By Sr. Kara Davis, Daughter of Charity Under 10 Years Vocation
I was registering for an Archdiocesan Day of Reflection for Consecrated Life here in Chicago and struggled to complete the form. Name, congregation, years of vocation… easy questions. Then there was a special section for those in initial formation. Yes, that’s me! We were instructed to mark our stage of formation from four choices listed: postulant, novice, temporary professed, and perpetually professed. I immediately thought well, none of the above. Is there an option for a sister who’s not a religious, who will never profess temporary or perpetual vows?
The Daughters of Charity are canonically a Society of Apostolic Life, rather than a Religious Institute, and our structure and terminology is a bit different than our Religious friends (including the various congregations within the Sisters of Charity Federation). This category of consecrated life first hit the scene in the 1983 Code of Cannon Law, but we have been living out of our particular spirit since our foundation in 1633. (Others have written extensively on this topic, so be sure to click on the links if you want to learn more.)
A major distinction between religious congregations and our particular identity as Daughters of Charity that many folks get hung up on revolves around the vows. Our vows are “non-religious, annual, and always renewable” (Constitution 28a). Folks seem puzzled at times when I explain to them that I am a sister out on mission and haven’t made any vows. I’m quick to clarity that I live the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience) and am deeply committed to serving Christ in the Poor (fourth vow of the Daughters of Charity), but I have not made any vows. Daughters of Charity in initial formation make vows for the first time between 5-7 years vocation, and then renew them each year with all the sisters on the Feast of the Annunciation, a special day in the community we call Renovation. To understand how a sister can be sent on mission from the Seminary (similar to the novitiate) without any vows (typically religious congregations profess temporary vows after the novitiate), it is important to clarify the relationship between serving the mission and making vows, for us as Daughters of Charity.
In his article, “The Vows According to the Specific Spirit of the Daughters of Charity,” Fr. Fernando Quintano, CM explains, “…vows are not what make someone a Daughter of Charity; rather the nature and manner of making them contribute to the identity of the Company and are a necessary condition for remaining in it. The central point within religious consecration is the profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience by public vows, while for the Daughters of Charity, the central point is mission, that is to say, continuing the mission of Christ, Evangelizer and Servant, a mission expressed through the corporal and spiritual service of poor persons.” (Echoes of the Company, No. 4 July-Aug 2011, pg. 408)
I have been a Daughter of Charity since I was incorporated into the community and I have continued as a member of the community throughout Seminary and now out on mission in Chicago. My “Sending on Mission” was a significant moment on my journey as a Daughter of Charity because I was sent forth to participate in the mission of Christ, specifically sent to serve persons who are poor, which as Fr. Quintano points out, is the central point of our lives: MISSION.
My day to day life doesn’t seem too different than my sisters who have made vows. We pray together, share community life together, and serve alongside each other in various ministries. Yet every March 25 there is something that distinctly separates us. During that quiet pause after the homily during a Renovation mass, the sisters silently recite the vow formula, making their vows to God for another year. It is such a sacred moment to witness as a sister under vows, as I feel the tension between the already of mission life and the not yet of vows.
So, what does a sister under vows do during Renovation? I pray for my sisters, those gathered at the present liturgy, and the 14,000 others scattered across the globe saying “yes” under a variety of challenging circumstances. Last year when I was in the Seminary, we celebrated Renovation with our senior sisters missioned to the ministry of prayer in St. Louis. I accompanied one sister during mass and was instructed to prompt her when it was time to renew vows. I held her hand, pointed to the vow formula, and loudly whispered into her ear, “It’s time to make your vows.” She erupted into a broad smile and responded, “uh-huh.” I pointed to the words of the vow formula and watched her gaze travel across the page, with an occasional slight nod of the head.
In a few years, God-willing, I will make my own “uh-huh” to God for the first time. But in the meantime, I will continue to live in the already of mission life: strengthening my identity as a Daughter of Charity, expanding my love for the Poor, broadening my forms of service, investing myself in community life, and forever deepening my relationship with God.