Meet the new Novices and their Patron Saints

It has been just over a month since the four postulants have undergone a metamorphosis.  Their “new look” has a profound and spiritual meaning. Both in the Church and in the eyes of the world the religious habit symbolizes at one and the same time,
          (a)  separation from the world, the renunciation of its spirit and its customs, and
          (b)  dedication to God. “The religious habit should always express consecration to Christ: that
                 is what all await and desire” (Pius XII, Allocution to Religious (Nuns), Sept.,15, 1952).
                 One may say the habit is like a flag in an unbelieving environment, a living testimony, a
                 silent but eloquent affirmation of our faith in God and of our dedication to Christ and to
                 The habit does not act like a sacrament, but it is, for sanctification and for the
                 apostolate, a precious aid which should not be disdained. It is true, indeed, that the habit
                 does not make the monk, but it certainly contributes to keeping him safe.   
          (c)  The pledge – though this has nothing to do with the vow – to live as a religious and to
                 sanctify oneself.  “If you are not aware of a deep distaste for the world in yourself, a holy
                 and divine ardour for Christian perfection, leave this cloister, my dear Sister…” (Bossuet)
                 To take the religious habit is, surely, to put on Jesus Christ.
          (d)  The spirit and virtues characteristic of the Order whose habit one wears. The habit also
                 reminds the religious of the beauty of their vocation and urges upon them the idea that by
                 wearing it with dignity they are doing honour to their Congregation.
(From The Novitiate, by Louis Colin, C.SS.R) 
Not only do the Novices look different now, they also answer to a new name.  To aid those who still struggle to tell them apart or to remember their names we are happy to “introduce” you to the new Novices and their Patron Saints:
Sister Mary Anna

Patron: St Anne  Some people would say it’s unfortunate we don’t know much about St Anne. But just think about what we do know! We know that she was a holy Jewish woman who was married to St Joachim who had no children, yet never stopped praying and hoping for one. She patiently endured the stigma of childlessness, so ignominious in Jewish culture at the time, and kept her faith and hope in God.

And what came of such faith and hope? The blessing of a child who was ‘full of grace’, who would be ‘blessed among women’ and whose soul did ‘magnify the Lord’. Did St Anne have any knowledge of the extreme privilege of her only daughter? Perhaps she did in her God-given motherly wisdom, even though it took centuries of debate among theologians to settle the question in their minds; we don’t really know. 

What we do know is that St Anne, together with St Joachim, did what generous souls do with precious gifts from God – they gave her back to Him. And they didn’t hesitate. Our Lady must have still been a very little girl when her parents presented her at the Temple and said goodbye, not just to their perfect daughter, but also to the years of happiness and comfort she could have given them had they not made this sacrifice. (I think St Anne must have a soft spot for all our dear parents who have said goodbye to their daughters as they entered the Convent; they know what she felt like.) God never fails to reward such generosity, and He repaid this faithful couple with the extraordinary privilege of being the grandparents of the Word made Flesh.

Nevertheless, some people still say we don’t know much about St Anne. I would rather say that her little story is so full of lessons for us that we could meditate on it for hours. It’s a story of a trial not fully understood, but humbly and patiently borne all the same. It’s a story of patience filled with holy faith and hope, which is rewarded a hundredfold – and more like a thousandfold – by God, Who never abandons those who trust so much in Him. It’s a story of generosity repaying generosity, with God having the last say in the most generous Gift of all. In short, it’s a story which is shot through with the unmistakable threads of Love.

There are so many reasons to turn to St Anne when in need – she knows all about enduring long trials, she knows all about keeping hope when things seem hopeless, she knows all about making the biggest sacrifices, and she will definitely lend a sympathetic ear– she’s so humble and motherly, don’t you know! Dear St Anne, pray for us!

Sister Mary Columba

Patron: Blessed Columba of Rieti.
Columba is Latin for ‘dove’, a symbol of the Holy Ghost Himself as well as that of a simple, pure and peaceful soul who, according to Sacred Scripture, takes her refuge and rest in God and especially in the wounds of Christ.

It is also a name borne by a number of great servants of God. We may mention a few virgin martyrs dating from the Roman persecutions, the Irish missionary St Columba as well as the renowned Benedictine preacher of our era, Bl. Columba Marmion. Less well known to those outside the Dominican order however would be the 16thcentury tertiary Bl. Columba of Rieti, a mystic noted for her role as a dove of charity and peace in her turbulent surroundings.

She was one amongst a number of saintly Dominican women who seem to have been expressly raised up by God as a sharp contrast to the irreligion, disorder and immorality prevalent in Italy during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These women, nearly all of the Dominican Third Order, had an intense devotion to St. Catherine of Siena and made it their aim to imitate her as nearly as possible.

