Saturday, April 25, 2015

April Quarterly Call

We held our quarterly call and had a great discussion of vocation and formation for Religious Life. We started the call by checking in with each other, giving our names, communities and locations. As always, I had the opportunity to connect with sisters that I have met before, and others that are new to me. It is a great way of expanding networks and building connections.

We talked about the women coming to religious life these days. They are a diverse lot, and many come with significant life experience, and with professional and ministry background. We talked a good deal about the older vocations, women in their 40s and 50s and beyond. They may be women who entered religious life in their 20s, then left and went another direction for some decades. They come back to religious life, often with years of experience in ministry and certainly with varied life experience. Other women may be new converts, or those with little experience in spirituality, ministry or theology. These inquirers present different challenges both for discerning the vocation and for formation / integration into our communities.

We had some discussion of the phenomenon of 'retiring to the convent', in which the inquirer's notion of vocation may be less evident than their notion of life-style change and finding a place to settle for one's golden years. A sense of spirituality and service may or may not be a part of what they are seeking. Also, the financial issues for these mature inquirers special consideration. (See last week's blog post.) This is an invitation to discernment and to discovering the core identity of religious life for ourselves and for inquirers

Once women enter, it is important to find the best way of helping them integrate into our community. This involves learning our life, spirituality, vows, etc. It also involves making space in our lives for them to be a part of our world, and the women making space in their lives for the community to become their 'center of gravity.'

These women generally come as adults, and we do best when we treat them as adults and enter into a process that honors their experience, while inviting them into our community. Formation is a process for all of us, not just women who are new to community. We all become a new community.

We also discussed the question of the length of formation, particularly for older women who have experience in ministry, spirituality and even in religious life. Can we tailor their formation to meet their needs, rather than using a one size fits all program?

Finally, we discussed the question of accepting vocations when most of the community will not live to celebrate their 25th anniversary, much less their 50th. Is it fair or ethical to welcome women into a lifelong commitment if we won't be there to accompany them? We generally agreed that this should be a subject of conversation. Many women coming today know that the community is in a period of transition and that much of 'what is' is passing away. This calls for honest dialogue; we and those who join us should explore what this means for vocation and formation. We are planting seeds, and these women will take them to places beyond where we can go. In a similar way, the younger and middle-aged religious today are being called to live into a new era in religious life. No longer are we large stable communities. Instead we are smaller, more agile communities, who will experience the fragility of our smaller size, a fragility often experienced by our lay brothers and sisters.

At the end of our conversation, we checked out - many of us expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings on this important topic. It is good to hear one another's experience and share hopes and challenges. We also appreciated the sacred space we created by coming together.

LOOKING FORWARD: we will have a planning call on June 26, 2015 7pm Central. Folks would would like to help plan, facilitate or take notes on the next quarterly call are invited to join the planning call. Message me for details.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Older and Indebted Candidates for Religious Life

