March 27, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Even during their Spring Break from the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN) and from formal studies at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, two Dominican novices did not take a break from learning. Sister Rolande Kahindo Pendeza, a Maryknoll novice, and Sister Phuong Vu, a novice of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, spent their break visiting Dominican Motherhouses in Columbus, Ohio; Springfield, Illinois; Adrian, Michigan; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Sisters Rolande and Phuong are nearing the end of their canonical year at the CDN, a St. Louis-based novitiate program for novices from 15 U.S. Congregations of Dominican Sisters, including the Adrian Dominican Congregation. The novices are spending the year studying Dominican life and vowed life; taking courses at Aquinas Institute of Theology; meeting weekly for input and prayer with novices from other religious communities in the area; ministering as tutors at a local Catholic school; discerning their call with their novice directors; and taking time every Friday for a day of reflection and contemplation.
In addition, the novices and the two Co-directors of the CDN, Sister Cathy Arnold, OP, Dominican Sister of Peace, and Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP, Dominican Sister of Adrian, experience community life: praying together, sharing cooking and cleaning responsibilities, and spending free time with each other.
During their visit to Adrian, the novices took the time to speak about their experiences in the novitiate, what they are learning about the Dominican family and tradition, and their hopes for the future. They bring their own experiences and national cultures to enrich the novitiate and the Dominican family.
Sister Phuong, the oldest of five siblings – three sisters and two brothers – was born in Vietnam and came with her family in 1989 to Chicago, to live near her aunt, who sponsored them. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology and moved to Dallas, Texas, to work for telecommunications companies. She entered the Dominican Sisters of Peace in February 2016.
“I was attracted to the Dominicans because of the focus on study,” Sister Phuong said. “As Dominicans, we share the same charism: to preach, to contemplate, and to share the fruits of contemplation.”
Born the second of eight children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sister Rolande earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Tangaza College, a Constituency of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. She met the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic while teaching in Dodoma, Tanzania, and entered that congregation in 2017. She is the first novice at the CDN from Maryknoll, the “first United States based Congregation of women religious founded … for foreign mission work.”
Both novices have come to appreciate the diversity of their novitiate community. “What attracted me to Maryknoll is their charism of mission, of having a missionary spirit, of crossing borders and living with people of different cultures,” Sister Rolande said. As a novice in a diverse community, “I’m understanding more – I’m living what I aspire to live, meeting people who are not from my culture. For me, that’s the missionary spirit which I’m living.”
Sister Rolande now understands community as a place where “I come with my own values and others have their own, and we bring them together to create harmony in the community. Mission is always for others, not just for myself – so for me to be well-grounded, I have to study and to share with others what I study or read or contemplate.”
Sister Phuong said she has “a lot of experience with culture and diversity, but this novitiate is helping me to live interculturally, helping me to go deeper. I should learn the culture [of others] and go to the deeper level. It’s not like you live at the surface. You have to live underneath.”
The novices’ visit to the Dominican Motherhouses also taught them that, while the congregations of Dominican Sisters have differences, they also have a commonality as part of the larger Dominican family. “I’m learning again how we are one family,” Sister Rolande said. She said she and Sister Phuong have been welcomed to all of the motherhouses as family. “This is our home,” she said. “I’m really experiencing one family by visiting these houses.”
The novices spoke enthusiastically of their Catholic school ministry and of the time they have to study, contemplate, and discern their call, but they also acknowledged challenges that they face. Sister Rolande, said her first experience of winter this year was a challenge. “So many things are different – weather, people, food,” she said. Another challenge for her is “adjusting to other people’s preferences, because they may not be mine.”
Sister Phuong said she is challenged by the requirement of speaking and studying in English, which is not her first language. “I take a lot of time” to read and study in English, she said. “We’re busy, with a lot of reading and preaching,” and with the effort to balance time for study, preaching, prayer, and other pursuits.
With the challenges and new experiences, Sisters Phuong and Rolande believe that their year at the CDN is helping them to prepare for the future – a future they face with hope and joy.
Sister Rolande said her meetings with her spiritual director and novice director in particular have helped her face her challenges. The canonical novitiate year is “a time to discern my call to mission as a Maryknoll Sister,” she said. “It makes me more excited about it.” If all goes well, she will take her first vows this year. “After vows, I will go and share with others the gifts which God has given me, especially meeting those who are on the margins, because that’s what I feel is my call.”
Sister Phuong will spend the year after her novitiate experience in active, apostolic ministry before she takes her first vows. “Next year, I hope to apply what I learned from the novitiate and then take my vows,” she said. “I hope to bring my gifts and share them with others in need.”