Making Vows: Interviews with Younger Sisters Pt. 2

Sister Nicole, making vows

This month in “Making Vows” meet Giving Voice participants Sister Nicole Varerin, a Sister of Notre Dame who professed first vows this past February; Sister Mary Therese Perez, OP, a Dominican Sister of Mission San Jose who made her final vows this August; and Sister Reyna Badillo, a Sister of St Francis who made first vows this past June.
GV: How has being a vowed woman religious changed your life? How does it feel?
Sister Nicole: How does it feel? Normal. I have been living this way for 3.5 years, and all of a sudden I profess this vow and I think, ok, nothing is really different.  But then when it hit me, there was a groundedness in my profession. This thing that couldn’t be shaken that had changed. It felt like a stable thing like it would always remain the same.  Well then, life took over, and transition hit. To be honest I still struggle remaining grounded, reminding myself of the fact that I do have that groundedness, that it is present. But God IS present, and I am grounded in God.
Sister Reyna: The vows, for me, make me more free to serve. It is not about saying no to something, it is about been free from what I do not need in my life. It makes me more free to serve others. If I marry or I have possessions, I will be busy with my family and take care of my possessions. And if I don’t have these worries I can be more free inside myself to serve. And obedience is not about blind obedience. It is about listening to the wisdom of my sisters who took vows before me in order to make better decisions in dialogue for the good of the community, the vulnerable people and myself.

Sister Reyna, prior to making vows
GV: What struggles did you have in preparing to make vows?

Sister Nicole: That was not a fun time!  I went through this period of great doubt, during the 6 months before my vows. During that time I was moving around a lot, doing ministry visits, every three months for about a year. I don’t know if those transitions were too much, but through conversations with my spiritual director and formation director I worked through it and realized that the doubts were not from coming from God. The devil is real.  My formation director has told me that the closer you are to God the harder the devil is going to work to pull you away. So it’s not unusual to experience doubt before something that big.

Sister Mary Therese: Making Final Vows feels different. I had been scared of the commitment, but it’s so much more freeing than I thought it would be. I think I was scared to say ‘no’ to other paths.  And I wanted a ‘totally for sure certainty, beyond a shadow of a doubt’ feeling.  The faith that I have brought into Vows does not feel the same as what I was expecting it to feel, but I know that this is where God and I are meeting and this is where we are going to continue to be on this road, in this place of creating and bringing and building love. I know that Jesus meets me in those places that still seem to harbor some doubt and uncertainty, and my commitment tells me that I can fall into that relationship with Jesus with those fears I might still have, knowing that we are going to work it out together, and that this right now is the next best step.  It’s the place that I desire to be right now.  And I think we’re just going to keep walking this journey — I don’t know where it’s going to lead but I know that Jesus is going to be with me.

Sister Reyna: My biggest challenge is that, being from another country, language has not been easy for me; and I want to really be available to listen, understand and communicate better with my sisters in community and with the people I will serve.

Sister Mary Therese, making vows

GV: How did you prepare to make vows?

Sister Nicole: We started studying each vow intensely, discussing the articles of our constitutions of our vows, and in that preparation, I felt more at peace and more confirmation in my decision. Studying the vows as expressed in our constitutions and discussing them with my sisters helped me get in touch with the reasons I wanted to do this in the first place. Right before my profession I was so excited, you couldn’t hold me back!

Sister Mary Therese:  Some key elements of my experience in Temporary Profession that helped me be ready for Perpetual Profession have been getting to know sisters in other communities and getting to know myself within religious life. Giving Voice was a big part of helping me come to understand myself as Sister and finding a place of encouragement along the journey.

In Giving Voice and within my peer group of Dominican Sisters, we ask ourselves: are we living the lives we are being asked to live?  Are we able to do this freely? Asking these questions with my peers helped me to gain perspective on the ups and downs, the challenges of community life, the challenges of being a younger sister. I’ve come to see that an important aspect of preparation is about being able to take ownership of our lives, living with the balance that we seek, living in ways that are life-giving for us. 

My 30-day retreat in January, doing the Spiritual Exercises, helped me delve deeply into my experience and my relationship with Jesus.  This retreat was the invitation my heart and soul needed to claim my deepest desire of living with Jesus for love. It was the key I needed to open the door to this life commitment.  I also had conversations on each vow with my local community and my formation director. These were honest conversations that helped me reflect on my lived experience of the vows.

GV: In what ways are you creatively living the vows?

Sister Mary Therese: I’m learning to play the drums. It is an important outlet because it allows me to be creative and is fun, challenging, and its tied into the expression of my sexuality. My sexuality is this life-giving energy inside me needs places to express itself.  When I can be creative and engage that’s a place where my energy can go. That is something important I learned from Temporary Profession as well. I learned about, about how we really embody and live our vows in daily, practical ways. Before making first vows, this often felt very theoretical, but in temporary profession, I learned about how to live it. Because a lot of us wonder about this before we make our first vows, it often felt very theoretical.  But at the time of temporary profession, it’s about how we really learn to live it. As I approached final vows there were moments that were almost surprising to me, like “Oh this is what I do.  Not just what my sisters do, not just theoretical!”

Sister Nicole during her vow ceremony with several Giving Voice participants

GV: What is your biggest joy in making vows?
Sister Nicole: There were some really beautiful parts of the actual vow liturgy.  The moment when I flung my arms out in surrender to God singing, “sustain me O Lord, according to your promise, that I may live. Do not fail me for I have trusted in your faithfulness” was so meaningful to me. I have watched my sisters proclaim their vow in this gesture and then I finally got to do it myself. That was probably the best part of the liturgy.  After the vow ceremony, my best friend said “I get it now. When I saw you, you were professing your vows to the altar, to God, not to everyone else, but to the altar.”  She understood that the whole meaning of my profession was this dedication and relationship with God. It was a real joy for all of my family and friends to be involved in the service as well.

My sister, my father and myself all sang a version of the magnificat together.  It was so wonderful having all of these people who have been so important in my life be there for my Yes to God! And of course, my greatest joy in professing vows is my beloved. That’s really what it is all about. 

Sister Reyna: My biggest joy it to belong to a community that is committed to serve the most vulnerable people and with prayer, open mindedness and wisdom they strive to listen God’s voice through the needs of our world today.

Sister Mary Therese: I think the surrender in the profession itself was just really at once surrender, and at once being filling. In surrendering, in giving up, we are given life.  My profession weekend too was just beautiful, surrounded by family, friends, and sisters, from all parts of my life. That weekend was being totally surrounded and supported and held by love. And I know those people will keep being with me.

Check our first installment, “Making Vows: Interviews with Younger Sisters pt. 1” here!