I wrote this for work:
I often work with communities when they are considering candidates for entrance into their formation programs. Today's inquirers are a diverse group, from the perspective of age, life experience, professional and academic background, physical and psychological health, personal assets and debt, language and culture. Exploring these factors brings to light the blessing and challenge of diversity which places new demands on vocation and formation personnel as well as on leadership.
What does canon law say about issues common with older candidates entering religious life? Canon law speaks of requirements for admission, and particularly admission into novitiate. Those doing vocation ministry are often called to work through these issues with inquirers. A familiarity with the issues, requirements and options brings clarity that can assist in the mutual discernment of vocation and in arranging for candidates leaving jobs that may have taken a long time to acquire, and their assets such as a house, car, household goods, pensions, valuables and how to handle relationships with adult children, etc. Another area that often raises canonical questions is the issue of a candidate with significant student debt. This issue has raised concern in the wider society, and can also cause concerns for those discerning a vocation.
In speaking of older candidates, I realize that one older candidate may be thirty and another older candidate may be sixty. The thirty-year-old will have issues of career and property, while the sixty-year-old may have additional issues of health, family ties and retirement. Each candidate and each community is unique. The law can articulate principles whose application will vary.
Canon 597 sets out the basic requirements for candidates for novitiate in all religious communities.
§1. Any Catholic endowed with a right intention who has the qualities required by universal and proper law and who is not prevented by any impediment can be admitted into an institute of consecrated life.
§2. No one can be admitted without suitable preparation.
This canon raises questions regarding accepting of new converts, and the various impediments that may arise, from prior marriage, prior membership in a religious community and debt. The required qualities are mentioned in other canons. For example, Canon 642 states:
With vigilant care, superiors are only to admit those who, besides the required age, have the health, suitable character, and sufficient qualities of maturity to embrace the proper life of the institute. This health, character, and maturity are to be verified even by using experts, if necessary, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 220.
For older candidates, health may become an increasing issue. Their health should be age appropriate, and a community should evaluate accepting candidates with a history of cancer, heart problems, etc. While these are not prohibitive, one would have to consider the prognosis and the length of the formation program. Maturity must also be age appropriate. One would expect older candidates to exhibit more maturity, and they should also have the openness and flexibility to enter into a formation program. A respected professional with advanced degrees will still be a novice in the life of the community. This will require an appropriate level of maturity on the part of the candidate as well as on the part of the vocation and formation director and leadership. Maturity is multi-faceted: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, academic, professional, linguistic, cultural.
Older candidates often have rich social, professional and familial networks. Entrance into religious life will not replace these networks, but it will call for a focus on developing the community relationships and then integrating these into their other support systems. This takes time and should be done with attention and deliberation on the part of the candidate and the vocation/formation directors and leadership. Discernment, discussion, planning and communication can help to smooth the transition.
Candidates may have academic and professional credentials and may have ongoing requirements to maintain them. A plan in this regard should 1) ensure the candidate's ongoing ability to earn a living should they leave the community, 2) consider the ministry potential of the credentials and 3) consider the time and cost of maintaining the credentials throughout the period of formation. The same concerned may be raised by an older candidate who leaves the workforce to enter a religious institute. Prior planning can help to ensure that the candidate's return to ministry and employment after initial formation is as smooth as possible.
Integration of family ties, particularly adult children can also be a challenge. Children should be independent, and should be made aware of the candidate's availability for visits, for family celebrations, for support, etc.
A major issue for many older candidates is how to deal with property and fiduciary obligations. Taken from the perspective of moving from independence into interdependence, a candidate must evaluate his or her assets, liabilities and fiduciary obligations and determine how to deal with each of these matters as they move into the formation period, which is a transitional period of discernment, and then how the matter will finally be resolved when they are finally incorporated into the community. It can be helpful to use an inventory of legal and financial matters (Hereford, 2012) to help identify all the issues that need to be discussed.
Despite the best preparation, unforeseen issues may arise during the formation process. Nevertheless, initial discussions with the vocation director can be invaluable in addressing these issues early in the candidate's discernment. They can be opportunities to deepen the discernment process and afford clarity to candidates as well as to formation personnel and communities.
For more on Older and Indebted Candidates for Religious Life, register for May's webcast. There is also time to register for the Covenant Project workshop in April 2015:

Recorded Webcasts: Not available for a webcast? You can register to view it On-Demand or on CD-ROM, go to
Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you or your organization.
Amy Hereford

Saturday, April 4, 2015

What Wonderous Love... wondrous love is this that called the heavens and the earth from the formless waste and set them spinning in matchless harmony.
What wondrous love is this that brought the earth to life and called each of us into life and into love.
What wondrous love is this that nurtured our lives to this day and calls us to renewal, to renewed fidelity to the gift and the love of our creation.
What wondrous love is this that set aside the power and privileges of divinity to walk with us, to share our paths and our sorrows.
What wondrous love is this that accepted the worst that the world had to offer, and still called us to love and forgiveness.
What wondrous love.... oh my soul.
To God and to the Lamb I will sing
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM.
While millions join the theme, I will sing...
What wondrous love.