as she and Sister Mary Magistra clothed me in the white tunic, belt and rosary,  white scapular and black cappa of our Dominican Order, and the white veil that marks me as a novice.  Why do they clothe me?  Because the Dominican monastic life is a tradition I am receiving in obedience from my superiors and all the Dominicans who have gone before me for the past 800 years.

Painting of Jesus giving St. Catherine of Siena two crowns - by Alessandro FranchiIf you see a picture of me from the day of my Vestition, you will notice I am wearing a crown of thorns.  This isn’t part of the usual attire of a novice!  Towards the end of the Vestition ceremony, Mother offers the novice two crowns, one of flowers, one of thorns.  This tradition comes from an event in the life of St. Catherine of Siena:

Once, when she complained to Our Lord about a bitter slander against her, Jesus appeared to her and offered her two crowns, one jeweled and one of thorns: she could choose whichever she liked now, and the other would be hers in eternity.  The Saint responded: “I choose in this life to be evermore conformed and made like to Thee, my Lord and Savior, and cheerfully to bear crosses and thorns for Thy love, as Thou hast for mine.”

We, too, choose the crown of thorns in this life, so as to receive in Heaven the crown of glory from our Spouse.  It is very striking to see, even here on earth, the crown of real roses placed on the head of a deceased nun in her casket as token of that crown we pray she in enjoying in eternity.

Please pray for me, Grandma, that during these next two years of novitiate I may “assiduously follow our Holy Father St. Dominic” so that I may be “ready for the day of my espousals to Jesus Christ”!  You are always in my prayers.

Love in Our Lady,

Sister Mary Rosaria


What to Read Next:

Sister Mary Rosaria’s story: Preparing to Receive the Habit; Choosing a Religious Name (can you spot the hints in the illustration?); all the Vocation Letters.

Real Life: learn about the Stages in Formation; see our Vocation Page, Vocation Retreats, or inquire about a Vocation to our community.

Vocation Letters: Life as a Novice

After a hiatus of two years, we continue following the story of our fictional novice, Sister Mary Rosaria, taking up her life where we left her after her Vestition.  For the history of this series, see our Vocation Letters page.

Ave + Maria

Dear Mom,

Joyful greetings as we close this month of the Holy Rosary!  I have been meaning to write you about my life as a novice, as I know you have been wondering how things have changed for me in the months following my Vestition (reception of the habit).

I have found it to be a beautiful experience of entering more deeply into this vocation as a Dominican novice—even literally, as I “enter into” the habit each morning as I dress myself in this sign of dedication to Christ and of belonging to this Dominican community.  Of course, it takes some time to get used to wearing a flowing white garment every day, and to handle the white Dominican scapular that hangs down in front and back, a sign of Our Lady’s loving care all around us.  Looking so much more like a nun, and responding to my new name each day, reminds me continually to strive to correspond to God’s call by giving myself more fully to Jesus and Mary for the salvation of souls.

As a novice, I am assigned new roles in our singing of the Divine Office, which is lovely, and I have a greater responsibility to give a good example to the Sisters younger than I.  Most daily activities, though, remain the same: my daily Hour of Guard praying the Rosary, our novitiate classes, helping cook on the days the novitiate helps in the kitchen, enjoying recreation with the novitiate or with Mother and all the Sisters, being ready for whatever big or little project Sister Mary Magistra has planned for our work period or to do at recreation!  It is mainly my perspective which continues to grow as I enter more deeply into the life of a Dominican nun.

I keep you all in my prayers—pray for me and give my love to everyone at home!

With love in Our Lady,

Sister Mary Rosaria


Further Reading: