By Sister Honora Werner, OP (Caldwell)
Sister Honora (Nora) Nolty, OP (Amityville) and I spent two weeks this summer with the Dominican Sisters of Montebello, South Africa. Despite the challenges of language (the Montebello sisters speak Zulu as a first language and English as a second or third, while the Americans spoke only English) laughter and hospitality are universal for Dominicans!
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (except Sunday), we met to reflect on Dominican spirituality, to experience the Universe Story, and to teach some basic preaching skills. We used Sister Barbara Schwarz’s DVD, “A Journey with Dominic and the Order of Preachers,” viewing a segment each day and discussing its application to our lives. We discussed Dominican giants (Catherine, Albert, Thomas, Eckhart, the Florentines, the Peruvians, Martin) and reviewed the presence of the order through the centuries in Latin America and Asia. Montebello Sister Michael spoke on the history of the Dominican Sisters of Africa (DSA), the resources they share and the challenges they face. Some of their elder sisters recounted the history of the congregation.
We prayed as preachers every morning, doing lectio divina with the Gospel for July 22 (Mary Magdalene). Gradually the sisters experienced imaginative ways of probing the text. They learned the importance of the hearers, focus, function and form, plus healthy ways to offer feedback to the preacher. On July 22, we ended the whole time together with a Festival of Preaching in the context of prayer honoring Mary Magdalene. Fifteen sisters from the oldest woman in the congregation to the three women in the pre-novitiate preached in English (their second language).
The sisters were delighted each morning to find themselves on Facebook. We had set up a site before leaving the United States, and we posted a summary of each day’s activities, plus photos and videos every evening. Hearing from people in the U.S. who read the postings was a thrill for us all!
The two Americans delighted in the lively liturgies (morning and evening prayer and Eucharist)—especially the beautiful, spirited singing of the Montebello sisters. On our last night there, the Montebello sisters presented an evening of entertainment that had all of us laughing, reflecting, singing and dancing.
On our three free days, we managed to squeeze in visits to Howie Falls, a museum featuring Zulu culture, the PheZulu and Safari Park (yes, a safari ride through the savannah—giraffes, wildebeests, impala, zebra, etc.), the Lion Park, Albert Falls, and the Indian Ocean beach at Durban. We also enjoyed a short visit with the friars in Pietermaritzbug, delighting in reconnecting with Brian Bricker and Scott Steinkirchner, as well as meeting the South African and other African friars there. The Montebello sisters graciously arranged all this and served as tour guides and drivers.
The Montebello sisters Generalate community in Durban hosted us on our last Sunday there. Sister Lethiwe, prioress, expressed the congregation’s gratitude for yet another experience of collaborating with U.S. Dominicans, and their hope for many more such times in the future. The two Honoras agree!
Sisters Nora and Honora will share a presentation on their visit to South Africa on Tuesday, Sept. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell (1 Ryerson Avenue, Caldwell, NJ 07006). Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP to the Lumen Center (firstname.lastname@example.org).