I recently had the opportunity to meet Maria Vivona, a parishioner of Holy Spirit in Louisville. Maria is preparing to enter the Salesian Sisters. In the bulletin, Holy Spirit included a wonderful reflection about her vocation by fellow-parishioner Suzanne Haugh, as well as a description of the steps in the formation process. I have included both below. What a wonderful way to encourage vocations!
By Suzanne Haugh
Home is important to parishioner Maria Vivona; it’s where she and her parents and four siblings have grown close as a family—maybe not always perfect but loving as best each can and passing on the Catholic faith. “When I was growing up, my family taught me about God first. I learned from word and example, and I am thankful for their time and effort in raising me to be a good Catholic Christian.”
On August 24, Maria will be widening her definition of home to include the Salesian Sisters, a community of religious women located in New Jersey. For the past few years Maria has prayerfully been considering religious life. Her path to this vocation began, in part, when she attended the annual Ignite Your Torch Retreat, a four-day summer program held at St. Catharine College in Springfield, KY. At the time she came to know of this retreat, Maria was harboring doubts about the Catholic faith. However, her retreat experience left her “fired up” for the faith and its teachings. “It is what re-ignited the torch in my soul,” she said.
Among those present at the retreat were joyful Salesian Sisters, who wear white habits. Since attending her first IYT retreat in 2007, Maria has returned to help with the event.
I felt a stirring in my soul ever since that moment. I literally felt God dogging at my heart until I finally asked Him ‘Why me?’… I now know that I had nothing to worry about.”
Since then, Maria has attended daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration as often as possible even as she worked to complete a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the Indiana University.
Others with religious vocations have guided her walk, particularly her great uncle, Fr. Joseph Voor, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville. “When I told Fr. Joe about my vocation decision, he was overjoyed and told me that when he was young, he either wanted to be a doctor or a priest. He figured that as a doctor, he could care for peoples’ bodies. As a priest, he could care for people, body and soul.”
Through the years, Maria’s “home away from home” has been Holy Spirit Church, and she considers its parishioners as family, too. Three of its priests have been influential: Former pastoral associate Fr. Daniel Whelan who introduced Maria to Ignite Your Torch; Fr. Stuart Priddy, another former parochial vicar at Holy Spirit who provided an important perspective on religious life as someone newly ordained; and Pastor Fr. Fred Klotter who offered a listening and encouraging ear and the opportunity to publicly announce to the Holy Spirit family her intention to pursue religious life. “I wanted my whole family to know about my vocation,” Maria recalled of the announcement at weekend masses. “I now have an army of prayer warriors at my back.”
She points to the constant challenge to be “the perfect Catholic” but, she added, “It seems to me that God wants me for Himself anyway.” I love learning all that I can about the Catholic faith; it’s my utmost passion. I still have so much to learn, but I know that it is a life-long process.”
Salesian Sisters of John Bosco
Steps in the Formation Journey
Aspirant: First Year
Aspirancy is an initial one-year term for deepening our Christian call. It is an experience in living in community with the Sisters and with other young women in Formation. The Aspirant becomes more closely acquainted with the life and spirit of the Salesian Sisters.
The aspirantate is in North Haledon, NJ. It is here that a young woman begins her knowledge of Salesian Family and history. She takes classes on the founders: Mother Mazzarello and Don Bosco, as well as Italian, so eventually she can converse with other Sisters around the world and read the sources from Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello’s own hands. She is also instructed in music, studying a musical instrument and voice. Enrichment courses are offered etiquette, community living, and sewing.
The aspirants are home at Christmas, leaving the convent just before Christmas and returning just after New Year’s Day. They are home again in the summer for about a month, usually during the month of June and aspirants return in time for the summer camp season.
Postulant: Second Year
Postulancy is a ten month period where the young women are able to deepen our life of prayer through study and reflection. Their focus is on Religious Life – its history, characteristics, and spirituality.
Postulants live in Bellflower, CA. Here, they continue their study of Salesian Spirituality. They study our particular method of working with youth, known as Don Bosco’s Preventive System, and they have time to absorb all the materials that have been written about our founders and our Salesian Saints. One of the elements of the postulancy is the study of the history of the Institute. Postulants continue to study music, Italian, instruments, and sewing. The postulancy is a continuation of the experience of community living and vocational discernment in preparation for the Novitiate. Postulants share in ministry with the Salesian Sisters in a vibrantly active school and parish.
Postulants are home for Christmas, leaving the convent just after Christmas, usually on the 26th, and returning to California just after New Year’s. They are home again in the summer for about two weeks, just before beginning the camp season.
Novice: Third & Fourth Years
Novitiate is a two-year period of intense study of the Constitutions of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. The greatest objective of the Novitiate is for the young woman in formation to know and understand the Constitutions which she will profess in two years.
Novitiate is a time to foster a more intimate prayer life and a genuine Salesian spirit. Novitiate is an opportunity to study Scripture as well as the history of the Church and of the Salesian Family with time and space to reflect deeply on God’s call to religious life.
The Novitiate takes place in Newton, NJ. In this peaceful and nature-filled setting, the young women have time to reflect and pray at length. Novices are also engaged in college classes for a Certificate in Youth Ministry.
Novices go home to visit for the summer for a period of two weeks, as she will do for her future years as a professed Sister. Additionally, they have the opportunity to go and have an in-service in the communities of the province for a few weeks each year.
Temporary Professed: Sister
Temporary Profession is a period of six to nine years, as required by the Church. During this time Sisters may complete their studies in a local college, begin teaching, or engage in other ministries and may be assigned to any of the communities in the province. Temporary Professed Sisters renew the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience annually and then biannually after four years.
Perpetual Vows: A Lifetime of Love
Perpetual vows are the cherished moment of total self-giving to Christ, in service to youth. The perpetually professed Sister is a permanent member of the Salesian Sisters, a full-fledged Daughter of Mary Help of Christians. This commitment is marked by a celebration with family and friends and takes place approximately 10 years after entrance into the Aspirantate. Sisters have the opportunity to continuously renew and enrich their spiritual, educational, technical, and cultural knowledge, in accordance with the requirements of their given tasks.