Wednesday, March 18, 2009
9th-14th ..............Easter Break
30th.....................Feast of St Catherine of Siena
...........................Final Profession and Reception of the habit
11th-15th..............Bethlehem Intensive Course
...........................Pilgrimage to Paraparaumu
16th-20th..............Mid year exams
22nd......................Feast of St Mary Magdalene
............................803rd Anniversary of the Dominican Sisters
4th........................Feast of St Dominic
.............................Annual teachers vs students netball match
.............................Raffle is drawn
15th.......................Feast of the Assumption
22nd- Sept 13th.......School holidays
29th.......................Mother’s Feast day
7th.........................Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary
16th-20th................End of year exams
4th.........................Last day of school
8th.........................Feast of the Immaculate Conception
.............................Our seventh anniversary
This year our Bethlehem studies started with an intensive course up in Tauranga at the end of January. We had a very stressful beginning as the accommodation which was promised us fell through at the last minute. As always, Mother was quick off the mark and managed to organise an alternative lodging at the Marist community in Te Puna. The Fathers there were overwhelmingly lovely and allowed us to stay in the Parish hall, while Father Laisney stayed in the Priory. They also gave us the use of their Church. We had a little crisis on the first day when Father was without any traditional Mass vestments. It was quite funny when he walked out of the sacristy wearing what can be considered “conservative” novus ordo vestments but still very odd. Father did not suit them at all and we had to control ourselves from laughing.
Fathers Cranshaw and Jackson managed to secure lodging in Omakaroa, about 15 minutes away from where we were. A lovely retired couple have a very nice little cottage at the back of their property and kindly allowed the priests to stay there for the duration of our course. Usually we stay in the bach next door which is owned by a relation of our novice but it was unavailable at this time. We have spent many a happy day there walking along the beach, going on a barge and going out on boats to a little island on previous occasions when we had to go up last year for intensive courses.
Kayaking at Omokaroa
Sister Mary Madeleine and Sister Marie Therese left Wanganui on an early Monday morning on January 26th to drive all the way up to Tauranga while Sister Rose had to stay for her Grandfather’s funeral and so flew up later that day using her leftover airpoints. Sister Catherine flew in on the Wednesday from South Africa, and arrived in class just at the right time (we were in the middle of “introducing” ourselves for the millionth time).
The intensive course itself was not too bad and we did learn a lot of interesting things about the Maori people and land wars etc. We were told that later on this year, as part of the Diploma, we will have to spend a few nights on a Marae. At the moment this will be included in our next intensive course here in Wanganui in May. We are busy learning a little of the Maori language as we will be expected to give a little speech in Maori. We are all also going on our second and last practicum. Sister Catherine, Sister Therese and Fr Laisney will be teaching at St Dominic’s, Sister Madeleine, Sister Rose and Fr Jackson will be on section at Collegiate and Fr Cranshaw has opted to go to Auckland Grammar. It will be a very interesting and a very busy time for all.
What we really look forward to is the end of year. Sister Madeleine and Sister Rose will graduate – God willing - in May with their Bachelor degrees, and then again in November with the rest of our little group when we finish our Diploma in Teaching. After that it is 2 years of provisional registration before we can be considered as fully-registered Teachers in New Zealand.
With the mothers of tomorrow in our hands we are keen to equip them with a little of the homely arts, which have see a sad decline from yesteryear. To begin, the essential tools had to be mustered and the endless line of old dilapidated hand cranked sewing machines were crossed off the list and assigned to their long awaited graves! Well once again it wasn’t really that bad but new machines were needed so the ever resourceful Mrs Ryan whipped up the parish into a thoroughly enjoyed progressive dinner and as the say in France ‘Voila’ : we ticked of the tall order (for a bunch of nuns)of 4 machines and an over locker thanks to the proceeds.
So far our little seamstresses have learnt the basics of cross- stitch and so decorated the front of their pincushions. Next we are still venturing the paths of a matching set of aprons when we discovered the inability of a few to sew STRAIGHT lines and so with the age old maxim of ‘practice makes perfect’ we set to the practising side of it! However, with lots of fun and many a call of “SISTERRRRRRRRR” we are getting on well!
