Rosary Convent ~ Novitiate house of the Dominican Sisters of Wanganui

With but fourteen friars, trusting in the grace of God, which he felt to be with him, and encouraged by the approbation of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, St Dominic, who had inculcated in his brethren his own grand ideal, judged that the time had come to disperse them over the world. His resolution was taken. Vainly did Simon de Montfort and the Bishop of Toulouse endeavour to deter him.

The evangelical sower understood that the right season had come. He sent half their number, that is to say seven, to Paris, the great university town, “to study, to preach and to found a convent.” Only one religious accompanied him to Rome, where he expected to find fresh subjects. Four went to Madrid and two remained at home in Toulouse. From Rome, where he dwelt near the Pope, St Dominic encouraged his children from afar.

As one casts grain into the earth at seed-time, so St Dominic dispersed his sons. He himself used this illustration: “Seed rots when it is hoarded, bears fruit when it is sown.” (Bologna, 26)

And so after due recourse to prayer, judgment and counsel, following the movements of God’s grace without attempting to anticipate or to delay, the time had come to disperse the “seed” from within our own little community. Divine providence so ordained that it was the Novitiate that was to be moved to Australia. This was only possible due to the generosity and foresight of the Tynong Parish in offering the support needed to set up a House of Formation.

And so with much joy and confidence in God, we set out, praying that God will grant us the grace He did to our Father Dominic, to make us like him, magnanimous in spite of all the difficulties that had to be overcome, like obtaining visas for all the sisters concerned to name but one!

We have been here for just over a month, in which God has clearly shown us His fatherly love and concern through the warm welcome and on-going support which we receive from the Parish, from preparing living quarters, food donations, erecting clothes lines and dividers for cells, fixing things around the house, administrative matters, Priests to assist with classes in the Novitiate, prayers and friendly smiles.

Our “temporary” home: a rental property in walking distance from the Church in the Australian countryside.

The Postulants have had ample opportunity to display their creative side in building temporary cells, in the barn with sheets and cardboard! They also displayed much patience in the constant renovation of cells due to the arrival of new and improved materials, like shelving that could serve for more sturdy dividing walls! Novices have devised clever ways in dealing with unwanted eight-legged visitors and dealing with a salamander who posed as a snake in the linen cupboard! A refectory, community, chapter and lecture rooms had to be arranged and the timetable fine-tuned to ensure that all aspects of Dominican life were lived as prescribed in our Holy Rule. Our “house” became a “proper Convent” with the arrival of the Blessed Sacrament and opportunities for Mass in our little Chapel. Much has been achieved in a short time with outside help and the dedication of the sisters working for the common good of the community, not weighing the cost, retiring to bed tired but with much gratitude for all that we have received. We await the approval of one last visa, and we also received one more postulant “out of the blue”. This brings our number to eleven, awaiting the arrival of a postulant in early March. Deo Gratias!

Left: The Sisters busy at work: we have a “working recreation” during which we all help to prepare the evening meal, as well as sort and fold laundry. Bottom right: Our chapel and the Salve procession which forms part of Compline.

Postulants in the front row: Skye Dolphin, Anna Bailes, Karyn Yzelman.
Middle, Professed sisters: Sr Mary Raymond, Mother Mary Micaela, Mother Mary Catherine. Back, Novices: Sister Mary Louise, Sister Mary Thomas, Sister Mary Johanna

You may well ask: “What do they mean when they talk about a novitiate?
As no one would dream of entering any profession in the world, albeit teacher, lawyer or doctor, without the proper training, the same holds true for the religious life. The formation in the Novitiate is a preparation for, and an initiation into, the religious life, which is itself simply put “a striving towards perfection”. Note that the emphasis falls on “striving” signifying that it is at once both the resolution and the struggle to advance, to progress and to climb. As for perfection, that also contains the idea of struggle, of intense and universal action. It is a reaction against all the forces that threaten the spiritual life, a practice of the virtues, but above all, the abundance of charity, for to love God perfectly is the supreme act.

The arrival of Mary Fitzpatrick

The Novitiate then is the “professional school” of the religious state. Of its very nature the religious life is a tending towards perfection, a work of sanctity and while the Novitiate is called a “house of formation /study,” it is even more appropriately called a “school of virtue.”

To know, to will, to love, to act: these four words seem to sum up and express in the main the programme of life of the Novitiate.

TO KNOW, theoretical teaching focuses on
– the nature, elements, conditions, sources, dangers and fullness of the spiritual life
– the religious state, its structure, its essentials elements, its two-fold purpose: sanctification and the apostolate, its many and various obligations
– knowledge of the nature of the Order : its spirituality, legislation, rule and constitutions,apostolate etc.

This is achieved through a series of lessons, five every day, running from 8.40a.m to 12.50a.m. Subjects included are Philosophy, Theology, Latin, Literature, History, Communication and Education and Spirituality.

TO WILL, the knowing is but a prelude to the willing.
the Novice has studied this religious life and knows it, she and she alone has the duty of accepting it loyally and of willing it in entirety. Everything depends on her “yes” or “no”. It is the candidate who must reply and conclude the matter.

TO ACT, practical study consists of:
– Practice of the vows, although she has not yet pronounced vows, the novice is preparing herself for them, by trying the weight of these three crosses, she has the opportunity to test the extent of her generosity and her ability to carry them.
– the recitation of the Divine Office, the sisters’ chief exercise in prayer, at fixed times, said with reverence, dignity. Music classes assist to prepare her for this great privilege in participating in the official prayer of the Church. These prayers are complimented by the recitation of the Rosary, two periods of mental prayer and spiritual reading every day.
– Regular and strict observance of the Rule inspired by faith, consumed in charity, a code of love,to which she submits with as much joy as loyalty.
– living Community life, to accommodate herself as amiable as possible to the temperament, the character and the mannerisms of each and every one, to forget oneself and to think of others and to be “all things to all men” …and at the same time to maintain an imperturbable patience and keep the family peace in the unity of spirits and the fusion of hearts.
– Postulants also participate in the apostolate by teaching Catholic Doctrine classes at St Thomas Aquinas College, Tynong.

The programme assists the Novice in forming from the first years, an exact idea of her vocation and the exalted ideal of the religious life. Thus strengthened she can advance with enthusiasm, generosity and determined will to acquire the perfection she will bind herself to strive for at the time of her profession.

We sincerely thank all our Benefactors who have made it possible for us, to continue this important work. We beg all our readers to remember us in their prayers for its success and the perseverance of our Postulants and Novices!

On lighter note: photos of a “theatrical performance” and musical items which showcased some of the many talents in the Novitiate.