International Formation Experience
New sisters share thoughts on 3½ months together in Montreal
|Fifteen sisters in temporary vows and three apostolic novices arrived at the Sisters of Providence International Centre in Montreal in April for a 3½-month stay.
Editor’s Note: Fifteen sisters in temporary vows and three apostolic novices arrived at the Sisters of Providence International Centre in Montreal in April for a 3½-month stay.
They came from different backgrounds, different province experiences and different languages for this unique opportunity to get to know other new sisters who are part of an international, intergenerational and intercultural family.
The extended time actually living the “3 Is” had a tremendous impact on the participants. The five young women from Mother Joseph Province and two Formation Team members who participated shared their thoughts on the experience as they opened the Provincial Chapter in Renton, Wash, in August.
To hear more in their own words, take a look at the YouTube video.
“I was the intergenerational reality,” 73-year-old Novitiate Director Margaret Botch, SP, declared, to peals of laughter.
Loreto Lèon Soto, a novice from Bernard Morin Province in Chile, was the youngest participant at 21 years of age.
“There’s a lot of room there,” Sister Margaret quipped.
“I realized that I was in a new era from the internationality of the group,” she explained. “The work we did together, the intercultural living, was very hopeful for the future but also very challenging."
As she described the program, it was clear that it could not have happened and been so successful without the vision and support of the General Superior and General Council, the enthusiastic commitment of the leadership teams from the various provinces, and the hard work and passion of the international formation and formation teams from throughout the congregation.
“For the future, we don’t have a choice,” Sister Margaret said. Quoting Father Anthony Gittens, CSSp, she added, “The reign of God will not be in English, French or Spanish.” The future requires sisters to be able to communicate, listen and hear across languages, cultures and differences, she said.
“Like Jesus, we all have to be strangers in this work."
Sister Josie Ramac, who just ended her term as candidate director, said of the program, “It was all work of the Spirit.
“The experience was filled with many blessings and with quite remarkable, life-giving moments.”
One of the particular blessings she thanks God for is the International Formation Team that put the program together. After four months of planning, team members arrived to put things in place just two weeks before the 18 participants came. “We were a diverse group and it was providential that we jelled so well together.”
Sister Josie added that she heard from some of the women in formation that the International Formation Team modeled the 3 Is in community living.
One of the greatest challenges was language, Sister Josie acknowledged. “I invite each of you to attempt to learn a second language. Without it, you will miss the soul of communication.”
The farewells at the end of the 3½ months were tearful and heartfelt, but eased by rituals that allowed participants “to talk about things and help to let go, move on and say goodbye,” Sister Margaret shared. It was clear that deep relationships had been formed that will continue. She was surprised, she added, by how many times the last thing that was said was “I love you.”
The words of the new sisters in Mother Joseph Province offer the highest endorsement of the International Formation Program:
Margarita Hernandez, SP
“This was a very great experience ... it helped me to meet sisters from the congregation on a deep level, to know deeper their experience and my own charism, personal and congregational.”
One of the biggest challenges was communicating across languages, but body language helped when spoken language was misunderstood. Praying in three languages helped to foster communication with an open mind, open heart and open ears.
Finding a common language also helped in sharing hopes and dreams. “I encountered the real God in our sisters in formation who are looking and reaching for a new life, beyond borders and the frontiers of our own provinces. She cherished the time dreaming together.
“We passed through the desert and then we got to a dessert.”
Looking to the future, Sister Margarita recommends beginning formation with language, and with experience outside your own province in different countries. It is important to learn a second language for a deeper level of sharing.
She also suggested opening a candidate house in El Salvador, an idea that seemed to resonate with others at the Provincial Chapter.
Jessica Taylor, SP
Sister Jessica came into the experience knowing one language, English, a little bit of Spanish and no French.
“I had to be challenged to use Spanish and to pick up words in French,” she recalled.
She admits to arriving a little scared and with closed hands.c“I had to open them and free myself of my culture, to keep my culture but to be open to everything with open hands and hearts.
She greeted the others and combined words and phrases to talk to those without a common language.cGoogle translations helped. Through creativity and hard work, communication came.
Participants broadened not just their communication skills, but also their perspectives through classes on the Constitutions, charism and mission, but also the sharing of struggles in their homelands.
“We got to share who we are as a person and as a Sister of Providence: what our dream is, where we hope to be, and where some of our seeds are being planted for the future.”
Among the many nuggets she will keep in her heart: “If I don’t start and if others don’t start, we’ll never grow.
“Most of use entered as one person, but now we finally have a class. We’re in the novitiate together now.’’
Vilma Franco, SP
Sister Vilma recalls lots of meetings that have started with joking about language. It is always a challenge. “I thought I was open. I knew sisters who’d lived with me. Communication is not enough. This experience helped create relationships."
To live together is easier with two languages. So is dreaming together for the future as Sisters of Providence, she explained.
“I developed a very, very deep relationship with God through my sisters. We knew each other, but when we lived together, we learned who we really are. We could pray, talk, cry, laugh together and support each other.”
Together, they lived in Montreal with different cultures in the same building. “We planted the seed but now we have to water it.”
Rosa Nguyen, SP
"Living fully the '3 Is' is not easy, but it is possible.” Recreation, games and projects together helped build a bonding relationship strengthened through sharing language, food and cultures. That underscored that difference is just different, not good or bad.
Sister Rosa came to Montreal on the heels of an intercultural experience in Holy Angels Province in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She especially embraced an International Formation Program presentation by Sister Beverly Dunn that gave a deeper understanding of the three vows as women of the church. She also cherished the travels in the footsteps of the foundresses, which “made the history very present to me, and close to my heart.”
Since the experience, she added, “I found I am reading our second Bible we call the Constitutions. It is a good foundation for the rest of my religious life.”
Hong Nga Nguyen, SP
The first day it was “Hi,” the second day, “How are you?” and by the last day it was, “I don’t want to say goodbye. We love you,” Sister Hong Nga recalled.
In between there was openness and acceptance from young women who had come to Montreal as relative strangers to each other. There was no dominant culture; they were simply Sisters of Providence on an intercultural journey together.
“We are different because of the experience. It was a rewarding, touching, transforming experience.” What she realized is that “the road won’t be the same when I come back.
To the other sisters of the province who might desire to live in a “3 Is” community, she declared, “I encourage you to go for it, and may God bless you.”
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