Music is an integral part of our lives as nuns – first and foremost because we are brides of Christ and then for some it overflows in a very useful way into our lives as school teachers! Because our first duty is that of praise and honour to Him who is sublime beauty, fittingly the most beautiful way to pray is through the song of the church, the Divine Office and the Liturgy which makes living the sentiments felt in the church; from the plaintive cry of the Lenten sorrow to the glorious jubilations of the Resurrection that strain the earthly fibres of our hearts. Well, that’s on a good day for alas at 5-20 in the morning it is more of a plea for strength to face the onslaught of another day - that’s the weary view of Friday morning: mostly we praise our good King with a happy heart and so the song of a Nun!
This year has seen the debut of our little polyphonic choir. We sang on the third Sunday of January. At the Offertory we began chorally with the ‘Inviolata’ to our Mother followed by the stronger unison of the ‘O Lumen’ to our Holy Father St Dominic. Then came the finale at Communion -‘Ave Verum’ by Josquin du Pres, a heavenly motet of an angelic soprano melody complimented by the aspiring band of altos who lift our hearts and our thoughts to join with the angels of heaven! We are delighted at the rare talent of our new crew of postulants which the Lord has called to our ensemble, namely Lucia and Cheryl. Deo Gratias!
The New Year, with all its blessings, has also brought a very pleasant change to the Novitiate. The novices and postulants are now pleased to have their array of classes and lectures being mostly overseen by Mother Micaela, who was able to particularly focus her schedule so as to be able to be in the Novitiate more regularly. The novices, having already filled their souls with the writings of Abbot Marmion, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, and Dom Chautard, have now proceeded to set sail on and to navigate through the sea that will guide and govern the rest of their lives, leading them to Christ - the Rule and Constitutions. The Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the congregation are very important for the novices to study and reflect on, as they are the guides by which the religious fulfils her vows and tends more and more to perfection, as she is obliged to once she makes her vows. This fundamental class is accompanied by an also essential study of the Catechism of the Vows. This catechism clearly furnishes the novices with the exact knowledge of the nature and principal obligations of their state. These essential classes are accompanied by a philosophy and apologetics course - taught by Father Francois Laisney, a lecture on spirituality with the noted author Tanquerey, and also a study of Latin. This rich program will soon have additions from the Holy Cross Seminary, with classes beginning in the near future. The Sisters are very much looking forward to commencing the studies of Moral and Ascetical Theology, Liturgy, Acts of the Magisterium, and Scripture. The Sisters feel quite blessed to be able to study these central subjects, so necessary in order to be able to defend the Truth - the cause for which they exist. The Dominicans have an obligation to study Truth all their lives, so as to be able to better pass it on to others. "Contemplari et contemplata tradere." This study begins at the very outset of the Sisters' religious life, a study which they will continue joyfully and eagerly for the rest of their days.
Before coming to the convent, I would very occasionally poke up (from under the ashes of a million last-minute preparations) a few sparks of curiosity about what it would be like to actually be at the convent, and in New Zealand. I can’t remember much of what I came up with, but as it turns out, the most surprising bits of convent life have been the ones I assumed would be a certain way, so that it didn’t occur to me to wonder about them.
The little plane by which postulants arrive with in Wanganui.
Glimpses of the countryside from the plane.
First views of Wanganui
To start with the trivial, I wondered a good bit how I would do as a teacher, but the last thing that it would have occurred to me to worry about was language difference! And yet, more than once in the last few weeks I have gotten stuck over things like “refill” instead of “looseleaf,” “twink” instead of “whiteout” and “rubber” for “eraser.” And, though any teacher could have told me this (and probably has) I have yet to learn the basic rule: don’t give the students more work than you can mark!
Cheryl and I are both here from the United States, and although she has been in France a good deal and I am from Argentina, there are always differences in a new culture. Mealtimes are closer to American than Argentinean ones, though the names are different, but the biggest food difference has been fish as prepared by the Filipino postulants—and in this our culture shock, like our inexperience with handling fish bones, was shared by most of the Sisters, of all nationalities! The fish was delicious, though, and the cooks have been asked to prepare it again—though not too often, because it takes so long to eat! And Sundays and feasts have proved that the convent is entirely populated by talented cooks.
