There is little doubt that one of the great success stories regarding the attraction and promoting of vocations in the Dominican tradition is that of the Nashville Dominican sisters. The full title of the congregation is 'The Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia' and they are primarily devoted to Catholic education. Recently I came across an interview with Sister Catherine Marie Hopkins who was vocations director for the congregation for 15 years. The interview was published in the internation Dominican news sheet (I.D.I) and the following question was asked of Sister Hopkins:
'You worked for 15 years as vocation director for your Order. What was the key for finding your own vocation? Did your own experience help you to aid other women in discerning theirs?' She responded as follows:
'The key to finding my own vocation was the realisation that God had the plan and I just needed to discover exactly what that plan was. It began with the inner turmoil at the thought that God could ask such a thing of me, but I very quickly found out that if he were calling, everything I needed in order to respond would be provided by him as well. That brought me tremendous freedom and my turmoil was replaced by a very strong attraction.
I was 24 years old and very happy, but not at peace since I couldn't say for sure what God's will was for my life. All I knew with certainty was that daily Mass had made me hunger for more, and so I went in search of where I could best root a growing desire to give of myself. I finally investigates religious life so that I could rule it out and marry with a clear conscience. When I actually visited our community and saw very tangible joy, youthful zeal and a long history of fidelity, fear was reduced by a newly formed conviction that this is what God had created me to do.
I would say that my own experience made me very sensitive as a vocation director to the fact that successful discernment takes place apart from any pressure and within the challenging silence of prayer. When I looked for God's will, I sought advice and asked lots of questions, but I wanted to make a decision that, while informed, drew strength from an interior conviction that I recognised as coming from God.
The Dominican Sisters in Nashville understood that it wasn't a matter of recruitment but of exposure. As a vocation director, I made it a point always to respect the delicate interior struggle through which most people must pass. My job was not to make a good sales pitch, but to convey the beauty of our life and to expose young women to it through a visit or retreat experience. I had to help those who had the inclination, but struggled with uncertainty, realise that the simultaneous fear and attraction that they felt was normal; and that a sense of unworthiness is not a bad thing since none if us is 'worthy' of divine espousal! Making the choice entails a movement away from a career mentality to the realization that religious life is about giving yourself to a love that is without limit.'
These words of really sound advice really ought to resonate with both vocation directors and discerners of vocations alike. This repsonse is part of a much longer and in-depth interview which can be found also at the Zenit News Agency website (http://www.zenit.org/article-23348?l=english) and is well worth reading.