Dedicating herself to God from her youngest years, Bl. Columba led a life of retirement and great austerity in her home, where she received visions of St Dominic and St Catherine of Siena who encouraged and directed her soul. Receiving the habit of a Dominican tertiary at the age of 19, she gained a reputation for miracles and sanctity among the people despite initial suspicion of her frequent ecstasies and prophecies, and was much sought after as a spiritual advisor by lay persons and clergy alike, including Pope Alexander VI. 

She was later made the superior of a convent of Tertiaries in the Italian city of Perugia. The sick both inside and outside her convent were healed by her touch, and the plague which had often threatened Perugia was abated by her prayers and her suggestion of penitential processions. Lastly, the love of the Catholic Church and her members was another exemplary feature of our saint’s life. The state of the Church then and the terrible chastisements that were to be inflicted on Italy were a cause of much suffering to her, and she was said to have warned Pope Alexander VI of his sins and to have spoken against the projects that he had commended to her. She finally passed away on the feast of the Ascension in 1501, after a long and painful illness. 
One would think that such extraordinary gifts and achievements and would render the life of Bl. Columba quite difficult to imitate by our little novice. However, lofty contemplation and the supernatural gifts of miracles and healing where genuine are always indispensably accompanied by a life of heroic virtue and deep union with God that will be mostly concealed and to which we are all called.

Less obvious to the outsider was the inner life of our saint, which was described to be “deeply seamed and scarred with the marks of the cross of her Divine Bridegroom.”Distrust, reproaches, injuries, and the blackest calumnies were her portion from the beginning especially with the suspicions and jealousy aroused by her manner of life. Her sufferings from various illnesses were extreme; but she endured all with unalterable sweetness and patience, touchingly stating that

“Our Lord is amiable everywhere and under all circumstances, but that it is on the cross that He shows Himself the most loving of friends.”

Dear readers, the marvelous life of our saint was founded solidly upon the Cross of Christ and an intense love for Him and our neighbour. May she intercede and obtain for us the same, in order that the ordinary and unassuming events of each day become a source of grace both for ourselves and for souls.

 Sister Mary Jordan

Patron: Jordan of Saxony.  Hang on, IS there a Saint Jordan?  Well, not exactly – Sister Mary Jordan’s patron is ‘only’ a Blessed – quite an illustrious Blessed, though perhaps not very well known.

For some people, the only religious connotation attached to the name ‘Jordan’ may be the fact that Our Lord was baptized in a river by that name.  The Jordan is a rather fast-flowing river in Palestine, which flows through the Sea of Galilee and then into the Dead Sea.  Perhaps we can use the geographical Jordan to help us get to know Blessed Jordan, since we can draw parallels between the two. The River Jordan ends its course in a Sea – Blessed Jordan ended his earthly exile in an ocean.  And while the river Jordan rushes pell-mell southwards, Blessed Jordan’s life was one of ceaseless, intense activity for God and for souls.  I’m sure he must often have experienced the feeling common to most Dominicans – some days are simply too short to fit in all the work to be done!

Blessed Jordan’s big claim to fame in the Dominican annals is that he was the second Master General of the Order of Preachers, taking charge after the death of St. Dominic.  He was born in Padberg Castle in Saxony (near the Elbe River) of noble German parents in 1190.  Besides an illustrious parentage, God also blessed him with a bright intellect.  Master Jordan did well in his studies, and eventually became Professor Jordan, a teacher at the University of Paris.  He began seminary studies, and had progressed through the minor orders to the rank of subdeacon, when he seems to have got stuck.  What work should he devote his life to? 

 He was still puzzling over it, when St. Dominic arrived in Paris.  Jordan made his confession to the Saint, and asked him his big question – what should he do about his future?  St. Dominic (one wonders whether he knew he was addressing his successor as Master General) advised the young man to go on with his studies for the priesthood, and get ordained.  Jordan followed his advice, but the idea of becoming a Dominican apparently hadn’t occurred to him.  It was only when the great Dominican preacher Blessed Reginald of Orleans journeyed to Paris, that God’s will became clear to Blessed Jordan.   Touched by Reginald’s golden words, he immediately determined to become a Dominican friar.  At the end of Lent 1220, Jordan was clothed in the beautiful black and white habit of the Order of Preachers.

Once in the Order, Blessed Jordan began a life of immense activity.  He is perhaps best remembered for his sermons, which attracted over a thousand novices to the Order.  Doting mothers were terrified of him – they took drastic measures to keep their sons out of Jordan’s way, for if a youth heard him preach, he would be off post-haste to join the Dominicans.  Among the crowds of novices who took the holy habit thanks to Jordan’s sermons were Blessed Pope Innocent V, Blessed John of Vercelli, and St. Albert the Great.

Along with preparing his magnetic sermons, which did so much to increase the still young Order of Preachers, Blessed Jordan busied himself with many other labours for the Order and for souls.  He increased the number of Dominican provinces from 8 to 12, founded the first Dominican General House of Studies, helped to establish the University of Toulouse; he wrote books – among which must be counted the very first biography of St. Dominic – and on top of all that was a kind spiritual director to many souls. 