As for Dominican culture, of course I spent the first week in hopeless confusion over profound, middle and head inclinations, turning to the outside in processions, genuflecting or not, and so forth. The traffic laws, though unusual, are easy to remember—the senior goes first except when praying, in which case the junior goes first (and eating counts as praying, isn’t that lovely? Dinner is practically an Office in itself. So I don’t have to be embarrassed about dedicating a whole paragraph to it.)
The processions are the most beautiful novelty about the Dominican Office. Every night after Compline we have a procession to Our Lady’s altar during the Salve Regina, and on the way back we sing the “O Lumen,” a song to St. Dominic. Every Saturday this procession includes the Litany of Our Lady, sung to a very beautiful tune, and once a month there is also a procession back to St. Dominic’s altar (I should mention that these altars are little shelves on the wall, for the moment—the convent isn’t that big!)
The Salve Procession
Besides teaching, as Dominicans we have to do a lot of studying. As we learned in our class with Mother, St. Cajetan said that a Dominican who does not study several hours a day is living in mortal sin! As very busy teaching Dominicans, we probably have to make up some of this by counting our meditation and Office—after all, what better way of studying is there than talking to the Truth? But we do have Apologetics with Fr. Laisney first thing on school mornings, class with Mother, Catechism on Tuesdays (we are studying St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians), Thursday Summa class, and Saturday Spirituality. Not to mention reading during every meal! Just since our arrival at the end of January we have heard: a series of talks on St. Therese’s spirituality, a book on Catholic Philosophy, talks on the Divine Comedy and Moby Dick by Dr. White, an interview by Bishop Williamson (not the late lamented one but an older American one), and the life of Mother Mary of the Cross, an Australian foundress.
And then, of course, the best thing about actually arriving is getting to meet all the Sisters! They gave each of us postulants a gorgeous welcome and we had a talking meal, outside or in the staff-room. And it took a while for the strange wonderfulness of living under the same roof with the Blessed Sacrament to wear off—it is still wonderful, but not so startling. I guess that is why we bow and genuflect when we go into the chapel, to remind us. I don’t have room now to tell about teaching, but it is fun, though absolutely exhausting! So that will wait till next time.
In preparation for the lovely ceremony of the taking of the habit of our canonical novice, Sister Mary Margaret, the third Kiwi in the community (dare I say soon to be outnumbered by Australians and Americans– at present we have 3 Kiwis, 3 Aussies, 1 Filipino, 1 South African and 3 Americans) we had our annual retreat preached by Fr Joseph Pfeiffer. It was a very spiritual yet funny retreat on the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, the seven vices and the last 7 words of Our Lord based on talks given by Bishop Fulton Sheen. Father also incorporated the topic of womanhood which I am sure we all found very useful. We had 3 conferences a day and Father was available after most conferences for consultation and there was always a line up to see him - it was well worth the wait.
The community with Father Pfeiffer after the ceremony.
With the ceremony approaching we had many practices with the altar boys to perfect it and yet the cutting of the hair was still almost forgotten – even after we went to great lengths to find a beautiful silver platter. Otherwise, the ceremony went smoothly with Father being very careful to cut Sister’s hair, (no shedding of blood this time), the longest plait yet in the community. It will be sent to the family who were unable to attend. The Sisters always enjoy the evening when they have the fun of perfecting the priest’s hair cutting skills.
Father Pfeiffer cutting Sister's hair.
After the cutting of the hair the Sister is dressed in the veil. She then returns to the altar steps to choose between the crown of roses and the crown of thorns....
After the beautiful Solemn High Mass we had a pizza lunch with the parishioners on our convent grounds under a lovely gazebo donated by a kind couple and set up by the Sisters that morning. A volleyball net was also put up and the children challenged the Sisters to a match, well a few matches thinking they would win. We were given the little ones to give them more of an advantage and we will not state the outcome here!!
Sister cutting the cake.
Sister has now entered on her spiritual journey with Mother Micaela and her hidden talents of cooking, writing rhymes and drawing have come to light.