All women discerning religious life with the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) take a slightly different path depending on their personal inner journey, profession and the structure of her home province. One program that remains the same for all SSND is the novitiate – the heart and center of initial formation. Once a woman completes the affiliation and postulancy steps (sometimes referred to as candidature), she becomes a novice for two years.
SSND has one congregational novitiate located in Rome, Italy. Novices from all over the world arrive at the novitiate at the same time to spend their first year, the canonical year, living together in community under the guidance of novice directors Sister Mara Frundt and Sister Monika Ulrik. Also living in the novitiate community are Sisters Zipporah Marigwa and Ana Helena Rochembach.
During the novitiate, women in formation seek to deepen their relationship with Christ and get to know more fully the various aspects of SSND life. A day at the novitiate always includes morning and evening prayer together, as well as daily Mass. A novice’s day can also include:
- Classes where they study the SSND Constitution and General Directory (You Are Sent), Scripture, Shalom (justice, peace and integrity of creation), theology, and encyclicals such as Fratelli Tutti or Laudato Si’
- Pilgrimages to sacred places around Rome
- Service to the community
- Workshops with novices from other congregations
- Household chores
- Gardening, art, practicing instruments
This past spring, 10 novices completed their canonical year in Rome. The women came from Hungary, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. Obviously, language barriers can be difficult to overcome, but this also creates opportunities to grow in other ways.
“Struggling to overcome language barriers brings many gifts,” said Sister Mara. Sister Monika added, “To read the Gospel and You Are Sent in another language opens up fresh or deeper meanings of the content. And the ongoing clarification helps community building. Surely, love motivates us to keep on learning both language and matters of the heart that can be communicated without language. This language of the heart is the most important.”
After a year learning and studying in Rome, novices head back to their home provinces for the six-month apostolic phase. The focus of this time is to foster within the novice the basic attitudes that characterized Jesus in mission. The women then return to Rome for four months of continued classes and preparation for their first profession of vows. This profession makes them School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Sisters Mara and Monika find as much joy in the novitiate program as the participants, saying, “We really enjoy companioning the young in their search for God and God’s will for them in life. Also, of course, this includes our own sharing of life in SSND, and our faith, values and ongoing search. We experience much joy in their fresh, young energy and enthusiasm about contributing positively to love in this world.”
–This article originally appeared in the 2022 issue of Trust & Dare. View the full magazine here.