In fact, his brilliant achievements in the visible world – new provinces, grand universities, books – fade somewhat when we consider his most outstanding characteristic: Charity.  All who met him were attracted by his good nature, and many a troubled soul came away comforted by the gentle words of Blessed Jordan.  We are told of a student who was tormented with disturbing thoughts, which instantly dispelled after Blessed Jordan laid his hands on him.  Another discouraged youth felt his mental skies clear instantly after he hearing Blessed Jordan pray the words at the end of Psalm 26: “Wait for the Lord!”   Certainly, for a young novice embarking on her Canonical Year – which according to all authorities is the Year in which one is tested by trials – Blessed Jordan is a quite literally a very comforting Patron to have at one’s side!

My favourite story of Blessed Jordan is the one of How Our Lady Solved the Problem.  Satan hates anything that could serve to win souls to Christ – and he saw the Order of Preachers as a major threat in this regard.  Consequently he set about doing his best to cut the young Order to pieces.  Ordinary methods of attack – like stirring up people to object to a new Order that didn’t even keep a proper larder – weren’t quite effective enough, so he took up the rather puerile tactic of making a general nuisance of himself in certain Dominican monastery, of which Blessed Jordan happened to be in charge.  Satan had great larks disturbing the tranquillity of the monastery, disturbing the friars so that they could hardly say their prayers in peace.  Blessed Jordan determined on drastic measures – nothing less than asking the Queen of Heaven to take the matter in hand.  He ordered that instead of reciting the Salve Regina every night, as they did, the Brethren were to sing it, in procession.   

You know what happens next – Our Lady very promptly put the troublemaker in his place, and restored peace to the Friary.  But, typical of Our Lady, that wasn’t all.  She appeared to Blessed Jordan and gave him this beautiful promise: “I will watch over the Order of Preachers forever, and I will see to it that no member remains long in mortal sin; for either I will win them to repentance, or they will cease to be Dominican.”   To this day the Dominicans sing the Salve Regina in procession after Compline, trusting that Our Lady will keep her promise and make sure that the devil stays far away from her children.  I suppose that only in eternity will we find out how much the Dominicans owe to Our Lady’s intercession, and how many dangers she has averted since the days of Blessed Jordan until now.

In 1237, Blessed Jordan made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was on his way back to Europe when his ship wrecked, and he was drowned.  He did get home – but not to his monastery.  Instead Our Lady, the Stella Maris, conducted him to Heaven, the true home for all earthly exiles.  From there, he still naturally takes an interest in the Dominican Order, and one particular Novice hopes that he will pray extra hard for her, as his newest namesake!

Sister Mary Bernard

Blessed Bernard Scammacca of wealthy and pious parents was born in Sicily at the beginning of the fifteenth century. He spent a careless youth in spite of receiving good education and training. Coming back to his senses after having badly injured in a quarrel, he went and begged to be admitted to the Order at the Dominican convent of Catania. There is little recorded of Blessed Bernard’s life. He did not attain fame in preaching but was content in the private direction of souls and the work of the confessional. As a religious, he spent his time in prayer and solitude, kept the rule precisely and was particularly kind to sinners in the confessional.
Like St Francis of Assissi, legend tells that Blessed Bernard had great power over birds and animals. The birds would flutter down around him, singing when he walked around the garden, praying. However, they kept still as soon as he went to ecstasy for fear of disturbing him. On one occasion, a porter was sent to call him in his room and saw a bright light shining under the door. He peeked through the keyhole and saw a beautiful child shining with light and holding a book from which Bernard was reading. Hurriedly, he went to get the prior to see the marvel.
Sister Bernarnd following in the steps of St Francis and and her Patron -Blessed Bernard?
Blessed Bernard had also the gift of prophecy. He used it on several occasions to warn people to amend their lives and prophesied his own death which occurred on the 16th of February 1486. He appeared to the prior fifteen years later, telling him to transfer his remains to the Rosary chapel and a man was cured of paralysis by touching the relics during this translation.
God made Blessed Bernard wonderful by the contemplation of divine things and by the glory of his virtue. His feast is kept on the Octave of the Epiphany of Our Lord, 11th of January.
Here ends our introduction to the Novices and their Patron Saints. We pray that they co-operate with grace and follow in the steps of their Patrons -always striving to please God daily more and more! 

2 thoughts on “Meet the new Novices and their Patron Saints”

  1. Lovely photos. When I was in high school my friend's sister became a novice with the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Name in Fangeaux, France. She told me her name was Sr. Mary Jordain. "What? After the Jordan river?" I asked. "No silly. After St. Dominic's sucessor!" Who? Never heard of him!"

    And now I am a Dominican!

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